Introduction to the Economic History of China

By E. Stuart Kirby | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
CHINA AND ASIA IN THE MIDDLE AGES

After the Han Dynasty, the formative period of Chinese civilisation appears to have been completed, and a long cycle begins in which the pattern appears to be settled and lasting. The conception of the 'Middle Kingdom' acquired a new significance. It indicated that China had evolved a distinctive and self-reliant economy and culture, which was dominant (even domineering) in its own region of the world. The older, and originally greater, culture of India declined; so also did the cultures and the Empires of Central Asia. Once great in their own vigour, and cross-fertilised by Greek and Roman influences, the latter sank in this period in ruins in the desert sands.

In the Han Dynasty, the centre of gravity was still to the westward of China. North, east and south of China, all was primitive darkness. The Han moved at first in the direction of a pan-Asian development; westward across the great land mass, even to a contact with Europe. But it developed also the individuality, the prosperity and metropolitanism of China proper.

In the succeeding period ( A.D. 220-580: the Three Kingdoms, Western Chin, Northern and Southern Dynasties) this complex broke up, in a struggle between the Central Country and its own peripheral districts. The Sui Dynasty ( 580-618) represented a regrouping of the Central Country, and the reassertion of its authority over its surrounding groups. The fine flower of the cultural and political Empire of the T'ang Dynasty ( 618-906) represented a recrudescence of the spirit and the achievements of the Han: a great revival of the distinctive Chinese culture, economy and polity, and the renewed development of its links with Central and South-eastern Asia.

But, by the time of the T'ang, the centre of gravity was less markedly to China's west. Islam had arisen, to drive a broad wedge between Europe and Asia, and to develop Western

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