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This chapter examines China’s diversity regime which buried its political and cultural diversity in history. For most international relations scholars, China appears as an exception to this volume’s argument on cultural diversity. What is unique about China is not its unity but its precocious capacities for direct rule and military-fiscal extraction which began under the first two unified dynasties: the Qin and the Han. China’s seeming unity is the product of the mutually reinforcing processes of coercive political unification and cultural homogenization. Political unity achieved by military victories produced and reproduced cultural homogeneity. Successful unifiers equated cultural diversity with political troubles and thus sought to level their subjects. A flattened cultural landscape, in turn, legitimated unifiers’ claim to rule ‘all under heaven’. This chapter first outlines China’s cultural plurality in its formative era. It then examines how unified dynasties forged a singular Han culture with an extreme homogenization regime that included mass killings and migrations, standardization of weights and measures, erasure of intellectual diversity, and monopolization of history writing.
The Eurocentric conventional wisdom holds that the West is unique in having a multi-state system in international relations and liberal democracy in state-society relations. At the same time, the Sinocentric perspective believes that China is destined to have authoritarian rule under a unified empire. In fact, China in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (656–221 BC) was once a system of sovereign territorial states similar to Europe in the early modern period. Both cases witnessed the prevalence of war, formation of alliances, development of the centralized bureaucracy, emergence of citizenship rights, and expansion of international trade. This book, first published in 2005, examines why China and Europe shared similar processes but experienced opposite outcomes. This historical comparison of China and Europe challenges the presumption that Europe was destined to enjoy checks and balances while China was preordained to suffer under a coercive universal status.
Kenneth Waltz expects “substantive and stylistic characteristics” in ancient China to be similar to those in early modern Europe. He is correct. The Eurocentric logic of balancing – which encompasses the mechanisms of balance of power and rising costs of expansion – was predominant from the onset of system formation in 656 bc to the turn of the third century bc. For more than three centuries, attempts at domination were made and checked, ambitious hegemons rose and fell, balancing as a foreign policy was pursued, and balances as roughly equal distribution of relative capabilities occurred at various times. The length of this period of sustained stability was comparable to the whole span of the early modern period. However, from the midfourth century bc on, the Warring States system became increasingly unstable. States one after another intensified their pursuit of the logic of domination – self-strengthening reforms, divide-and-conquer strategies, and cunning and brutish stratagems. Most notably, the state of Qin developed the capacity for direct rule and moved toward total mobilization for war. Qin also shrewdly complemented its increased relative capability with ruthless strategies and stratagems on both the diplomatic and military fronts. From 356 to the third century bc, Qin gradually rose from relative weakness to hegemony and then to domination. Qin eventually achieved universal domination in the ancient Chinese world in 221 bc.
Inclusion and Exclusion of Wars Involving Great Powers
The list of wars involving great powers in early modern Europe is adopted from Jack Levy's War in the Modern Great Power System. I compiled the list of wars involving great powers in ancient China using Levy's operational criteria and procedure. The first step is to generate a tentative list of wars based on the most comprehensive chronologies available. These sources include Gao Rui's Zhongguo Shanggu Junshishi (Military History of Ancient China), Lin Jianming's Qin Shi (A History of Qin), Mu Zhongyue and Wu Guoqing's Zhongguo Zhanzhengshi (History of War in China), Yang Kuan's Zhanguo Shi (History of the Warring States), the Academy of Military Sciences' Zhongguo lidai zhanzheng nianbiao (Chronology of Wars in China Through Successive Dynasties), the Military Museum's Zhongguo Zhandian (A Military Dictionary of China), and the Armed Forces University's Zhongguo lidai zhanzhengshi (History of Wars in China Through Successive Dynasties). The second step is systematically to exclude conflicts that are not interstate wars. Civil wars are taken out except those which began with or ended as separate political units, and those in which outside powers intervened militarily against the government. Wars involving nomadic tribes such as rong and di are also excluded because such entities did not exert centralized authority over relatively stable territorial bases. But wars involving “barbarian” entities such as Ba, Shu, Yiqu, and Zhongshan, which formed states over relatively defined territories, are included.
War has fundamentally shaped not just international politics, but also domestic politics. Although war has brought about immense hardships and sufferings, theorists of state formation observe that military exigencies have also been conducive to citizenship rights and constitutional democracy. In Europe, when kings and princes pursued dynastic ambitions in the international arena, they were compelled to bargain with resource holders in the domestic realm. State-society bargaining for the wherewithal of war then created a variety of rights in the modern period. It is often presumed that this foundation for liberal democracy is unique to Western civilization and alien to non-Western cultures. From the perspective of comparative history, it is of critical importance that China was once a system of sovereign, territorial states in the classical era. As with the European experience, intense international competition gave rise to citizenship rights understood as recognized enforceable claims on the state that are by-products of state-society bargaining over the means of war. To motivate the people to fight and die in war, ambitious rulers made three major concessions: first, freedom of expression, as testified by the “Hundred (meaning many) Schools of Thought”; second, the right of access to justice and the right of redress before higher judges; and, third, economic rights in terms of land grants and welfare policies. Hence, citizenship rights in fact indigenously sprouted on Chinese soil long before they blossomed on European soil.
This book originates from a peculiar puzzle: Why is it that political scientists and Europeanists take for granted checks and balances in European politics, while Chinese and sinologists take for granted a coercive universal empire in China? This research question is not as odd as it appears because China in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (656–221 bc) was a multistate system that closely resembled Europe in the early modern period (ad 1495–1815). Although it is often presumed that China or Zhongguo refers to the “Middle Kingdom,” this term originally referred to “central states”: zhong means “central” and guo means “states.” As the early modern European system did, the Zhongguo system experienced disintegration of feudal hierarchy, prevalence of war, conditions of international anarchy, emergence of sovereign territorial states, configuration of the balance of power, development of the centralized bureaucracy, birth of state-society bargains, expansion of international trade, and other familiar phenomena of international and domestic politics. If the balance of power prevailed in international politics and the constitutional state triumphed in state-society relations in Europe, then why did the opposite outcomes occur in ancient China? Is it because China was destined to have authoritarian rule under a unified empire as taught in standard Chinese history books? Alternatively, is it possible that the European trajectory was far more contingent than is presumed by the Eurocentric perspective?