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Further Discussion on India and China

Popularity 3Viewed 776 times 2015-6-2 21:50 |System category:News

Many friends have constantly reminded me of the many differences between India and China, which I am fully aware of. No two countries would ever be exactly the same; it is the reasons which set India and China, the two great civilizations in the East, on different tracks that call for careful study, hence the zeal for comparison. From a solely geopolitical view, ancient India’s geographic status was so much better than that of ancient China: the Indian Ocean surrounds both sides of the Indian Peninsula; the Himalayas stand in the North as a daunting barrier against the Tibetans; Arakan Yoma Range, and Kohima-Naga Hills together with a vast span of old-growth forests separate India from Southeast Asia; the Hindu Kush and its southern extensions protect the subcontinent from the belligerent peoples with only a handful precipitous easy-to-hold passes – such as the Khyber-Pass – which if handled with due care provide a well-grounded insurance for the subcontinent’s security. But ancient China had to live with a much harsher geopolitical environment, in which pressures came almost simultaneously from the Northeast, the Due North, and the Northwest, a sinister situation that left the ancient Chinese with no option but to build a wall for self-protection.


The truth is that India, with such ideal strategic positions, was unable to generate a powerful regime to effectively prevent high-latitude invaders from striding across the Khyber-Pass, flooding into Indian plains one after another, and turning this land into a living race museum. Interestingly, the conquerors from the North alike somehow lost their power and yielded to subsequent invaders. Indeed, according to geopolitics countries such as India and Brazil should naturally become major powers, as many western scholars and the Indians themselves so believe (apart from “democracy”, favorable geographic condition also adds to the Indians’ confidence). Ironically, to this day these two countries have proven disappointing rather than satisfactory, which seems to suggest geography has lost its explanatory value on such anomalies. The truth is that natural environment always exerts the ultimate impact on lives, especially so in the ancient times when human power to transform the landscape was rather weak. Please note that the notion of geography is a three-dimensional one, including such factors as climate. The ancient Chinese were fully aware of this, as is indicated by the saying “Know the heaven, and know the earth”1.


It is essentially a matter of personal opinion whether India can be legitimately paralleled to China. At least plenty of westerners and Indians believe not only that the parallel is valid, but that India will eventually prove more robust than China. Their reasons are quite predictable: propitious geographic location and the platitude of political system, namely democracy. The latter has drawn too much debate, the continuation of which will inevitably ignite another around of gruesome fight. I just want to point out that the greatest contribution of Karl Marx to modern China is the maxim that “economic base determines the superstructure”. The West (the developed countries in the West) spent three or four centuries accomplishing primitive accumulation of capital, then devised an outfit of political system which they claim to be most effective and even “the end of history”, and tried to sell it with the familiar evangelical fervor to others. I would very much like to believe they are truly trying to be helpful, but I have never seen anyone succeed by taking the result as the premise.


Back to geopolitics. The previous articles on India and China are mainly trying to establish that India thanks to its national character failed to seize the strategic places which could have been boons but now only banes of its rise. Global order was already set up in 1948 and has been maintained ever since; present geopolitical pattern will not undergo major changes unless World War III breaks out (there wouldn’t be WWIV if WWIII did occur). Germany and Japan have lost their final chance; the status of modern China, even if it is truly inferior to that of India, is at least better than that of ancient China. Two factors, aside from humanistic motives such as national character, are decisive: first, before the birth of Modern China, the last dynasty was expansive, affording enough time to the Han Chinese to familiarize themselves with the alleged places of desolation; second, we stood by the winning side on the eve of the emergence of a new global order, thanks to Japan, whose impatience and insatiability thwarted its thorough assimilation of Korea and Taiwan.


There is a Chinese saying that many a calamity makes a nation strong, which applies to China but not to India. How many battles has China fought in the past two millenniums? The territory expanded each time a war was fought: I won, I took your land, and assimilated you; you won, you took my land, and I assimilated you, whichever way the land is mine. Such utter resilience has garnered various explanations – the stability of agrarian culture, the ethical tradition of home-country integration, less susceptible to outside influence due to isolation – the most important of which I believe is the adoption by our ancestors of a “primitive” writing system, hieroglyphic or ideogram. Such system triumphs over the alphabetic system in cutting across dialects.


Speaking of integration (please check out the map by the link at the end of this post), it is a nightmare to delve into a plethora of names for numerous ethnic minorities, about which a panel of experts would probably feel at lost. Luckily, we do not have to go through that ordeal. All we need to know is that from a geopolitical perspective there are generally three kinds around ancient China: fishing and hunting races in the forest, nomads on the steppe, and semi-nomads2 on the Tibetan Plateau. Minorities in the south are not within our discussion here3.


History lovers may find something interesting: the fishing and hunting races from the northeast, such as Xianbei, Gaogouli (Goguryeo), Khitan, etc., were mostly Sinicized and simply disappeared after entering Chinese heartland, with only Manzu (the Manchurians) on the ID card, whereas there still exist in the northern steppe such nomads as Turks and Mongolians, both of whom have their own countries (the Uighurs in fact also spread from the Mongolian Plateau). Why is that? The answer is simple. In terms of geopolitics, the fishing and hunting races in the northeast did not possess ample strategic depth, which means they had nowhere to go once they failed – either Sinicized or assimilated by the nomads. The nomads, on the contrary, had a less grim scenario: half were absorbed while the other half, alerted by the ominous situation, fled westward – the Huns, Turks, and Mongolians all abode by such rules – from the less mobile Han Chinese, who had no interest in the chase.


Some might wonder why there were no substantial geopolitical entities in Xiyu (the frontier to the west of China proper). This has two reasons: geographic location and climate. The former prescribes the tumultuous nature of this region and the hybrid character of its inhabitants; the latter determines its population potential hence the chances for the survival of independent regimes.


In this vast arid region lie two great basins of desert, the rim of which is interspersed with a few oases suitable for business but not for expansion. Mainly as the home front of the nomads in the north, these oasis civilizations were at times subjugated by or allied themselves with the Han Chinese or the semi-nomads from the Tibetan Plateau. The major route connecting Chinese heartland to Xiyu (western frontier), Hexi Corridor, was easily and often cut off by pincer movement, so the Han people managed to get through it and assert their influence in Xiyu for several times only. Likewise, it is equally challenging to invade China from without. The only mad man who ever dreamed of so doing was Timur the Lame, the conqueror of Persia and Northern India, who died en route before ever reaching the Chinese border, a lucky death for an otherwise miserable one.


This hinterland of Eurasia before Tang Dynasty was in fact predominated by the Aryans, whose settlements stretched all the way to Hexi Corridor, even advancing toward the Mongolian Plateau, contrary to our assumption that they only went southward to India. Surprisingly, substantial intermarriages occurred not between the Aryans and the Han Chinese but between the Aryans and the Tungus peoples in northern Asia, the result of which was the birth of a new Eurasian race, the Turks, who reached their zenith during Tang Dynasty. Later the yellow races of Northern Asia proved themselves. With the Greater Khingan Mountains as their prop, these northern nomads continually pushed westward (also southward, but resisted by the Han people) across the Mongolian Plateau, driving the Aryans back to central Asia. The resultant order was the Mongolians kept this highland, which was rightfully named after them, and accordingly assumed the prolocutor for the entire yellow races – a fine proof that western people believe in fists – while the Turks became the owner of Central Asia and somehow connected to Europe.




1. A more literal translation of the saying is “way up (the wise man) knows astronomy; down below (he) knows geography”.


2. The Tibetans led a mixed way of life: some grew hulless barley in some spacious river valleys where accumulated temperature is adequate for the growth of crops; some engaged in animal husbandry; some performed both. In general they had a more settled way of life than that of the northern nomads.


3. Ethnic minorities in the south of China shared a similar way of living to the Han Chinese, i.e. farming. This means that they could never pose a lasting threat to one another, and thus they could integrate more easily with one another than with their nomadic neighbors. The Han people were in fact the coalescence of agrarian ethnics within the Yellow River valley and those within the Yangtze River valley. From then on, the collision of cultures in East Asia was mainly between the farming races, the Han people as their representative, and the nomadic ones.


Please check out Pic 7: Nomads vs  Farmers by this link

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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