Discussion:
Look, no Han!
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Pete Barrett
2017-08-10 18:43:11 UTC
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I've been reading Sima Qian recently, about the transition from the Qin
to the Han dynasty in China. The Qin was a surprisingly short-lived
dynasty, which started well by unifying China after the Warring States
Period, and then went rapidly downhill after the first emperor died,
succumbing to Han two emperors and eight years later.

Sima Qian, as a good Confucian, attributes Qin's failure to the lack of
virtue of the emperors, though it's clear from his own account that Shi
Huangdi (the first emperor - the last two seem to have been quite
incompetent) was very serious about looking after his people, and wasn't
in any obvious way depraved in his personal life. There seems to be no
good reason why Qin shouldn't have lasted for several generations - the
Han lasted 400 years, so why not the Qin? Lets say that the Qin rulers
defeat the rebellions and last until 200 CE or so, bypassing the Han
altogether.

The Qin obviously had a major effect on their neighbours, because
everyone except the Chinese themselves refers to the country by their
name; presumably if they'd lasted as long as the Han, the Chinese would
call themselves the Qin instead of the Han (the _country_ would still be
the 'Middle Kingdom', I suppose), but that's a minor matter.

What really interests me about this is that the Qin adopted the
philosophy of Legalism, as opposed to the Confucian philosophy adopted by
the Han. What would have been the effect of China having 400 of its
formative years following Legalism, rather than Confucianism? I suppose
Legalism would have become as entrenched as Confucianism did OTL, rather
than being vilified by the Confucians.

What I know about Legalism isn't much, but according to https://
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legalism_(Chinese_philosophy), it depended on a
view of human nature somewhat like Hobbes, combined with a Utilitarian
ethic, and a quest for objectivity in measuring the results of policies
and in not favouring some groups over others (anathema to Confucians,
that). OTL, the Confucians also vilified the Legalists for relying on
punishment to deter, rather than having the rulers set a good moral
example to the peasants (though even a slight acquaintance with Outlaws
of the Marsh (otherwise called The Water Margin) or Journey to the West
(Monkey) shows that OTL punishments under Confucianism were pretty harsh
as well, and not obviously just, in that they fell more on the poor than
the rich).

In other words, Legalism looks to have similarities with British
philosophy of the early modern period, just before the IR. So one
possibility is that a Legalist China could make scientific and
technological advances on the same scale (they made a lot as it is),
relinquishing its advantage over other civilisations only on the
infrequent occasions when there's the upheaval of a change of dynasty.

On the other hand, Legalism definitely had a totalitarian and
centralising trend, and enhancing that (which was strong in China
anyway), might give us a China even more centralised and unable to adapt
to changing circumstances than OTL.

Any thoughts or comments?
jerry kraus
2017-08-10 19:00:32 UTC
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Post by Pete Barrett
I've been reading Sima Qian recently, about the transition from the Qin
to the Han dynasty in China. The Qin was a surprisingly short-lived
dynasty, which started well by unifying China after the Warring States
Period, and then went rapidly downhill after the first emperor died,
succumbing to Han two emperors and eight years later.
Sima Qian, as a good Confucian, attributes Qin's failure to the lack of
virtue of the emperors, though it's clear from his own account that Shi
Huangdi (the first emperor - the last two seem to have been quite
incompetent) was very serious about looking after his people, and wasn't
in any obvious way depraved in his personal life. There seems to be no
good reason why Qin shouldn't have lasted for several generations - the
Han lasted 400 years, so why not the Qin? Lets say that the Qin rulers
defeat the rebellions and last until 200 CE or so, bypassing the Han
altogether.
The Qin obviously had a major effect on their neighbours, because
everyone except the Chinese themselves refers to the country by their
name; presumably if they'd lasted as long as the Han, the Chinese would
call themselves the Qin instead of the Han (the _country_ would still be
the 'Middle Kingdom', I suppose), but that's a minor matter.
What really interests me about this is that the Qin adopted the
philosophy of Legalism, as opposed to the Confucian philosophy adopted by
the Han. What would have been the effect of China having 400 of its
formative years following Legalism, rather than Confucianism? I suppose
Legalism would have become as entrenched as Confucianism did OTL, rather
than being vilified by the Confucians.
What I know about Legalism isn't much, but according to https://
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legalism_(Chinese_philosophy), it depended on a
view of human nature somewhat like Hobbes, combined with a Utilitarian
ethic, and a quest for objectivity in measuring the results of policies
and in not favouring some groups over others (anathema to Confucians,
that). OTL, the Confucians also vilified the Legalists for relying on
punishment to deter, rather than having the rulers set a good moral
example to the peasants (though even a slight acquaintance with Outlaws
of the Marsh (otherwise called The Water Margin) or Journey to the West
(Monkey) shows that OTL punishments under Confucianism were pretty harsh
as well, and not obviously just, in that they fell more on the poor than
the rich).
In other words, Legalism looks to have similarities with British
philosophy of the early modern period, just before the IR. So one
possibility is that a Legalist China could make scientific and
technological advances on the same scale (they made a lot as it is),
relinquishing its advantage over other civilisations only on the
infrequent occasions when there's the upheaval of a change of dynasty.
On the other hand, Legalism definitely had a totalitarian and
centralising trend, and enhancing that (which was strong in China
anyway), might give us a China even more centralised and unable to adapt
to changing circumstances than OTL.
Any thoughts or comments?
Most interesting Pete. Definitely, might have changed things a bit in China. On the other hand, Chinese Imperialism always had strong legalistic tendencies, by its very nature, whether the government was officially Confucian, or Buddhist. And, much of Chinese society and structure was dictated, and still is, actually, by the pictographic Chinese script. This makes writing much more difficult, but also provides a truly universal script independent of spoken language. Hence, the very early development of printing in China. Hence, the reemergence of China as a great power now that computers make it so much easier to reproduce the Chinese language.

On the whole, I'm not sure the differences would have been that great. The empire required a strong centralizing and legalistic basis to function, and Confucianism was I think rather more a way of organizing family and community, than of controlling the Empire. Thus the very applied and functional interpretation of Buddhism in China, as a kind of practical, rule-based system, in China, so very different from Indian Buddhism. One can hardly imagine an Indian version of the ShaoLin! And, Buddhism frequently displaced Confucianism in China.

Actually, I'm not really sure Legalism ever was truly displaced in terms of running the Empire, although it was overlaid with Confucian traditions.
Pete Barrett
2017-08-11 08:05:02 UTC
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Post by jerry kraus
Post by Pete Barrett
I've been reading Sima Qian recently, about the transition from the Qin
to the Han dynasty in China. The Qin was a surprisingly short-lived
dynasty, which started well by unifying China after the Warring States
Period, and then went rapidly downhill after the first emperor died,
succumbing to Han two emperors and eight years later.
Sima Qian, as a good Confucian, attributes Qin's failure to the lack of
virtue of the emperors, though it's clear from his own account that Shi
Huangdi (the first emperor - the last two seem to have been quite
incompetent) was very serious about looking after his people, and
wasn't in any obvious way depraved in his personal life. There seems to
be no good reason why Qin shouldn't have lasted for several generations
- the Han lasted 400 years, so why not the Qin? Lets say that the Qin
rulers defeat the rebellions and last until 200 CE or so, bypassing the
Han altogether.
The Qin obviously had a major effect on their neighbours, because
everyone except the Chinese themselves refers to the country by their
name; presumably if they'd lasted as long as the Han, the Chinese would
call themselves the Qin instead of the Han (the _country_ would still
be the 'Middle Kingdom', I suppose), but that's a minor matter.
What really interests me about this is that the Qin adopted the
philosophy of Legalism, as opposed to the Confucian philosophy adopted
by the Han. What would have been the effect of China having 400 of its
formative years following Legalism, rather than Confucianism? I suppose
Legalism would have become as entrenched as Confucianism did OTL,
rather than being vilified by the Confucians.
What I know about Legalism isn't much, but according to https://
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legalism_(Chinese_philosophy), it depended on a
view of human nature somewhat like Hobbes, combined with a Utilitarian
ethic, and a quest for objectivity in measuring the results of policies
and in not favouring some groups over others (anathema to Confucians,
that). OTL, the Confucians also vilified the Legalists for relying on
punishment to deter, rather than having the rulers set a good moral
example to the peasants (though even a slight acquaintance with Outlaws
of the Marsh (otherwise called The Water Margin) or Journey to the West
(Monkey) shows that OTL punishments under Confucianism were pretty
harsh as well, and not obviously just, in that they fell more on the
poor than the rich).
In other words, Legalism looks to have similarities with British
philosophy of the early modern period, just before the IR. So one
possibility is that a Legalist China could make scientific and
technological advances on the same scale (they made a lot as it is),
relinquishing its advantage over other civilisations only on the
infrequent occasions when there's the upheaval of a change of dynasty.
On the other hand, Legalism definitely had a totalitarian and
centralising trend, and enhancing that (which was strong in China
anyway), might give us a China even more centralised and unable to
adapt to changing circumstances than OTL.
Any thoughts or comments?
Most interesting Pete. Definitely, might have changed things a bit in
China. On the other hand, Chinese Imperialism always had strong
legalistic tendencies, by its very nature, whether the government was
officially Confucian, or Buddhist.
Politically, that's probably right. Control of an empire almost
_requires_ a strong authoritarian and centralising streak (compare the
British Empire, which was much more authoritarian in the colonies and
India than laws ever were at home; much the same for the Romans).
Post by jerry kraus
And, much of Chinese society and
structure was dictated, and still is, actually, by the pictographic
Chinese script. This makes writing much more difficult, but also
provides a truly universal script independent of spoken language.
Hence, the very early development of printing in China. Hence, the
reemergence of China as a great power now that computers make it so much
easier to reproduce the Chinese language.
On the whole, I'm not sure the differences would have been that great.
The empire required a strong centralizing and legalistic basis to
function, and Confucianism was I think rather more a way of organizing
family and community, than of controlling the Empire. Thus the very
applied and functional interpretation of Buddhism in China, as a kind of
practical, rule-based system, in China, so very different from Indian
Buddhism. One can hardly imagine an Indian version of the ShaoLin!
And, Buddhism frequently displaced Confucianism in China.
Under the early Tang, Buddhism was the official ideology. I don't know of
any other time off hand, though it might have been adopted by one of the
minor dynasties in the Five Dynasties period, or by an individual emperor
of the Song, Yuan, or Ming.
Post by jerry kraus
Actually, I'm not really sure Legalism ever was truly displaced in terms
of running the Empire, although it was overlaid with Confucian
traditions.
Government is likely to be much as OTL (look at the punishments inflicted
by the putatively 'mild' Confucian administrators), but at a deeper
level, the attitude to things like evidence, bribery and nepotism, and,
particularly, reverence for the past, may be different.
jerry kraus
2017-08-11 13:29:47 UTC
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Post by Pete Barrett
Post by jerry kraus
Post by Pete Barrett
I've been reading Sima Qian recently, about the transition from the Qin
to the Han dynasty in China. The Qin was a surprisingly short-lived
dynasty, which started well by unifying China after the Warring States
Period, and then went rapidly downhill after the first emperor died,
succumbing to Han two emperors and eight years later.
Sima Qian, as a good Confucian, attributes Qin's failure to the lack of
virtue of the emperors, though it's clear from his own account that Shi
Huangdi (the first emperor - the last two seem to have been quite
incompetent) was very serious about looking after his people, and
wasn't in any obvious way depraved in his personal life. There seems to
be no good reason why Qin shouldn't have lasted for several generations
- the Han lasted 400 years, so why not the Qin? Lets say that the Qin
rulers defeat the rebellions and last until 200 CE or so, bypassing the
Han altogether.
The Qin obviously had a major effect on their neighbours, because
everyone except the Chinese themselves refers to the country by their
name; presumably if they'd lasted as long as the Han, the Chinese would
call themselves the Qin instead of the Han (the _country_ would still
be the 'Middle Kingdom', I suppose), but that's a minor matter.
What really interests me about this is that the Qin adopted the
philosophy of Legalism, as opposed to the Confucian philosophy adopted
by the Han. What would have been the effect of China having 400 of its
formative years following Legalism, rather than Confucianism? I suppose
Legalism would have become as entrenched as Confucianism did OTL,
rather than being vilified by the Confucians.
What I know about Legalism isn't much, but according to https://
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legalism_(Chinese_philosophy), it depended on a
view of human nature somewhat like Hobbes, combined with a Utilitarian
ethic, and a quest for objectivity in measuring the results of policies
and in not favouring some groups over others (anathema to Confucians,
that). OTL, the Confucians also vilified the Legalists for relying on
punishment to deter, rather than having the rulers set a good moral
example to the peasants (though even a slight acquaintance with Outlaws
of the Marsh (otherwise called The Water Margin) or Journey to the West
(Monkey) shows that OTL punishments under Confucianism were pretty
harsh as well, and not obviously just, in that they fell more on the
poor than the rich).
In other words, Legalism looks to have similarities with British
philosophy of the early modern period, just before the IR. So one
possibility is that a Legalist China could make scientific and
technological advances on the same scale (they made a lot as it is),
relinquishing its advantage over other civilisations only on the
infrequent occasions when there's the upheaval of a change of dynasty.
On the other hand, Legalism definitely had a totalitarian and
centralising trend, and enhancing that (which was strong in China
anyway), might give us a China even more centralised and unable to
adapt to changing circumstances than OTL.
Any thoughts or comments?
Most interesting Pete. Definitely, might have changed things a bit in
China. On the other hand, Chinese Imperialism always had strong
legalistic tendencies, by its very nature, whether the government was
officially Confucian, or Buddhist.
Politically, that's probably right. Control of an empire almost
_requires_ a strong authoritarian and centralising streak (compare the
British Empire, which was much more authoritarian in the colonies and
India than laws ever were at home; much the same for the Romans).
Post by jerry kraus
And, much of Chinese society and
structure was dictated, and still is, actually, by the pictographic
Chinese script. This makes writing much more difficult, but also
provides a truly universal script independent of spoken language.
Hence, the very early development of printing in China. Hence, the
reemergence of China as a great power now that computers make it so much
easier to reproduce the Chinese language.
On the whole, I'm not sure the differences would have been that great.
The empire required a strong centralizing and legalistic basis to
function, and Confucianism was I think rather more a way of organizing
family and community, than of controlling the Empire. Thus the very
applied and functional interpretation of Buddhism in China, as a kind of
practical, rule-based system, in China, so very different from Indian
Buddhism. One can hardly imagine an Indian version of the ShaoLin!
And, Buddhism frequently displaced Confucianism in China.
Under the early Tang, Buddhism was the official ideology. I don't know of
any other time off hand, though it might have been adopted by one of the
minor dynasties in the Five Dynasties period, or by an individual emperor
of the Song, Yuan, or Ming.
Post by jerry kraus
Actually, I'm not really sure Legalism ever was truly displaced in terms
of running the Empire, although it was overlaid with Confucian
traditions.
Government is likely to be much as OTL (look at the punishments inflicted
by the putatively 'mild' Confucian administrators), but at a deeper
level, the attitude to things like evidence, bribery and nepotism, and,
particularly, reverence for the past, may be different.
Well, I suppose it might have been rather more like contemporary Chinese Communism, Pete! Maybe that's why Mao totally outlawed Confucianism in China for twenty years, he thought that the Quin were right and the Han made a mistake, after all. Of course, Mao was trying to eliminate all traditional influences on Chinese culture so that Communism could sweep away the old and bring in the new. Now, of course, Confucianism is legal again, and is starting to have some influence once more. Within the very tight constraints imposed by the communist party of China, of course.
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