By: Daniel Otero
The Chinese Empire developed by the 5th Century, Before the Common Era. It reached its greatest zenith by the 14th Century [Middle Age], before its decline—by basically self-imploding due to its leaders and Emperors.
China’s comeback wouldn’t occur till the end of the 20th Century.
On the other hand, the British Empire was a global superpower for 400 years (16th to 20th Century). Britain had a navy that ruled from sea to sea the entire world at one point.
This is an analysis on these two nations and their impact in the world.
Britain ruled 1/5 of the planet at one point, from the 16th to well into the 20th Century. With maritime ports from Portsmouth to Sydney, Empire brought its language, culture and customs from shore to shore.
What began with the Elizabethan period (Elizabeth I) grew to a marvelous climax by the Victorian era.
Extending its value in exquisite trade, India became the crown-jewel of the British Empire, the most spoken language became and still is English in the world and when the Greeks gave us football—British took it from nation to nation.
After ancient Greece, Britain gave a new a special meaning to the word, democracy. Establishing one of the first documents for rights and civil liberties with Magna Carta (1215), what England did was light years ahead of any country in Europe and the world. Later, much of the U.S. Constitution would be inspired by Magna Carta.
Empire also had this downsize…
In the competition with other growing nations like Portugal, Spain and France; Britain got into the lucrative but dehumanizing business of slavery for the next two centuries.
The English exploited places in India and Africa to extract gold and diamonds, while conquering lands. The hypocrisy became more apparent when the population practiced human rights back in London; however, could never give the same to the rest of Empire. Billions of pounds were extracted from the colonies and it made the U.K. what it is today, one of the greatest nations on earth (like it or not).
Wars were started to exert control over lands. There’s notable evidence in China with the past Opium Wars to control the trade and distribution of narcotics; which lead to the control of parts of Shanghai, Southern China and the hostile take over of Hong Kong for the next 150 years.
In South Africa it was for gold and the fight against those of Dutch ancestry born in Africa. The Boer Wars came to be a power struggle over land. When in 1896 gold was discovered in Johannesburg, South Africa, England with the ideals of Cecil Rhodes knew that they could never give never give up on the bottom tip of Africa. During the Boer War, to control the population and POWs on the Boer side, Concentration Camps were created. Yes, the same Concentration Camps later perfected by the Nazi and SS Germans in World War II. This began as an experimentation programme to repress and kill the Africaaners whom did not submit to the will of Empire.
Empire took, abused and became enriched on the sweat of colonials’ backs. Presently, the U.K. has admitted to these abuses.
And on the other hand, what has angered me contemporarily has been the BBC or journalist like Jeremy Paxman, whom when they report on Africa, it is as if the Continent still belongs to the U.K. Historians like Neill Ferguson aren’t any better with their justifications of Empire and questioning, why would the U.S. want independence from England back in 1776? Well, the U.S. could and never wanted to allow the abuses of King and his armies upon its citizens. Furthermore, Americans never desired to be treated like second-class citizens by the Crown and the English in their own land. These are the simple facts.
Right or wrong, the U.K. has made a deep and historical impression on most of our lives. The point is, looking at Britain for its legacy and admiring its good qualities, while never forgetting the wrongs perpetrated against its former colonies and colonials.
The Middle Kingdom began developing its greatness some 2,500 years ago. Their Empire extended all the way from Nanjing to Xi’an and further into Xinjiang. It was one of the first countries in the world to build the best walled cities and they were number one in the world till the 17th Century on fortifications. These walls protected for thousands of kilometers frontiers and cities, these strong stone carved and brick layered barriers can extend easily seven meters in width and height. Engineering marvels that stand till today to impress and they are no short of miracles. One is the case of the 8,000 kilometer Great Wall, one built on the backs of conscripts, slaves and at the cost of millions of lives.
Another development was their use of combat arts.
China built an Empire inwardly and expanded out. It developed an army of monks and soldiers who could defend/fight others with deadly use of their hands and blades.
This influence extended outwardly into parts of Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Myanmar, Tibet and as far west as India.
The Empire developed not only in strength, but with the best education in philosophy. Just to name a few philosophers and strategist: Confucius, Mencius, Lao Tzu and Sun Tzu.
Inventions came in the form of the crossbow, gunpowder, paper and the printing press. Arts achieved greatness in calligraphy and painting. Development came in beauty and warfare with the Tang and Song Dynasties. I mean, things really flourished to a level in its history and one that would take nearly 1,000 years to get it back! China flung the doors open to sexuality and homosexuality. Makes one wonder what happened presently to change all of these glorious achievements.
As the Empire became bigger and greater with the Ming Dynasty; it also reached its full potential and zenith with overseas explorations, while Zheng He was at the helm.
And suddenly, after the Empire had developed for 4,000 years, it just simply ‘closed its doors’ to the outside world. It was the beginning of the end with the Ming Dynasty.
In the Emperors own arrogance they closed the country off for the next 700 years. After, the majority of the problems that affected this country were caused by its own leaders in ridiculous self-destruction and mostly, pitting Chinese against Chinese.
China would not experience any type of change, growth or prosperity till the end of the 20th and
beginning of the 21st Century.
This closure cost China dearly. Making it backward, ignorant and isolated and it was further [negatively] controlled for 100 years by foreign powers (Century of Humiliation, 1849 – 1949).
Whether empires are built internally or externally, one thing is common on their potential and destruction. One point has been a constant in history—empires die out based on arrogance, abuse of power and thinking they will remain forever. This is cautionary tale for my own country, the United States on its dusk upon the world stage.
Empires can leave a lasting impression and influence in the world. These are felt in positive or negative effects, which can last for generations. Observe what happened to China after Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, and how their influence has lasted till present-day.
For the British, I believe Empire technically ended by 1968. Crisis in the colonies, wars abroad, riots and massive strikes back it the U.K. caused the end of its existence as a global dominant force.
However, the greatest part of Britain’s influence in the world has been through: language, an influential society, books, in sports, movies, T.V. series and militarily.
With China, my analysis is, the Ming Dynasty ended Empire by the 14th Century. It has taken China seven centuries to get it all back.
And the treasures China has given the world since the 1970s, when the ancient Middle Kingdom began opening up again. The influence is undeniably staggering…
Bruce Lee (although he was born in San Francisco, USA) developed his career in Hong Kong and brought Kung-fu with Tai-chi to the Western masses.
China’s further influence in the world market and later displacing Japan in consumer goods by the late 1990s; to the point where most of the clothes we wear today state 90 percent of the times, “Made in China”.
Chinatowns throughout the world have been spreading their culture with 50 million mainland Chinese living outside of China.
Chinese is presently one of the seven main languages spoken and most often used from Singapore to New York City and the United Nations.
More and more westerners want to learn about Chinese culture, language and foods. Often these foreigners come to work and study in China to learn more about this ancient and mysterious society.
Tourism has skyrocketed in the last 15 years and China has become the number one destination for travelers in the world. Often, tourists come here to see the Great Wall and Terracotta Warriors, 60 million and counting!
Having lived in both countries, one with 2,000 years and another of 5,000 year history—both former empires and I have to say, it’s been absolutely great learning experiences! It’s even better to state how these two have influenced the global stage and continue to do so.
For all their rights or wrongs, these grand places are to learn about and bask in their achievements.