Free «Western European Feudalism and the Chinese Empire» Essay Paper

Western European Feudalism and the Chinese Empire

The medieval period in the human history was a multifaceted and complex time. The level of development of different empires and territories had more differences than similarities, as the social, economic, and political connections between various countries were relatively weak. However, this period also gave birth to the first global tendencies in the cultural and intellectual spheres. This essay will compare and contrast of Western European Feudalism and the Chinese Empire in the historical period of 750-1250 in terms of their political, military, economic, religious, and cultural peculiarities.

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In 750-1250 in Europe, feudalism was the main political principle that defined all the relations between different social classes. Feudalism meant the exchange of land for military service, so these relations stipulated the division of powers in the European medieval society and made the rulers dependant on the support of their knights (Holmes 16). However, such relations were quite problematic as there were no effective guarantees that the rights of the lord or his vassals would be respected. As a result, the conflicts were rather frequent during that time. Historians do not have a univocal answer to the question whether the term “feudalism” is appropriate for the description of medieval China, but it is obvious that the Chinese Empire shared certain features of European feudalism. The Chinese emperors also used the practice of granting land to the local rulers for the promise of military and political support, thus making the political system rather decentralized, as the power of the local lords on their territories was almost limitless (Twitchett and Fairbank 42).

Furthermore, feudalism stipulated the military development of both European and Chinese civilizations as the vassals possessed the majority of the military power of their respective empires and kingdoms. However, military strategies and weapons used in Europe and China were quite different. Siege warfre was considered one of the most effective strategies in Europe as large castles provided significant protection for their inhabitants. After the beginning of the Crusades in the late eleventh century, the European warfare profoundly changed, embracing innovative global approaches (Holmes 67). The Chinese military scene, in its turn, was primarily characterized by the usage of gunpowder that was considered to be invented in China in the ninth century. Later, the Chinese also began to use the earliest forms of rockets and cannons that were still unknown in Europe (Twitchett and Fairbank 216). The Song Dynasty was also the first dynasty of rulers who chose to have a permanent standing navy.

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The economic systems of medieval Europe and China were quite different as well. The European economics was under the huge influence of wars and conquests, so it was quite unstable and prone to changes. Money in the form of specific currencies played an insignificant role as the basis of economics was the goods the people could produce themselves (in case of peasants or urban artisans) or get from others (in case of lords and nobles). The manorial economic system was characterized by the fact that social classes relied on each other for agriculture, as medieval Europe was mostly rural, and cities were of moderate significance (Holmes 34). Although trade was quite important for European feudalism, it played a much more significant role in the Chinese Empire, as the Silk Road gave this civilization plenty of opportunities to increase and develop the trade potential of the state. The main goods exported from China were tea, porcelain, and silk. From other territories, the merchants brought horses, metals, glass, and other products. However, since the tenth century, most of these goods could be produced in China as well. In contrast to Europe, money was crucial for the Chinese economic system. By approximately 1100 AD, during the time of the Song Dynasty, people had begun to use paper money that was a great innovation at that period (TTwitchett and Fairbank 49).

Western European Feudalism and the Chinese Empire of 750-1250 witnessed great interconnections of religion and culture. In Europe, the cultural, as well as the political, sphere was dominated by the Catholic Church headed by the Pope. The bigger part of the literary works, paintings, and sculptures created during this period were connected with the religious themes. The principles of Romanesque art were dominant till the tenth century, but after that the European art was largely of Gothic nature (Holmes 121). Whereas religion, namely Confucianism, also played a significant role in the culture of the Chinese Empire, the ideology of this religion was different. Confucianism focused on the social duties of a person and paid little attention to the purely spiritual aspects, in contrast to Catholicism. In addition, this religion was also used to educate the state officials who were responsible for maintaining control over the large territories of the Chinese Empire.  Confucianism had a huge influence on the choice of themes popular in the Chinese art in the medieval times. The genre drawings featuring, for example, people at work or the nobles walking in their palaces as well as ink landscape paintings were quite popular (Twitchett and Fairbank 152). Moreover, Buddhism was important for the Chinese culture of that period, and the artists often portray Buddha and other corresponding religious motifs.

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In conclusion, Western European Feudalism and the Chinese Empire had significant similarities in the sphere of political and social structure, since feudalism, in slightly different forms, was the basis of both civilizations. However, the military, economic, and cultural areas were mostly different, which could be explained by geographical and religious contrasts. Nevertheless, both civilizations were medieval in their nature, and in the period of 750-1250, they did not show any significant signs of the profound changes in terms of economy and social stratification.

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