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Comparing and Contrasting Han China and Imperial Rome

In many aspects, Han China and Imperial Rome were politically and socially similar yet different. Han China, which lasted from 206 B.C.E to 220 C.E, and Imperial Rome, which lasted from 31 B.C.E to 476 C.E, both had highly advanced political systems and social structures. Though many things have changed in Rome and China, the Roman Empire still retained many political and social aspects from the Roman Republic, and Han China from the Qin Dynasty. These two empires were, arguably, the most influential empires in the world. During the peaks of these two empires, they controlled the majority of the global population, while the government structure of the Han and Rome influenced many future societies and empires all over the world; their society was not unlike the other empires in the world: the same social hierarchy present in almost every other civilization in this time period existed. Even though some differences between these two empires prevailed, they were still able to support themselves for many centuries effectively, and their legacies still live on today. Han China and Rome have many similarities between their political systems. Before, in China, bureaucrats were appointed by the emperor, in whom the emperor would usually choose close relations and aristocrats. In Imperial Rome, the upper class could influence the Senatorial structure. However, the aristocrats were not the only ones who were able to participate in government anymore. In China, people were able to join the bureaucracy by taking the Civil Service Exam, and in Rome, some plebeians took part in the Assembly. Even if there was a rift in the social stratification of the political structure, there were only certain types of people that were allowed to join. In Rome, only free men were allowed to participate

in government. Slaves and women could not. In China, women were not allowed to participate in government, either. Both these empires had a patriarchal imperial rule, where the emperor was male. Although aristocrats were not the only ones able to participate in bureaucracies, the government system of Han China and Imperial Rome favored the upper classes. In Rome, the wealthy were mainly the only ones who had the means to achieve the knowledge to be able to participate in government. In Han China, only the aristocrats had the time or money to learn the complex Chinese characters as well as Chinese history, literature, and much more. Because only the aristocrats had this luxury as well as familial connections, they, therefore, had a higher advantage of passing the Civil Service Exam, which tested over these subjects. Aristocrats had enough money to learn, while peasants and farmers had neither the time, nor the resources to be able to learn anything. Because there was less social ranking in the government system of Han China and Imperial Rome, and the bureaucracy was occasionally based off merit rather than social class, and age, this limited the emperors power in both of these empires. Even though the emperors power was limited, the style of government was still autocratic, meaning the emperor possessed essentially unlimited power. These two empires were strong militarily, expanding much of its region. Han China extended its boundaries to present-day Tibet, North Korea, and North Vietnam. Based on, Imperial Rome extended its boundaries to present-day England, Spain, France, Greece, the Middle East, and the coast of North Africa, influencing much of their culture and politics. Though the political systems of these two empires were quite similar, they are also very different. The overall structure of the region was different. Rome had provinces that were administrative and territorial units of the empire. They were ruled by the general in charge of

that province instead of the emperor, while China was divided into prefectures as well as a few semi-autonomous kingdoms that were controlled directly by the central government (according to The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han). The types of government in these two empires differ as well. In Imperial Rome, the members of the Assembly were chosen based on the votes of the patricians, while in Han China those who wanted to join the government had to take an exam that determined their knowledge. Because of this, to be a part of the government in Rome required more charisma, political skill, and connections, than in China. In China, those who wanted to join the bureaucracy were required to learn many different and difficult topics in order to pass the Civil Service Exam, few people had the time or money to do so. As a result, only about five percent of the population was able to pass the examination and receive titles. The emperors of the two empires were chosen differently as well. In Rome, the Senate was technically responsible for selecting the emperor. However, he was chosen by the army or the previous emperor most of the time. In China, (according to World Civilizations: the Global Experience) the majority of the time, the emperor's rule was chosen by the Mandate of Heaven, meaning that God had given the emperor divine right to rule, when in reality it was a power. In Rome, the struggle for the throne made the position of emperor more dangerous than in the Han. Emperors in the Roman Empire ruled for short periods of time and were frequently assassinated, which eventually led to periods of instability. The military of Han China and Imperial Rome was also different. According to The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han, Han China used the nomads on the edges of the territory as part of the military instead of citizens. Most of the military power was given to non-Chinese tribesmen the nomads near the border because they were skilled in the practice of war. Because of this, the Chinese were

able to prevent local powers from challenging China, but it also led to those who were not Chinese taking over China. Rome, on the other hand, was militaristic to the point where the army had more political power than the emperor. The army was mainly comprised of Roman citizens who had volunteered. The social structures of Rome and China are also very similar. In both Han China and Imperial Rome, the social structure was hierarchical. The slaves were at the bottom. Of the class structure after this, placed only marginally higher, were the plebeians, or peasant class in China. The gentry class in China, and the equestrians, senators, and patricians in Rome, came above the working class, enjoying greater social privileges and political opportunity. At the top of the social hierarchy however, was indisputably the emperor. In both these societies, birth played an important factor in the determination of ones social class. One way to rise in class was by joining and serving in the military. Imperial Rome and Han China both had a tight family structure. Although women had some influence, the majority of the familial power rested with the father/ husband. The eldest son took second in terms of control of the household if, for example, the father died, his power over the family would be transferred over to the eldest son. In Rome and Han, the revenues came primarily from the peasant class. According to, during the Han Dynasty, the peasants and merchants paid the majority of the taxes. In Han China, merchants had to pay two hundred and forty coins annually, while most adults only had to pay one hundred and twenty coins. Minors between the age of three and fourteen were required to pay twenty coins. In Rome, the peasant and slave population were taxed heavily as well. In both these societies, the wealthy enjoyed comparatively luxurious lives. In Rome, the wealthy could be expected to hold high

government positions and become officials. In Han China, the elite displayed their wealth by eating extravagant meals, and living in large homes. Both societies especially the aristocrats, as they had more wealth patronized the arts. In Rome, entertainment facilities like the Colosseum and other theaters and amphitheaters were built. In Han China, poetry, stories, and books dominated, and many works of literature were written during this dynasty. The societies of Han China and Imperial Rome differ as well. There was a large difference between the predominant classes of China and Rome. In China, the most predominant class were peasants, while in Rome there was a higher population of patricians. Since the peasant population in Rome was not as high as Chinas, this led to a greater dependency on slaves. In Han China, the population of slaves only amounted to about ten percent, while, according to Egypt, Greece, and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean (by Charles Freeman), in Rome, the population of slaves reached about forty percent of the entire population, which amounted to two to three million slaves. This is because in China, those who owned slaves had to pay an annual tax of two hundred and forty coins per slave owned. This is equivalent to the annual tax rate of a merchant living during Han China. The Romans used a large amount of slave labor in order to produce goods. Religion played a larger role in Rome than in China. In Rome, the emperors took a large part in religion and organized a state religion, while in China the emperors were more deistic, acknowledging God and taking part in ceremonies, but not concerning themselves too much with it, based on 5000 Years of Chinese History. The road system of Rome was more advanced than Han Chinas. It included more than fifty thousand miles of paved road compared to Han Chinas twenty-two thousand miles of unpaved road. This made it easier and quicker to transport goods, ideas, and the army in Rome than in China. Due

to the more superior roads in Rome, different cultures were able to travel to Rome quickly. The Roman society was more assimilative. The Romans tolerated other cultures in its empire. For instance, after the Romans conquered a territory, many citizens would be sent to settle in the new areas among the existing people and exchange customs. This led to a more diverse empire. The Chinese on the other hand, would completely wipe out the existence of the people they conquered, replacing it with their own culture and society in order to stabilize the dynasty. By comparing political and social aspects of Han China and Imperial Rome, it is evident that there are several differences and similarities between the two empires. Though these two societies occurred during relatively different time periods, their maintenance of power and society can be viewed through each other. These two empires not only indirectly influenced each other, but other great empires in the world as well. Many aspects of Han Chinas society and politics have influenced present day China, while present day Italy (plus the majority of Europe) was shaped by the Roman Empire. These two empires Han China and Imperial Rome were one of the greatest this world has ever seen.