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Lecture 2 The Rise and Decline of Chinese and
Western Civilization – An Overview
Lecturer: Dr. Terence Man-tat Leung
The “Golden Age” of Chinese
 The Chinese history spanning from roughly 600AD
to 1600 AD is a period of stunning development in
 From the Tang Dynasty through the “pre-modern”
commercial and urban development of the Song era
(1000 AD), to the Ming voyages of exploration (also
known as the “treasure voyages” e.g. 鄭和下西洋 )
(1405-1433) with ships that reach as far as the coast
of Africa.
The “Golden Age” of Chinese
 The achievements of China under the Song are the subject of
Marco Polo’s “fantastic” reports when he journeys to China under
the Mongols, who rule in China for eighty-nine years (1279- 1368)
as the Yuan dynasty, between the Song and Ming.
 馬可 · 波羅是義大利威尼斯商人、旅行家及探險家。據本人說
回到威尼斯後,馬可 · 波羅在一次威尼斯和熱那亞之間的海戰
中被俘,在監獄裡口述其旅行經歷,由魯斯蒂謙寫出《馬可 ·
西發展有很大的貢獻。 (source: wikipedia)
The “Golden Age” of Chinese
 The Song is distinguished by enormous commercial
growth that historians refer to as “pre-modern” in
 The growth in a) the production of non-agricultural
goods in a rural and household context (“cottage
industries” 茅舍工業 such as silk), and in b) the
production of cash crops ( 經濟作物 ) that are sold
rather than consumed (especially tea), leads to the
extension of market forces into the everyday life of
ordinary people.
The “Golden Age” of Chinese
 When this commercial development takes place in
European history it is labeled “proto-industrial” growth
by historians, important in European history because it
is succeeded by industrialization where the production
moves to cities.
 In China, the production of nonagricultural goods at
the household level begins in Song and remains an
important form of production and market development
in China until the 20th century.
  China is distinguished by early development in this
The “Golden Age” of Chinese
 Urbanization accompanies commercial growth and
Chinese cities are the largest and most sophisticated
in the world at this time.
 During the Song there is enormous growth in
Chinese population and a shift in the locus of this
population to southern China.
 Under the Tang dynasty, which precedes the Song,
the population is concentrated in the north of China,
in the wheat growing area.
The “Golden Age” of Chinese
 After 1127 when the Southern Song makes its capital in
Hangzhou, below the Yangtze River, there is a corresponding shift
in the concentration of the Chinese population to southern China,
below the Yangtze River.
 The Grand Canal ( 大 運 河 ), built during the Sui Dynasty,
connects the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers, facilitating the
transport of agricultural production from the south to the north and
helping to unify the economy of China.
The “Golden Age” of Chinese
 Students might consider these questions:
 Did commercialization have to lead to
industrialization, as it did in the West?
 Were there other factors influencing the economic
development of the West?
 Is the Western pattern the “norm” or the Chinese
pattern? What made each country’s economic
evolution follow the path it took?
Bridging the East and the West
 Marco Polo visits China (from 1275-1291) under the
Mongol rule, as he is widely regarded as one of the pioneers
who testifies the great achievement of the Chinese society
from a Western perspective.
 The Ming defeated the Mongol conquerors in 1368 and
reasserted Chinese military and political authority on land
and sea.
 The officially sponsored Ming voyages of admiral Zheng
He, from 1405-1433, provide an interesting basis for
comparison of the Chinese and European capabilities and
goals of maritime trade 海 上 貿 易 and exploration at this
Bridging the East and the West
 “… The Ming emperors sponsored an extraordinary series
of seven voyages under the leadership of Admiral 上 將
Zheng He.
 … His huge fleets sailed the Indian Ocean 印度洋 as far as
the Persian Gulf 波 斯 灣 and the eastern coast of Africa,
proclaiming the magnificence of the (Chinese) empire.
 … While Zheng He brought lavish gifts to the states he
visited and encourages their leaders to offer tribute 贡物 to
the Chinese emperor, at no time did he seek to extend
Chinese territory.” (From Circa 1492: Art in the Age of
Bridging the East and the West
 China in 1492 (i.e. the time when Columbus 哥倫
布 “ discovers” America) was the oldest, largest,
and richest civilization in the world.
 Its command of science and technology far
exceeded than that of Europe.
 A strong agrarian economy 農業經濟 ensured that
its inhabitants were better provided for than those of
any other society on earth.
  China as the “central kingdom” [ 中 - 国 ] (under
its own self-perception)
Bridging the East and the West
 China and Chinese inventions are of interest to
Europeans during the scientific revolution 科學革
命 and the Enlightenment 啟蒙運動 in Europe.
 The Chinese inventions of printing, gunpowder 火
藥 , and the mariner’s compass 航 海 羅 盤 were
brought to Europe by Arab traders during the
Renaissance 文藝复興 and Reformation 宗教改
Bridging the East and the West
 The emperors of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) presided
over a vast and stable centralized bureaucracy 中央集權的官
僚系统 .
 In addition to a hereditary aristocracy, the governing elite
was composed of scholar-officials recruited on the basis of
merit through civil examinations 科舉考試 open to all. 
the emergence of “meritocracy” 精英管治
 Many Chinese painters of the middle Ming period were
themselves officials, a situation unparalleled in the West.
 The idea of artist-officials arose naturally in China, where
candidates for government were expected to practice
calligraphy and compose poetry.
Bridging the East and the West
 Francis Bacon 培 根 (1561-1626), a leading philosopher,
politician, and adviser to King James I of England, was deeply
impressed by the significance of those Chinese inventions:
“It is well to observe the force and virtue and consequence of
discoveries. These are to be seen nowhere more clearly than those
three which were unknown to the ancients (the Greeks), and of which
the origin, though recent, is obscure and inglorious; namely, printing,
gunpowder, and the magnet. For these three have changed the whole
face and stage of things throughout the world, the first in literature,
the second in warfare, the third in navigation; whence have followed
innumerable changes; insomuch that no empire, no sect, no star,
seems to have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs
than these three mechanical discoveries.” (From The Scientific
Revolution, by Peter Amey, p.23)
Bridging the East and the West
 During the period of the Enlightenment in Europe (1700s), European
thinkers such as Voltaire 伏爾泰 , Leibniz 萊布尼茨 , Quesnay 魁奈
and the Physiocrats 重農學派 are interested in Chinese philosophy
in the 1700s.
 The role of the Chinese emperor as a ruler responsible for the welfare
of all the people, the emphasis on agriculture as the basis of the
country’s wealth, the importance of education, the use of the civil
service exams to select educated men for government service, and
other elements of Confucian thought are studied by philosophers in
France in the 18th century prior to the French Revolution.
 This is also the period when the Jesuits 耶穌會士 are active at the
Chinese court (1600s-1700s), serving as advisers particularly in
astronomy, and relaying knowledge between Europe and China.
Bridging the East and the West
The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
 Western civilization traces its roots back to Europe
and the Mediterranean.
 It is linked to the Roman Empire and with Medieval
Western Christendom 中世紀西方基督教 which
emerged from the Middle Ages to experience such
transformative episodes as the Renaissance, the
Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial
Revolution, scientific revolution, and the subsequent
development of liberal democracy 自由民主 .
The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
 The civilizations of Classical Greece 古 希 臘 and
Ancient Rome 古羅馬 , as well as early Christendom,
are considered seminal periods 開 創 性 的 時 期 in
Western history.
 Cultural contributions also emerged from the pagan
peoples 異教徒 of pre-Christian Europe, and from the
civilizations in the Ancient Near East.
 Western civilization has spread to produce the dominant
cultures of modern North America, South America, and
Oceania 大 洋 洲 , and has had immense global
influence in recent centuries in many ways.
The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
 By the 12th century, Europe was experiencing a flowering of
art and learning, propelled by the construction of cathedrals
教堂 and the establishment of medieval universities.
 Christian unity was shattered by the Reformation from the
14th century.
 A merchant class 商人階層 thereby grew out of city states,
initially in the Italian peninsula, and Europe experienced the
Renaissance from the 14th to the 17th century, heralding an
age of technological and artistic advancement and ushering
in the Age of Discovery 大航海時代 which saw the rise of
such global European Empires as those of Spain, Portugal
and Britain.
The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
 The Industrial Revolution 工業革命 began in Britain in the
18th century.
 Under the influence of the Enlightenment, the Age of
Revolution emerged from the United States and France as
part of the transformation of the West into its industrialized,
democratized modern form.
  yet, it also marked the beginning of a new era of “colonial
modernity” 殖民現代性
 The lands of North and South America and Australia became
first part of European Empires and then home to new
Western nations, while Africa and Asia were largely carved
up between Western powers and imperialists.
The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
 Laboratories of Western democracy were founded in Britain’s
colonies in Australasia 澳大拉西亚 from the mid-19th centuries,
while South America largely created new autocracies 独裁政权 .
 The “civilizing mission” ( 文 明 使 命 ) is a rationale for
intervention or colonization, proposing to contribute to the spread
of civilization, mostly in reference to the Westernization 西化 of
indigenous 土著 peoples.
 This ‘mission’ was notably the underlying principle of French
and Portuguese colonial rule in the late 19th and early 20th

“Missionary sex position”

The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
 “Civilizing mission” was influential in the French
colonies of Algeria, French West Africa, and Indochina
印度支那 , and in the Portuguese colonies of Angola,
Guinea, Mozambique and Timor.
 The European colonial powers felt it was their duty to
bring Western civilization to what they perceived as
‘backward’ peoples.
 Rather than merely govern colonial peoples, the
Europeans would attempt to Westernize them in
accordance with a colonial ideology known as
“assimilation.” ( 同化 )
The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
 The intellectual origins of the “civilizing
mission” can be traced back the Christian
tradition dating from the Middle Ages.
 European thinkers had naturalized social
change by using the development metaphor.
 In the eighteenth century history became to be
seen as an unilinear 單 線 , unending, and
inevitable process of social evolutionism 社 會
進 化 論 with the European nations running
The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
 Western racists saw the “backward” nations 落 後 的 國 家 as
intrinsically incapable but the more “progressive” thinkers in the
West postulated a holy duty to help those peoples “which, to
civilize themselves, wait only to receive the means from us, to
find brothers among Europeans and to become their friends and
disciple.” ” 白人的負擔”( The White Man’s Burden )
 Evolutionist views survived colonialism. Modernization
theorists declared that traditional customs had to be destroyed,
traditional societies had to adapt or to disappear.
 To become civilized has always meant to become “like us” (i.e.
the Western people).  i.e. strict dichotomous thinking of the
West (i.e. self/other; right/wrong; West/East)
The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
 ‘Civilizing mission’ can easily turn into a warfare. The Opium
Wars 鴉 片 戰 爭 were two wars in the mid-19th century
involving Anglo-Chinese disputes over British trade (ie. mainly
opium) in China and China’s sovereignty.
 The Eight-Nation Alliance ( 八 國 聯 軍 ) was an international
coalition set up in response to the Boxer 義和團 Rebellion by
the nations of Japan, Russia, the British Empire, France, the
United States, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary.
 The coalition launched what it saw as a ‘humanitarian
intervention’ 人 道 主 义 干 预 and invaded Qing China;
eventually relieving the siege of the Legations 使馆 in Beijing
during the summer of 1900.  leading to “a century of shame
and humiliation” in China
The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
 Most Western nations were heavily involved in the First and Second
World Wars. Many European powers have been heavily shattered.
 The aftermath of the World War II saw Fascism defeated in Europe, and
the emergence of the United States and Soviet Union as rival global
powers and a new “East-West” political contrast.  Cold War 冷戰

 根據法西斯主義研究的新學術共識,《世界法西斯:一歷史百科全
書》定義法西斯主義為 :
 一種具革命形式的極致民族主義,此民族主義決心要動員所有「健
 根據法西斯的跨國比較及世界史研究總結出的定義,通用、泛型的
The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
 Other than in Russia, the European Empires
disintegrated 瓦 解 after World War II, civil rights
movements 民權運動 , decolonialization movements
解 殖 運 動 and widescale multi-ethnic, multi-faith
migrations to Europe, the Americas and Oceania
altered the earlier predominance of European forces in
Western culture.
 Absolute monarchy 绝 对 君 主 制 was abolished.
European nations moved towards greater economic
and political co-operation through the European
The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
 After the end of the Cold War in 1989, the Western capitalist world
retains significant global economic power and cultural influence.
 The West has contributed a great many technological, political,
philosophical, artistic and religious aspects to modern international
  e.g. the birth of participatory democracy, the first major
civilization to seek to abolish slavery during the 19th century, the
first to enfranchise women in social and political realms and the
continual development of environmentally-saving technologies etc.
 The West also invented cinema, television, the personal computer
and the Internet; produced a wide range of artists; developed
different kinds of, and transported humans to an astronomical object
for the first time with the 1969 Apollo 11 Lunar Landing and so on.
The Rise and Fall of Western
Civilization since 1400
 However, it is also true that the global influences (especially
the economic impacts) of the Western powers have declined
gradually ever since towards the beginning of the 21 st century
(especially in the wake of the global financial tsunami in 2008).

 Probing questions:
 Do you think that our contemporary world has moved towards
a more balanced distribution of power between the Eastern and
Western countries?
 Do you think that our Chinese civilization can become a force
to be reckoned (if not being revived 復興 ) again in the global
cultural sphere in this age of China’s rise ( 中國崛起 )?