Continuity and Change over Time in Classical Civilizations
After the fall of the classical civilizations from 100 to 600 CE the world experienced many changes. China’s fall was not as drastic as Rome’s, but it was still worse than India’s. The collapse of the Han dynasty caused China to go into three centuries of unrest until the Sui and Tang dynasties came to the rescue. China had more continuities than changes after its fall, unlike the other classical civilizations.
China went from a politically centralized civilization with a developed hierarchy with mutual respect of the upper and lower classes that followed Confucian ways of obedience and deference to the syncretism of Buddhism and Daoism during 100 to 600 CE because of nomadic invasions, corrupt bureaucracies, and religious fluctuations. However, bureaucracies and Confucianism remained. China’s collapse began because of outside nomadic invasions by the Huns.
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However, after the three centuries of unrest, the nomads simply tried to assimilate into Chinese traditions after realizing they did not have anything better to offer.
During the centuries of chaos, approximately one-half of the population was killed by epidemics. Confucianism, a large imprint of the ways of life in China, became intellectually less active. The bureaucracies became corrupt, which allowed Buddhism to expand to China and threaten its unity. After the bureaucracies corrupted, local landlords picked up power in local neighborhoods. This caused more taxes to the already heavily taxed peasants, causing further social unrest. During this time, Daoism’s appeal increased because of its healing practices and magic.
A Daoist movement led by the Yellow Turbans (who promised a golden age) attacked the weak government; however, this failed and simply furthered the downward spiral of classical China. After three centuries of unrest in China, the Sui and T’ang dynasties stepped in. The T’ang dynasty is responsible for the glorious periods of China. This dynasty restored peace to China and revived much of its old ways. Because of the T’ang dynasty, China had returned to its Confucian ways as well as bureaucratic. Because of these dynasties, the bureaucratic system became more elaborate.
Even though the bureaucracy declined during the pandemonium, it never did disappear. The structures of classical China were simply too strong to be completely overturned. Despite the continuities, China did exhibit changes after its political and social upheaval. Buddhism had become a major religion in the world because of the expansion eastward during classical China’s demise. Some Buddhist beliefs were syncretized into Confucian China. Despite the mark from the minor Buddhist presence, the chaos did not leave any permanent disruption like in Rome. China merely had to recover from a major setback, rather than reinvent an entire civilization.