Similarities of Mediterranean and Chinese histories

Events in both regions

Dates in Mediterranean

Dates in China

bold type below indicates a World Leadership Center

Irrigation boosts agriculture, population growth

4000 BC

Sumer, Egypt

2000 BC

Yellow river

Upriver groups conquer more civilized peoples

3000 BC

Upper/ lower Egypt

1100 BC

Chou vs Shang

2300 BC

Akkad vs Sumer

Political philosophers arise

500 BC

Socrates, Plato

550 BC

Confucius, Lao-tzu

Warring states


Greece, Carthage, Rome


Ch'in, Ch'u, Wei

One large empire in the area


Roman Empire


Han Empire

A new religion becomes dominant

325 AD


450 AD


Dark Age

380 - 470

Germanic tribes overrun borders

200 - 590

feuding nobles

Revival of empire's strength

470 - 590

Roman-Byzantine conquests

590 - 760

Tang Dynasty

A second weakening of the empire

590 - 950

Europe's Middle Ages

760 - 960

feuding nobles

Final glory of the medieval empire

950 - 1070

late Byzantine empire

960 - 1280

Sung Dynasty

Empire conquered by central Asian nomads


Turks take Constantinople

1280 - 1370

Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty

After 1400, there is little similarity in the histories of the Mediterranean and China


Renaissance in Europe


stagnation in China


Britain, USA industrial growth


colonies in China


democracies in the West


communism in China


Above is the Roman empire at its largest in the year AD 116. Below is the Chinese empire under the late Han Dynasty, about the same time. Both maps are in the same scale. From:


A problem with Chinese writing?

One explanation for the divergence in power between China and the Western powers is the invention of printing with movable type about 1440 in Germany. This made books cheap - both spreading new ideas rapidly and encouraging literacy in Europe. China, on the other hand, could not gain these important benefits. Their system of writing with thousands of characters did not lend itself to the low cost revolution of printing with movable type.


Movable type has been credited as the single most important invention of the millennium.

The discovery and establishment of the printing of books with moveable type marks a paradigm shift in the way information was transferred in Europe. The impact of printing is comparable to the development of language, and the invention of the alphabet, as far as its effects on the society.

Gutenberg's findings not only allowed a much broader audience to read Martin Luther's German translation of the Bible, it also helped spread Luther's other writings, greatly accelerating the pace of Protestant Reformation. They also led to the establishment of a community of scientists (previously scientists were mostly isolated) who could easily communicate their discoveries, bringing on the scientific revolution. Also, although early texts were printed in Latin, books were soon produced in common European vernacular, leading to the decline of the Latin language. The first significant decline in illiteracy came with the Reformation, when translation of the Bible into the vernacular became widespread and Protestant converts were taught to read it.

In Korea and China, there were no texts similar to the Bible which could guarantee a printer return on the high capital investment of a printing press, and so the primary form of printing was wood block printing which was more suited for short runs of texts for which the return was uncertain.

Some credit the printing press with giving Europe the technological and communication edge over Eastern countries in the end, one of the major questions in world history.

Map of world literacy These UNESCO literacy estimates and projections are essentially based on literacy statistics collected during national population censuses and household surveys.


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