Episode 2: Journey to the East
The Foundations of Eurasian Civilization
Dr Craig Benjamin (2013)
This lecture is an introduction to the Benjamin’s 48 episode course The Foundations of Eurasian Civilization.
About half the course is devoted to China, considered the cradle of Eastern civilization. However it will also cover China’s immense influence on the West, beginning with the Confucian about efficient bureaucracy,* and the essential role of numerous Chinese inventions in the industrialization of western society.
By the fall of the Tang dynasty in 740 AD, China had created the wealthiest and most powerful state (population two million) the world had ever seen, thanks to Chinese peasants creating the world’s most successful commercial farming system.
At the same time, the steppes nomads to the north of the first Chinese cities (and their ferocious horse archers – see Barbarian Empires of the Steppes) also had a massive influence on early Chinese civilization. Their repeated booty raids on China would lead the first Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (founder of the Qin/Ch’in Dynasty) to build the first border length wall in 221 BC.
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers were conscripted to build the wall, with tens of thousands losing their lives. The wall failed to stop the raids.
It would be the steppes nomads, and their domestication of the Bactrian camel, that made possible the Silk Roads, the first overland network of international trade.
*American founding father Benjamin Franklin was a big fan of Confucius and adopted many of his ideas in developing his approach to democratic government.
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