China and Rome: cultural comparisons




Cultural comparison

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Ancient China and ancient Rome offer interesting comparisons of eastern and western cultures. At their peaks, the Roman Empire and Han China each had about 5 million square kilometers of land territory, a little more than half of that of the United States. Each ruled about a quarter of the Earth’s population, but imagined itself to reign over the whole world. The Chinese claimed yitong tianxia 統天下, unity under heaven. The Romans claimed imperium orbis terrae, domination over the earth, which they expressed by placing the globe under the foot of Goddess Roma or emperors. Besides their ambition, the Roman and Chinese empires were similar in their agrarian but monetized economies, their conservative and stratified societies, their piety and ancestral worship, and their political autocracy. They also had profound differences. With its plutocracy and professional peacetime war machine, Rome inclined toward “hard power,” aptly symbolized by the Eagle, the supreme bird of prey. With its ideological elites looking back at an ideal past and running an indoctrination machine, China inclined toward “soft power”, aptly symbolized by the Dragon, a mythical creature of power. The follower are some pictorial comparisons of their cultures.


Symbolisms of the Chinese Dragon and Roman Eagle

The founding emperors

Armies and soldiers

Coinage and the economy

Cities and housing

Piety to the living and the dead

Education and writing

Medicine and science

Dress and fashion

Food and feasting

Leisure and entertainment

Travel and transportation

Neighboring peoples