Listened to another Great Courses sweeping history series during my commute. Plenty of interesting stuff, but I admit I got kind of lost between the Han/Song/Ming etc. I think I just don’t have the necessary framework. Plus maybe learning some Chinese characters would help with visualizing different people’s names in my mind and actually remembering them.
Anyway, three takeaways:
- History is always in flux. China in particular is a series of high points and low points, with frequent takeovers by nomadic invaders like the Jurchen, Mongol, Manchu. Yet through it all, what remained was still China; albeit changed somewhat by each conqueror. Still, though, Chinese identity is linked to the Han Dynasty, back in 200 BC, and not to some plains people origin. A testament to Chinese cultural superiority? Or just that there are so many of them? (Yes, a relatively high Chinese population relative to surrounding tribes and the world in general has been a constant feature throughout history.)
- To continue with the above, China is currently emerging from an anomalous period (200+ years) of backwardness and is regaining its usual position at the head of world culture and leadership. Kind of exciting.
- The story of the Tai Ping movement really caught my interest and I plan to read more about it. The founder read a few Christian missionary tracts (but never the Bible), had a vision and claimed he was the brother of Jesus. Was a very charismatic leader and attracted millions of followers to a strict, fanatic lifestyle for many years and into a war. In some ways (except the war part and some details of course), it seems similar to Joseph Smith and the rise of Mormonism going on at about the same time.