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Pre 19th century China was the most powerful in the world, so why did China fall today?

Updated on July 15, 2015


China use to be the most powerful country, in the world, but by the 19th century, the once mighty China fall and was then follow by a series of poverty and finally Communism rule. Today, China is one of the biggest threat to world peace. So, how did this once peaceful and powerful nation, become what it is now? We will explore that question

Liu Bond
Liu Bond
Shien Ea
Shien Ea

Pre 19th century China

To understand what make China fall by the 19th century, we must first understand what make China so powerful before.

China itself, is not a nation, it is a land mass. The name China was given by the Europeans during the 17th century, whom was amazed by Asia's manufacturing capability that was centuries ahead of the west. They were also amazed by Asia's 1st world economy, that was beyond the imagination of then Europeans, mainly because since the fall of Rome, Europe been in poverty for so long, they can't imagine the prosperity of a 1st world economy.

The Europeans was especially amazed by China's ability to manufacture and distribute the silver wear China, at extreme low cost. At Europe during that time, china are so expensive that only people such as the King can afford it. At Asia, china are so cheap, that even beggars can afford it and people throw them out like trash. As a result, exporting china from Asia to Europe became big business for the Europeans, many European china makers went out of business, because they can't compete with the Asia china in both quality and cost, despite the fact the Asians deliberately raise the price of the china they sold to Europe, to an extend that working class Europeans can't afford it.

The china trade, eventually lead the Europeans to give this Asia landmass, the nickname China.

Prior to 207 BC, China was many small nations, There was also many ethnic groups and culture group, in term of racial group it is revealed by archaeology DNA testing, 1/10 of ancient Chinese are in fact white.

However, unlike ancient Europeans whom bicker against one and other base on racial difference and religion difference. The Chinese way of thinking in such arena is very modern. The way the Chinese see it is that, we human are pack animals, once a pack settle it is call a tribe and a nation is merely a piece of land belong to a single person or a group of people or a tribe, above all else. They also believe in the unity of a tribe, saying only way a pack can survive is through unity. As a result, ancient Chinese make no differentiation between race, religion, culture or anything else. This allow it easier for the people to come together to make their country better, it also make it better for people to come together to deal with aggressors. In addition to a stronger sense of nationalism, people of each China state was able to easily join as one, to make their nation better and safer against aggressors. People of ancient China also believe in the war between good and evil. They believe in the modern value of the right to freedom and see aggressors whom have the intention of hurting others and conquering other people's countries as a threat, therefore evil. Ancient Chinese believe, a person have the right to freedom to do whatever they want, providing they don't effect the freedom of others and one need to respect such right of freedom of others, a set of ideology that would not emerged in Europe till the 18th century and till date is not yet fully mature (evidence by the angry Christians, attacking gays today, because they felt homosexuality is a sin in their religion.) To better function in dealing with aggressors, the people of ancient China, joined together to form an international peace keeping body, same as the modern United Nations and European Union. The body has two main function, to form an international alliance against the threat from Mongolia and Tibet and secondly, if any nation whom is a member of the union is invaded, the entire union would back the invaded nation, even if the invader is a member of the union. This union lasted for 800 years, until it finally broke down. Afterwards, many war started to broke out, it is during the years leading to the union's breaking down, a philosopher name Confucius appear. A former ambassador of the State Lu (modern San don province) to the China Union, Confucius, felt disappointed about how each nation of the union, is only looking out for their own interest and nobody care about the greater good. Confucius pitched many of his idea to many different Kings, his goal is to restore the peace and harmony that China experienced for so long, but is now at the brink of collapse. But Confucius idea was never accepted. One of Confucius most famous philosophy is that a nation is rightfully the property of the people, therefore it is the government's responsibility to rule in public interest. When a King is wise and rule in public interest, the people should be loyal to him, but when the King fail to do so, the people can overthrow him and established a new King.

After the collapsed of the union, war increasingly emerged between each nation in China, by 206BC the Qin nation, established the Qin Empire, ruling all of China and Vietnam. The Qin Empire's Emperor established a two level system, for the Qin citizens to be nobles and others to be peasants and subject none Qin's to almost slave like condition, in only 20 years, people throughout China and Vietnam, revolt. The revolution have two forces, one led by Liu Bond (yes,same as James Bond) the other led by Shian Ea. Both Liu Bond and Shian Ea are nationalist of the nation Tru (modern Guangdong province) Shian Ea is a great General but a very poor governor, while Liu Bond is a much better ruler.

After overthrowing Tru, Shian Ea hope to form a Tru Empire. This didn't work well with Liu Bond, whom want to see the formation of a new union, but unlike the previous union, which is more like UN or European Union. Liu Bond is pushing for a Union, that is a single nation, more like modern United States of America. Despite not been the most competent military leader or politician, Liu Bond know to established a system, to appoint the right people to the right position. Something Shain Ea is not able to do and despite been a great General, Shian Ea was a horrible ruler and soon lost to the wiser Liu Bond, whom despite not been a good General himself, his ideals rally many men to his cause and is willing to serve him and Liu Bond know to use the right people to get the job done and appointed Han Sing as the General of his army. After defeating Shain Ea, Liu Bond formed the Han Empire, meaning the Kingdom of men. It ruled China and Vietnam. And Liu Bond encourage people to no longer differentiate between each other, base on all nation state differentiation, but now all think of them as a member of Han nation state and thus Han tribe, Liu Bond's success in this arena, adding to the fact Chinese people have strong sense of nationalism and only differentiate between good and evil, soon allow unity of the people of the Han Empire, in addition now, with all of China united as one, it mean an even greater number of people united as one. This is something that cannot be done, in ancient Europe, due to differentiation between each other base on race and religion, a large nation with a huge population, in Europe during that time, would only sink into civil war due to religion difference.

Liu Bond introduce another system, that would ensure China remain powerful for centuries to come. Base on his success of knowing to appoint the right people during the war, it become Liu Bond's governing philosophy base on it he established the multi house and multi chancellor system, which would be the next corner stone to making ancient China powerful. The idea is that just because somebody can become Emperor, doesn't necessary mean he would be a competent Emperor and even if he is competent to deal with situation in one era, doesn't mean he is competent for another. However, if the Emperor, doesn't need to do everything himself, but is able to appoint people who is competent to deal with the then situation, to become his Prime Minister, then he can be a good Emperor, just by knowing to find the right person, as PM. It further occur to Liu Bond that most people cannot be an all round perfect governor, so instead of having one PM, it is better to have the job split into multiple houses and the Emperor only need to appoint Chancellors.

Base on that idea, Liu Bond separated his Federal government into five branches, legislative, administration, military affair, supervision, judicatory, human resource, astrology. With the exception of the legislative branch, each branch is operated by a Chancellor, appointed by the Emperor and the power of such branch of the government is within the Chancellor rather then the Emperor. However, the Emperor hold power to the legislative branch of the government, the Chancellors and regional magistrates can propose laws to the Emperor and the Emperor can say yes or no. However, because the Chancellors are appointed by the Emperor, the Emperor can still use that power to influence various aspect of the Federal government. But, the Emperor can also choose to appoint the better person for the job and let him do it. Most Emperor of the Han Empire are very active in federal administration, but not active in operating other aspect of the nation, although a few including Liu Bond is active in the military aspect.

Another thing Liu Bond use, that would allow China to be the most powerful for centuries to come, is he introduce the Federal and State system. This system is literally exactly the same as the Federal and State system use in modern US, except it wasn't democratic. Liu Bond separated his Empire into 13 states. Each state have a King and a Premier, the Premier appointed by the Human Resource branch of the federal government, The King is its own independent monarchy. The King and the Premier, co govern the state. They are supervised by the supervision branch of the federal government (it also supervise other branches of the federal government). Each state is allow to self govern and have its own law, but can't contradict federal law. If the supervision branch felt necessary, he could press charges against a Premier or King to the judicatory branch, if found guilty, the King or Premier would be removed from office, and the Human Resource would appoint a new Premier or if it is the King, then the Human Resource would established a new monarch for the state. Below the State there is the province, each province is govern by a mayor, appointed by the human resource branch of the federal government and supervise by supervision, and just like the Premier and King, Supervision can press charges to judicatory if they felt necessary. Each province is allow to self govern and have its own law, but can't contradict state or federal law. The idea of this system is that China is a large country and there is no way, for the Federal government to be able to be able in detail know of the situation in every aspect all part of the nation, therefore, following the same principle of why, he separated the federal government into multiple independent houses, Liu Bond decided to have self governing independent government, under the federal and then another level of self governing government under it, this way, the Federal only need to worry about Federal affair and leave local affair, to the local government. The Federal only need to make sure, the local government, is doing their job.

The combination of the fact (1) China people only differentiate between good and evil, evil as in those who effect the freedom of others, conduct treason or cause social destruction (e.g. smuggle drugs, tax fraud etc) and the fact they have a strong sense of nationalism and thus believe it is the people's responsibility to play their part for their country, including pay tax and been drafted for national service when need (mostly military service) and now as a single nation, there are so many Chinese, all member of the same nation (2) the state are allow to self govern under federal, and province can self govern under state and federal, means the federal need not to worry about local affair, only need to make sure the regional government is doing their job. (3) the multi house multi chancellor federal government, mean the Emperor only need to appoint the right people to be Chancellor and supervise the Chancellor to make sure they are doing their job. Become the direct result of China's rise to power, by the end of the Han Empire era China is already the most powerful region in the world.

The Han Empire ended during the 220AD due to a military coup, by General Cao Cao. To justify his rule, Cao Cao hold the then boy Emperor hostage and force the Emperor to appoint him Chancellor of all houses and thus gave him the title of Prime Minister and force him to approve all law he proposed. The Southern State of the Han Empire, refused to acknowledge these laws and declared independent, with the Emperor's approval. Despite the Emperor approved, Cao Cao called the Southern States as rebels and personally led troops against them, the war ended with Cao Cao's force been stopped and since the Han Empire split into 3 nations. Cao Cao then executed the Han Emperor and crown himself the Emperor of a new state, but he was soon been overthrown. However, the system established by Liu Bond, continue as the base use in China ever since and despite it various with dynasties, rise and fall of Empires and the need of the time, the principle remain the same.

Zoo Eanzhan
Zoo Eanzhan

The Beginning of the fall of China late 17th century Ming Empire

By the 14th century, all of China was part of the same nation for the fourth time, after overthrowing 97 year of the Mongolian rule. The new Empire known as Ming Empire, ruled all of China and part of Manchuria. The hero that overthrow the Mongols Zoo Eanzhan became its Emperor, but Zoo Eanzhan himself is an illiterate, before becoming a General that overthrow the Mongol, he was literally nothing more then a homeless beggar. But just like Liu Bond, Zoo Eanzhan know how to find the rally the right people to get the job done. After coming into power, Zoo Eanzhan seperated the government into four branches legislative, administration, military and supervision, the judicatory is now under the portfolio of administration and human resource is now under the portfolio of administration. The Emperor still hold power to legislation, below the federal there is state and province. Under Zoo Eazhan's instruction, the supervision branch also established a Federal police agency known as Broaden Class Police Directory, its main job is to investigate both federal, state and province government, for unethical conducts. Unlike Han Emperors, whom are hands on Emperors in running the state, most Ming Emperor has a more lay back attitude and leave the running of the state to the Chancellors. However, Ming Emperors are very good at finding talents to run the country and to be appointed as regional magistrates and keep an eye on them. One of the Ming Emperor of the late 16th century, is consider as one of the best ruler in history, but he in fact never ruled the Empire a single day, but merely able to do a very good job in finding very good people to be appointed as Chancellors and local magistrates and keeping an eye on them. By the late 17th century, a new boy Emperor came into power and the Emperor's mother govern the legislative branch on the Emperor's behalf. The Emperor mother and her Chancellors did a great job governing the country, however the Emperor mother is a failed mother and his son was extremely corrupt, after his mother's death the Emperor started looking for like minded corrupt individual as his Chancellor, to protect his friends, he abolished the supervision branch of the government, there was increase corruption within the Federal government, and many state and province governor position become vacant, due to the federal government not doing their job. During the exact same time the a new nation call Qing was formed in Manchuria and was suffering huge recession, they believe the best way to solve their problem is to try conquer China, after forming an alliance with Mongolia. But the ill behavior of the Emperor, has also caused civil war within the country itself and the civil war didn't end after this Emperor died. Having taken the capital, the rebels demand for all of China to surrender. But the Commanding officer of the army, guarding the Ming Empire against the Mongol and Manchurian alliance, deflected to the Manchurian, since now the Emperor whom is the Commander in Chief of the military is gone. The Manchurian soon took Northern China and then took Southern China.

The Qing Empire of the Manchuria, would initiate a series of policy to secure their power, but in the long run would lead to the fall of China

Emperor Dougong
Emperor Dougong
Emperor Goungshi
Emperor Goungshi

The Qing Empire and the fall of China

After taking power, the Qing Empire did three things to secure their power, they proposed to transformed the Qing Empire, as an Empire of the Manchurian people, to a Federation of China, Manchuria, Tibet, Xian Jiang, Mongolia and Taiwan, which they conquer. But it is only a Federation in name. For example, despite Manchurian make up less then 10% of the population, over 50% of all officers of the federal government are Manchurian and only Manchurian can hold key position. None Manchurian are either regional magistrates or none essential federal government officials.

To further secure their power, the Manchurian did two thing to ensure that would lead to China's fall (1) state and province government are no longer allow to make their own law, they are also not allow to have their own police force, except Taiwan. (2) they create a new federal government system, where everything is run by the Emperor.

What this mean is that the Emperor now need to run everything by himself and if the Emperor is not competent enough, he cannot appoint better people for the job and the entire country would screw up.

The British ambassador to China during the the 18th century, once refer to the Qing Empire as a giant ship, that only have 1 sailor, for now the ship is sailing fine, but once the sailor become a bit dizzy, the ship would start to sink and nothing the sailor can do later would save it. And that was exactly what happened.

Many Emperor of the Qing Empire was seriously overwork, due to the huge work load of running a huge nation, all by himself. By the late 18th century, Emperor Qinglong, become extremely old and leave the running of the state to his chief of staff. But this man was corrupted and with a lousy attitude from Federal government dysfunctional continue to spread to all level of the government, issue of corruption and economic melt down start spreading to all level of government. Starting from day one, the Qing Empire was struggling against corruption, due to the over centralized government, where the Emperor had to do everything himself and when Qinglong's chief of staff took power, corruption spread quickly, due to the people he appoint is also problematic. Emperor Jiasing, also worked hard to fix the country, but the issue of the state have already greatly deteriorated, beyond anything one person can do, along. Emperor Jiasing could only slow down the speed of deterioration. By the mid 19th century, there was increase civil unrest and people in China wanted to overthrow the Manchurian Empire. The corruption lead to increase illegal opium trade, where government officials in Goungdong province, work in alliance with British and India businessman to openly smuggle drugs illegally, which the Emperor neglect due to his over workload. The increase issue of illegal drug trade cause Emperor Daugong to decided he want to do something about it and initiate harsh punishment for drug smuggling. The British businessmen therefore provide falsified report to British parliament that their legal shipments was been destroyed in China. While some in the British parliament question the speech of these British businessmen, most choose to be trusting and declare war against the Qing Empire. Emperor Daugong decided to go through with the war, but with the Qing Empire corrupted and the Emperor Daugong over worked dealing with all the issue, the corrupted military decided not to move. Out of the one hundred thousand troops that was suppose to engage the British, not even one troop was mobilized, until one hundred member of the Goungdong police engaged the British. As a result the British marched in facing no opponent, yet Emperor Daugong continue to received false report of victory, until it was too late. It is only now did Emperor Daugong know how deep has the corruption of the Qing Empire become. So, with no choice, Emperor Daugong surrendered to the British. Knowing what the Qing Empire has become this corrupt, the people of Southern China revolt and very quickly pushed North, but the new government is even worse then the Qing Empire and soon lost public support, but this lead the Qing Empire to be even more bankrupted. And during this time the new boy Emperor's mother Cixi seized power. But Cixi was more interest in securing her power, then national interest, even executing her own grandson, to secure her power. After her son's death Ci xi executed her grandson and adopted a random orphan and made him Emperor Gongshi, so she can keep ruling as Emperor's mother. But Cixi's policies continue to secure her power and better her luxury life, while the people starve, as a result once Emperor Gongshi grew up he started contradicting Cixi, causing conflict between the two. To further secure her power, Cixi ordered the department of defense not to release supply to the navy whom is loyal to Emperor Gongshi in the war against Japan, causing China to loose the war, due to a navy with no supply. Later Ci xi recruited the assistant of the cult known as the "boxers" to secure her power and became her own version of the SS. She later try to gain public support by declaring war on the Europeans using the Boxers, this become known as "The boxer rebellion" but naturally the Boxers were useless, the Chinese military, managed pushed the Europeans back to their boat until they send reinforcement. In response the military commanders order the military to first withdraw, regroup and then pushed the Europeans out again. But Cixi order the entire miltiary to serve as her personal body guard and escort her to Western China. Gongshi was been put under arrest, so he can't negotiate with the Europeans and the European troops was let loose to loo throughout North east China. Two year later, Cixi had Emperor Gongshi executed. Less then one year after Gongshi's execution, the people of China raise to overthrow the Qing Empire and in 1911 they established the Republic of China at Southern China. Cixi died 3 days before the Republic of China was established.

Chan Kei-shek
Chan Kei-shek

After the fall of the Qing Empire

Despite the Republic of China was been established in 1911, the Qing Empire continue to control Northern China. The Qing Empire order for the military to put down the rebellion. But soon the Qing Empire was forced hang power to the Republic. Despite gaining the Qing Empire's power, the Republic have no real control over its military and the warlords started fighting each other and want to move South to invade the Republic. The Republic of China's President recruited Chan Kai-shek to build a new army for the Republic and then move north to try defeat the warlords. After taking Central China and planning to move in to take the North, Japanese whom are economically desperate decided to invade, thinking it would help fix their economy. Chan Kai-shek was been appointed as the Commander of the anti Japanese invasion task force, the branch of the Republic military in charge of pushing Japan out. Japan have a superior military, but lack nature resource, Chan decided to use their lack of nature resource as their advantage to drag the Japanese military to collapse. But it also mean a great deal of the Republic's infrastructure must be destroy, before the place can be taken by the superior Japanese forces, so Japan can't use it. Chan's technique worked and by the time the US enter the war, Japan was already desperate for resource.

But this seriously crippled China's economy, by the time the war is over, the Republic was bankrupted. during this time the Communist invaded, with the backing of the Soviet Union.

Anti Racist been executed for treason by the Chinese Communist Party in the 1960~1970s
Anti Racist been executed for treason by the Chinese Communist Party in the 1960~1970s

Communist rule era

With the Soviet Union backing of the Communist, the Republic force had no choice but to retreat to the island of Taiwan and managed to hold of the Communist there. In China, the Communist wanted to secure their power, to do so, Mao initiate a project of destroying all value of China, This become known as the cultural revolution, to keep the people of China divided and from working with foreign power to overthrow the Communist, the Communist first undermine the traditional Chinese value of only differentiating between people base on good and bad and national unity and execute anybody that speak in favor of it and destroy ideology in favor of it, especially Confucius ideology. On the other hand, Mao started promoting the idea that those whom are of same race, culture and heritage are our own the rest are our enemy, so we need to unit against them and all who speak against this value can be executed for treason.

One of the biggest example, is a Communist most beloved ancient quote that say "Those whom are not one of us, their heart must be different." and interpret those whom are not one of us here, are those of other race, culture and heritage. However the original full statement said "Those whom are not one of us, their heart must be different, Thr might be a large country, but is still a foreign state." Till date, nothing change, in this arena.


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    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 

      3 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Fascinating read! We can learn a lot from history. It appears America gained many of its political ideas from ancient China. Thank you for this article!

    • profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thanks :)

    • Akriti Mattu profile image

      Akriti Mattu 

      3 years ago from Shimla, India

      This is an informative post. Intelligently written.


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