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Thread: Europe and China: source of Aristocracy

  1. #1 Europe and China: source of Aristocracy 
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    I found an interesting thing when I compare China to Europe concerning the source of Aristocracy.
    In the past, most of aristocracy kept their bloodline pure in Europe. In China, although bloodline is important, the imperial examination system
    made some people of low grade have the possibility to become nobleman, which was difficult in Europe. And revolting of peasantry may completely break the bloodline in China. There is never a family can rule China or part of China or even keep their high social status for a long time. While European aristocracy could keep a family fief for a long time even though they might lost their rule right in other area.
    I think this is an important fact which made history so different between Europe and China. Chinese aristocracy should spend most of their time on thinking how to keep the rule, While Europeans did not. So Europeans can develop economy more freely.
    How do you think about this?


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    Several dynasties throughout Chinese history made quite an effort to ensure that bureaucrats were competent individuals by using the Confucian tests to ensure that these men were properly trained and qualified. However, an interesting parallel can be seen with Roman imperial administration as well. During the Pax Romana, the reign of Heraclius, and the period of the Macedonian dynasty, the Roman government went to great lengths to ensure that its governors and military commanders were properly educated and chosen by merit, although family ties and your relationship to the Emperor were always important. In periods of decadence, corruption, or lax Imperial administration, issues like the hereditary passage of titles and government positions, which was prevalent in certain periods of Chinese history, was also prevalent in periods of Imperial Roman.

    While I am not exactly sure how aristocracies in China arose, I know that post Roman Europe's aristocracies were established because of the feudal/tribal systems of the barbarian tribes that spread throughout Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. These barbarian tribes practiced a system of gift giving, where chiefs would give out spoils and gifts to their greatest warriors as forms of payment and loyalty. When times of limited military victory arrived and plunder was hard to find, these chiefs began handing out land as gifts to their best warriors, the earliest forms of this being a warrior, his family, slaves, and whatnot living off I think either 1/3 to 2/3 of the produce of the land that was being worked by the conquered Roman underclass. The feudal and manorial systems to centuries to develop but they were clearly military in origin, as the titles of count and duke had their origins in Comes and Dux, ranks of Roman officers in the Late Empire's military. Europe's nobility, while it would amass great wealth, help support the arts, and do other decidedly non military stuff echoed its origin in military service right up till the First World War, when Europe's aristocracy, which had very much survived the French Revolution, served as most of the officers in the European armies during that conflict.

    Overall Id have to disagree. China was light years ahead of Europe in the year 1400. I would say the combined factors of Europe's universities, the Bubonic plague, the reformation, the Hapsburg-Valois/Bourbon rivalry, and a host of other factors were more important in determining why Europe innovated and exploded across the world while China stayed locked in the seventeenth century.


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    In Europe, there were paths to nobility besides heritage. From time to time, peasants rose to aristocracy through military service. Take for example England's Sir John Hawkwood who was probably born a tanner or tailor. He became a successful mercenary soldier serving during the Hundred Years war in France, then in Italy for over 30 years. In the end of his distinctly brutal career, he had accrued staggering wealth, land and was even appointed by Richard II as ambassador to Rome.

    I don't see a competition for competence as a factor that would degrade the courts abilities but it's an interesting idea.
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    Thank you for teaching me a lot.
    Maybe a quantified study is needed to explain whether there is such reltionship.

    By the way, KomradRed said that "China was light years ahead of Europe in the year 1400". Personally I think this age limit should be advanced to about 1200. Song Dynasty, although invaded by sevel neighbouring country, actually is one peak of feudalism in China. Both military and economy achieved a high level. While Yuan Dynasty, 1271 to 1368, extreme hostility between races and no improvement was made. This time the European started a rapid development.
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  6. #5  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kukhri
    In Europe, there were paths to nobility besides heritage. From time to time, peasants rose to aristocracy through military service. Take for example England's Sir John Hawkwood who was probably born a tanner or tailor. He became a successful mercenary soldier serving during the Hundred Years war in France, then in Italy for over 30 years. In the end of his distinctly brutal career, he had accrued staggering wealth, land and was even appointed by Richard II as ambassador to Rome.

    I don't see a competition for competence as a factor that would degrade the courts abilities but it's an interesting idea.
    I'm pretty sure the aristocracy still had to voluntarily promote you, and the highest rank a peasant was likely to reach during their own lifetime would probably be a knight. If you just got a bunch of soldiers together, took over a noble's territory, and declared yourself lord, the rest of the aristocrats would band together and come after you, most likely.

    Of course, an incompetent noble would probably lose their lands to the noble next door, so there's always balance between competence and blood. A smart nobleman would have spotted Hawkwood's potential early on, and recruited him, if he were willing, (and if his other knights were ok with it) into their knights.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    I'm pretty sure the aristocracy still had to voluntarily promote you, and the highest rank a peasant was likely to reach during their own lifetime would probably be a knight. If you just got a bunch of soldiers together, took over a noble's territory, and declared yourself lord, the rest of the aristocrats would band together and come after you, most likely.

    Of course, an incompetent noble would probably lose their lands to the noble next door, so there's always balance between competence and blood. A smart nobleman would have spotted Hawkwood's potential early on, and recruited him, if he were willing, (and if his other knights were ok with it) into their knights.
    Hawkwood made a career on bullying nobles and extorting large sums of money not to attack them. He was hardly just a simple knight, among many. He owned a castle and estates in Tuscany and Romagna.

    A book written in 1592 called "Nine Worthies of London" speaks of men with humble beginnings who rose to high society. Among them, a fishmonger who was twice the Lord Mayor of London, and a grocer who became Lord Mayor and a member of parliament.
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    One of the most famous examples of knights rising is that of the Norman knights who began a campaign in southern Italy which after one generation ended up as a kingdom comprising southern Italy (Naples) and Sicily. It has been called the Other Norman Conquest. A couple of generations later thw head of the family was the Holy Roman Emperor (Fredrick II).
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    It seems I must be confusing the concepts of becoming an aristocrat with the concept of wielding their power. I always assumed you had to do both or neither, but this thread has become very enlightening.

    I guess it makes sense that, if you had a strong enough military force, or you were good enough at something, then the nobles would have no choice but to take you seriously, if only out of self preservation. I hadn't really considered it very much.

    I wonder if they sometimes dreamt up bull$hit bloodlines for people that were reaching the point of becoming one of them, so that they wouldn't have to admit a peasant had genuinely risen?
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    Its like the story of Pirates and Emperors, if you are a pirate with enough ship/force/power you have the power to call yourself an emperor and make the law to make your rule legitimate.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdYZC...e=channel_page

    Indeed Noble is just one of the many bullshit fabricated to justify the position of the aristocracy. "Sure Lord Gazaron took possession of your land because hes the kingpin of armed hechmen, but its normal because hes of noble blood", And in a sense Religion was also used as an artifice, "you peasants will starve while toiling to produce the feast of the lord, dont worry you will be rewarded in the magical place in the clouds called heaven", "the king has the divine right to be ruler, not because he poisoned the previous king who in turn hath backstabbed the previous one that had conquered with arms, but because hes ordained by the magical invisible man in the sky"
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    On December 25, the year 800 Karl, King of the Franks, was crowned Roman Emperor by the Pope in Rome. Charlemagne assumed the title of Roman Emperor as the current imperial throne, in Constantinople, was held by a woman and by Frankish law therefore vacant. The papacy justified its ability to appoint a new Western Roman Emperor by saying that when the Western Roman Empire fell in 476, its authority transferred to the papacy. Charlemagne had difficulty, however, in obtaining recognition from the real Roman Empire although the Roman Empire recognized Charle's imperial title (but not exactly his Roman one) in 810. I believe the Romans eventually acknowledged the Holy Roman Emperors as Western Roman Emperors, but it is just an example of that might did not always make legitimacy.

    "Its like the story of Pirates and Emperors, if you are a pirate with enough ship/force/power you have the power to call yourself an emperor and make the law to make your rule legitimate.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdYZC...e=channel_page

    Indeed Noble is just one of the many bullshit fabricated to justify the position of the aristocracy. "Sure Lord Gazaron took possession of your land because hes the kingpin of armed hechmen, but its normal because hes of noble blood", And in a sense Religion was also used as an artifice, "you peasants will starve while toiling to produce the feast of the lord, dont worry you will be rewarded in the magical place in the clouds called heaven", "the king has the divine right to be ruler, not because he poisoned the previous king who in turn hath backstabbed the previous one that had conquered with arms, but because hes ordained by the magical invisible man in the sky""

    European feudal society was a lot more complex and interesting than how you make it out here.
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    it is just an example of that might did not always make legitimacy.
    Did Charlemagne capture the papal city? If the religious authorities had been locked up with menacing soldiers with swords drawn I think Chalemange could have been ordained Pharo, Emperor, Arch King of Kings or which ever title he wanted. The thing is control is hard to achieve by might alone, theres too many factions, groups, people, interests, but at the core, power by might and guile as a lot to do with it imo and certainly more than any "divine" birth right or similar nonesense, which is what my comment was about.



    European feudal society was a lot more complex and interesting than how you make it out here
    hence the need to make a simple example though the complexity does not imo negate the BS factor, but if you could summerize the complex social interaction Id be greatful, thanks
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    Interesting comments in this thread. It's a positive to have specific example such as Charlemagne, etc. Comparing Europe and China is a broad brush with multiple variations over the centuries being artificially combined. It's a bit like talking about 'the Romans'...which ones...300 BC or 300 AD?

    Having said that we still retain some deference to power because of the legitimacy bestowed upon it by bloodlines. It's inate in our culture. What is the essence of 'Star Wars' or 'Lord of the Rings' or Burrough's Martian series starting with 'Princess of Mars'. In each there is a 'legitimate king' or 'disenfranchised Princess, etc. Order is resored only when those of legitimacy are returned to power. 'Real' princesses are somewhat good and their dictator fathers rule with benevolency. In contrast the usurpers are selfish, evil, cruel, etc. Heros restore the rightful King and save the rightful princess. If the American revolution was a novel, the good guys would fight to restore George III to the throne...especially if he had a beautiful damsel is distess daughter.
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    Quote Originally Posted by icewendigo
    it is just an example of that might did not always make legitimacy.
    Did Charlemagne capture the papal city? If the religious authorities had been locked up with menacing soldiers with swords drawn I think Chalemange could have been ordained Pharo, Emperor, Arch King of Kings or which ever title he wanted. The thing is control is hard to achieve by might alone, theres too many factions, groups, people, interests, but at the core, power by might and guile as a lot to do with it imo and certainly more than any "divine" birth right or similar nonesense, which is what my comment was about.



    European feudal society was a lot more complex and interesting than how you make it out here
    hence the need to make a simple example though the complexity does not imo negate the BS factor, but if you could summerize the complex social interaction Id be greatful, thanks
    Interestingly enough, the Divine Right of Kings had less to do with that mean ole King oppressing all those brilliant and downtrodden peasants than with the various European monarch's battles with their own nobility. Up to about the mid seventeenth century many European monarchs had trouble with their nobility, which often led to instability and warfare within states that were more harmful than wars with foreign enemies.

    I will post something about medieval society later, but I just reinstalled windows and am tired of staring at my monitor.
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  15. #14  
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    Quote Originally Posted by KomradRed
    On December 25, the year 800 Karl, King of the Franks, was crowned Roman Emperor by the Pope in Rome. Charlemagne assumed the title of Roman Emperor as the current imperial throne, in Constantinople, was held by a woman and by Frankish law therefore vacant. The papacy justified its ability to appoint a new Western Roman Emperor by saying that when the Western Roman Empire fell in 476, its authority transferred to the papacy. Charlemagne had difficulty, however, in obtaining recognition from the real Roman Empire although the Roman Empire recognized Charle's imperial title (but not exactly his Roman one) in 810. I believe the Romans eventually acknowledged the Holy Roman Emperors as Western Roman Emperors, but it is just an example of that might did not always make legitimacy.
    Nice counterpoint. The Romans would have known that war with them over a simple title would not have been sufficiently profitable for Charlemagne to justify the cost.

    Instead of strength of arms, I just see cost/benefit, where a person's response to the credible threat of military force is merely an extreme case of cost/benefit motivating them to make a decision a certain way.

    Quote Originally Posted by icewendigo
    Its like the story of Pirates and Emperors, if you are a pirate with enough ship/force/power you have the power to call yourself an emperor and make the law to make your rule legitimate.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdYZC...e=channel_page

    Indeed Noble is just one of the many bullshit fabricated to justify the position of the aristocracy. "Sure Lord Gazaron took possession of your land because hes the kingpin of armed hechmen, but its normal because hes of noble blood", And in a sense Religion was also used as an artifice, "you peasants will starve while toiling to produce the feast of the lord, dont worry you will be rewarded in the magical place in the clouds called heaven", "the king has the divine right to be ruler, not because he poisoned the previous king who in turn hath backstabbed the previous one that had conquered with arms, but because hes ordained by the magical invisible man in the sky"
    European feudal society was a lot more complex and interesting than how you make it out here.
    The trick to keeping any deception believable is to make it sufficiently complicated that people can't compare it with realities they understand.

    A lot like the concept of "celebrity" in the USA. If you understand it well enough to articulate it, then you're probably an insider. If you don't understand it at all, then you probably think Jessica Simpson gaining 20 lb is a newsworthy event. If you're in the middle of that spectrum somewhere, then you realize it's all BS.


    Quote Originally Posted by raptordigits
    Having said that we still retain some deference to power because of the legitimacy bestowed upon it by bloodlines. It's inate in our culture. What is the essence of 'Star Wars' or 'Lord of the Rings' or Burrough's Martian series starting with 'Princess of Mars'. In each there is a 'legitimate king' or 'disenfranchised Princess, etc. Order is resored only when those of legitimacy are returned to power. 'Real' princesses are somewhat good and their dictator fathers rule with benevolency. In contrast the usurpers are selfish, evil, cruel, etc. Heros restore the rightful King and save the rightful princess. If the American revolution was a novel, the good guys would fight to restore George III to the throne...especially if he had a beautiful damsel is distess daughter.
    From a purely cost/benefit perspective, bloodline based rule gives people stability. It's nice not to have a war every time the king dies, at least if you're raising kids, or just trying to live your life on a day to day basis.

    There's also a sense of the non-blood usurper not feeling like they have to conduct government responsibly, because their descendants won't be benefiting or suffering from the fallout of the bad decisions they make as rulers.
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