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Date: Mon, 21 Oct 96 10:55:37 CDT
From: Daniel A. Foss <U17043@UICVM>
Subject: third and sixth century crises east and west serious
To: World Systems Network <wsn@Csf.Colorado.Edu>

Third and sixth century crises east and west

By Daniel A. Foss, 21 October 1996

A thousand pardons for the two posts last week. I was distracted by extraneous matters, told obscure jokes some of which I forgot to finish, etc. This time, I took the precaution of writing a first draft.

I believe that China built up a substantial technical and commercial lead over Europe as a result, in large part, of having been spared by the first Bubonic Plague pandemic, that of the sixth century et seq. I also believe that this lead was lost after the second Bubonic Plague pandemic, in the fourteenth century, precipitated a Luddite-anticommercial social revolution whose rank-and-file soldiers were inspired by the White Lotus religion.

Both of these propositions are guarenteed to be implausible or offensive to many people. Still, they may be useful in communicating the idea that the world-system is more than the movement of goods. It is highly complex human interaction.

Smallpox and measles, whose ravages caused third-century crises in the Roman and Chinese empires, are viral diseases whose infections are transmitted directly. Bubonic Plague is caused thy the bacillus Y. pestis, transmitted from one infected person to another by the bites of fleas from infected rodents, unless potential victims are, as in large cities, close enough to each other to contract the pneumonic and septicaemic forms of the disease (which are always fatal for the former and nearly always for the latter). The greater the varieties in ecosystems through which the bacillus is transmitted, the greater the adaptations required of bacilli, fleas, and rodents.

The comparatively rapid transmission through the Mongol Empire, between 1331 in Beijing to 1347 at Caffa, a Genoese port on the Black Sea (besieged by a Mongol army), was not possible in the sixth century. Yet the interval of seventeen years from the first outbreak in China in 1331 to its arrival in Genoa itself in 1348 was sufficient to witness a decline by half in the value of goods arriving at the port of Genoa in the 1330s (Harry Miskimin, Economic History of Early Renaissance Europe, 1973?), the difference representing the cutoff of raw silk imported via Caffa. When Giovanni Bocaccio told us, in the opening pages of the Decameron, where the Plague came from, he had the best possible source of information: his father was Naples branch manager of the Bardi Bank, largest in Europe, until its failure in 1334; what the Bardi did not know about international trade at that time was unknown.

By contrast, it took 140 years, from 542 (in Constantinople and Antioch), to 682 in Changan (eastern terminus of the Silk Route, capital of China, population 2 million) and 683 in Loyang (secondary capital but in use as imperial residence at this time, population a half million), for the disease to travel the Silk Route across Asia to China, if these localized outbreaks were in fact Bubonic Plague. North China grows millet, which requires conditions not too dissimilar from the cultivation of wheat, rye, barley, etc. From the Huai river valley southward, the staple crop is wet rice, which requires a sea of mud. Even in the fourteenth century, when the wet rice region was very densely populated, it took from 1331 till 1344 for the disease to reach the Huai River, and a further two years, to 1346, then again in 1351, for the Plague to reach the Yangzi where, in the latter year, it destroyed a Mongol army suppressing a peasant war. Nothing of the sort happened in the sixth century. If the first Bubonic Plague pandemic reached China at all, therefore, it was confined to the two largest cities, both in North China.

Peripheries and Cores

The smallpox-measles pandemics of the second-third centuries (with later recurrences) debilitated both the Chinese and Roman empires. Therefore, Central Asians were drawn east *and* west. The Bubonic Plague which struck Europe and the Near East, beginning in 542-549, but *spared East Asia*, *therefore* drew Central Asians only westward, even if some of them had previously reached China.

The pattern of the Chinese Dark Ages (220-589) differs from the European in that, in the Chinese version, the incoming Five Barbarians conquered the densely-populated politico-military and economic core regions of the North China plain, that is, the North China and Northwest China Macroregions, to use the terminology of G.W. Skinner (because I took his courses in school). Coevally, the Germanic invaders of the Roman Empire conquered the economically and politico-militarily peripheralized West, leaving the more economically and politically viable East, largely unscathed and continuing the recovery from demographic catastrope which commenced in the late third century and continued until the Plague of Justinian in the 540s: Zeno even managed, in 489, to dump the Ostrogoths onto hapless Italy. Even earlier, Attila had led the Huns against the Western Empire, in Gaul (451) and Italy (453), possibly knowing what he was doing.

These Huns may be one thing Europe and China had in common, possibly originating (*socially*, not genetically) as the Northern Xiongnu, driven off by the Southern Xiongnu, with the connivance of the Han dynasty court, in 169. In 312, the *shanyu* of the Southern Xiongnu demanded from the feeble Jin dynsasty (see below) emperor the right to settle within the empire under the latter's nominal suzerainty, and further, a Jin princess in marriage. With Chinese refusal, the Xiongnu overran North China. By 317, Sima Yu of the Jin imperial house had established an exile regime at Jiankang (now Nanjing) just below the Yangzi. In a scene reminiscent of Goths fleeing across the Danube in 376 and Slavs crossing the same river after 565, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of *Chinese* peasants, led or herded by aristocrats, moved to the Yangzi valley from North China which was under invasion from the Five Barbarians (Turks, Mongols, proto-Tibetans).

In the sixth-seventh centuries, while China was prospering and about to enter a period of violent expansion (discussed in posts a couple of months ago), the Byzantine empire lost its agricultural core, Egypt (which had fed Constantinople), its industrial core (Syria with Antioch), and its Armenian recruiting grounds to Arabs. The recruiting grounds and taxes of the Balkans were lost to Slavs, Avars, and Bulgars. The Sassanid empire, of course, disappeared as a state altogether. What the Byzantines lost to the Arabs, of course, was not taken over in a flourishing condition, but as depopulated or wartorn wrecks (or both). With production at an ebb, and tending to appear static (as it is a commonplace of the precapitalist-preindustrial wisdom anent the wealth of states that the latter is fixed and may be only redistributed among them), unless it is palpably increasing, it is the usual thing for heads of state in such conditions to seek to steal wealth already produced by somebody else. Where, of course, one does not resemble the seventh-century West European prince who, in destroying a Roman building, explained that he could not gain renown from building such an edifice, so his best hope to become the stuff of legend was to destroy one instead. Unsurprisingly, the Arabs (and Avars and Bulgars) fit themselves into the Byzantine-Sassanid pattern, prior to 629, of superpower mutual predation. By the time the economies of both, especially the Arab empire, commenced to flourish again in the eighth century, and Arab bureaucracy (not to mention culture) had developed apace with the capture of Chinese papermakers at the Battle of the Talas River (751), mere decades separated this florescence from the Zanj rebellion (869-888). The Byzantines revived, too, with their Jewish- run silk industry in reHellenized Thebes, and so on. But that was a long way ahead.

We mustn't forget the Long Beards. Yes, the Byzantines lost Italy, too, for much the same reasons, another demographic sink which could neither be defended nor defend itself with its own money. But why did they reacquire Italy, considering they were dead broke at the time. An interesting problem, to be broached elsewhere.

Characteristics of the Chinese Dark Ages

(Note about Chinese dynasties: As in the Roman Empire, normally, changes in political regime occurred as a result of military coups, civil wars, and, in the Chinese case, the odd social revolution; eg, 549-552. Unlike the Roman-Byzantine Empire, however, this did not always, for long periods did not ever, entail a change in the ruling family: dictators preferred to rule through, make or break, puppet emperors, who were often infants. As the emperor was the Son of Heaven, *tian zi*, and Yellow Thearch, *huang di*, deposing a dynasty required approval of Heaven. This was operationalized as popular support combined with demonstrable absence of moral wickedness and or natural catastrophes wherewith imputable moral wickedness was chastised. Or, the dictator simply waited a long time. In the Eastern Jin dynasty, 317-420, mentioned below, military coups and civil wars - between regional armies - were at least as frequent as in the Roman-Byzantine state, but dictators, even those who were military heroes, were, as a pedigreed aristocrat called the great General Xie An, a mere military man, unfit to marry his daughter. Only the very worst of these dictators, General Liu Yu, dared depose the emperor; even then he had to wait sixteen years. On seizing power in 404, he was greeted with a manifesto by a Buddhist monk asserting the immunity of the Buddhist Church from acts of state at hands as filthy as his; one supposes riots. That's what monks did in those days, East or West.)

The Chinese Third Century Crisis was far worse than the one undergone by the Roman Empire, as it was complicated by peasant war, from 184 to 189. As in Rome after Marcus Aurelius, smallpox-measles pandemics weakened the state, contributing to unsettled political and economic conditions. All this together facilitated the proselytizing of new religious sects promising salvation (analogous to Christianity): popular Daoism; later, Mahayana Buddhism (see McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, 1976). The Daoists attempted overt social revolution. Consequently, the military-thug regime of Cao Cao was brutally repressive, and the rising officer class presumed upon the privileges of the just-previously-risen aristocracy, who then lived in selfish splendour on Great Estates surrounded by private armies, as in the West Roman Empire somewhat later. During Cao Cao's rule, from 189 to 220, civil wars were incessant, involving larger armies than in the Roman Empire, and mass beheadings of captured troops who waited too long to surrender were perpetrated by this dictator according to the rules of war drawn up by himself.

Though Cao Cao was the greatest military genius in Chinese history and a commentator on Sun Tzu's Art of War, he failed to prevent consolidation of breakaway states. At his death there were three states: Wei, in North China, ruled by the Cao family; Shu, in Sichuan, ruled by the Liu's, distant relatives of the last Han emperor; and Wu, in South China, which pioneered in trade with the Roman empire by sea and was ruled by the Sun family.

In 265, a coup by the Sima family, representing the aristocracy, overthrew the Cao-Wei dynasty, whcih had represented the officer class, founding the Jin dynasty. Opposition to reunification rapidly collapsed. (The relationship between these events, 265-280, which surely exists, is an unresearched and unasked question.) But the new regime was a priosner of the aristocracy, as egregiously self-interested, as noted, as the one in the West Roman Empire. No Chinese Diocletian or Constantine was possible. An ambience of bohemian futility permeated high society. By 317, North China was lost to incomers and fragmented into ten states, commencing The Sixteen Kingdoms of the Five Barbarians.

Recreation of a centralized state was surprisingly rapid, however. In 370, a proto-Tibetan, Fu Jian, came to power in a state called Former Qin. A politico-military genius, he rapidly subdued rival states, restored centralized bureaucracy, established Mahayana Buddhism as the sole legal religion (as Theodosius I did with Christianity at the same time, 379), assumed control of the Buddhist Church; and, in 382, ordered an army westward which captured Kucha in Central Asia, where caravans from Persia exchanged goods with those from China. In short, he controlled a more powerful and effective state than the vanished Chinese empire had been. War with the southern empire (Eastern Jin) broke out in 383, lasting until 391. The northern cavalry was neutralized by Yangzi valley mud at the Battle of the Fei River. The northern empire now quickly collapsed, at which time, also, Fu Jian died. The Eastern Jin counteroffensive captured and held the northern capital, Loyang, until 391; then retreated for lack of interest on the part of the government.

The very next year, the Tabgatch Turks founded a new regime, the Toba-Wei, which revived, and improved on, the work of the Former Qin; it lasted, if at first coevally with other North China states, from 386 to 535. This was, on the whole, a powerful, rich, and efficient state. The contrast with the states ruled by Germanic peoples, in Western Europe and North Africa, at this time is amazing (with the possible exception of Ostrogothic Italy).

Chinese, some of those who were literate, objected to this regime's regimentation, its economic interventionism (such as granting peasants land in exchange for military service and taxes at the expense of landed magnates), and the adoration of the ruler as living Tathagatha. The objections were retrospective, however. Necessarily, as no freedom of expression existed. (The regimentation and interventionism were redolent of Legalism, abhorrent to Confucians. As was Buddhism, later.)

Before a stable ruling class could develop, the Turco-Mongol rulers had to undergo a crisis of cultural identity, the price of fusion with the Chinese Great Families who had always married their daughters. (Two months ago, I said that this became a problem in the social revolution which overthrew the aristocracy as a class, which may be associated with the year 907 that marks the fall of the Tang.) The same sort of thing is familiar from Gaul, Spain, and Italy. The crisis took political form.

The Toba-Wei split into Sinophiles (Western Wei) and re-Turkifiers (Eastern Wei), replaced in the 550s by the Northern Zhou and Northern Qi. It was right here and now, in 551, that the Ruan Ruan were expelled from North China, ultimately becoming the Avars who beseiged Constantinople in 599. (Apologies, my mention of 614 as the year of the first assault was in error. On this occasion, in 599, it took a Miracle of the Blessed Virgin to induce John V.A. Fine to mention the Bubonic Plague, because it destroyed the Avar army and killed several sons of the khagan. Historians tend to mention the Plague only when it causes politico-military Events.)

The Sinophile Northern Zhou seized Sichuan from the Southern Empire in 555, when the latter was prostrate from social revolution. They destroyed the Northern Qi in 577, unifying North China again, and rendering a compositely descended but culturally more-Chinese-than-not (with a Turkish cultural tinge) henceforth possible. This was personified by the half-Mongol, with a Mongol wife, Yang Jian, who seized power in 581 and reuinified China in 589 (Sui dynasty, 581 or 589 to 618).

As the Chinese empire expanded vigorously, Europe and the Near East were again depopulated by epidemic disease and invaded by Turks, Arabs, Lombards, and whatever. If only I had baseline measurements. Meaning, As of the year one, Common Era, was the Roman Empire, taking into account the vast social and discontinuity with the Roman Empire and its egregious alienness from ourselves however masked by all those words of Latin origin in our vocabulary, Lux soap, etc, did the Roman or Chinese empire have more JNSQ? Since the usage, advanced, is *really stupid*.