Chinese history, according to the very first written records from Shang dynasty, lasts approximately 3 500 years. Chinese historians like to claim that it is over 5 000 years, but existence of Xia dynasty (not to mention The mythical Yellow Emperor”) is still pretty arguable. Anyways, numbers are overwhelmingly impressive. In spite of being conquered by barbarians numerous times, Chinese people have been living on the same soil since the origins of agriculture till today and overall amount of ethnic “Han” Chinese, across mainland China, remains over 92%. Even so, there is huge cultural diversity within China: language, rituals, food etiquette are different from region to region. But Chinese are still united. Moreover, they have been maintaining centralized political system throughout its history. What is the secret and why it has not fallen apart yet?


If you ask any person in Shanghai what language do they use, you will immediately receive: “Chinese”. The answer will always be the same, regardless of the region where the question is asked: in Shanghai, Guangzhou or Fuzhou. But, in fact, Chinese people from Beijing cannot understand language, which is in use in Shanghai or other provinces. This paradox is due too specifics of hieroglyphic writing system which don’t represent phonetics, only the meanings. Spelling of same hieroglyphs is different from province to province as well as from era to era. It means that pronunciation is changing throughout the time while characters remain mostly the same. Theoretically, modern Chinese people can read and understand the Analects of Confucius, which was written thousands years ago, no matter what was the pronunciation. For comparison, people from Eastern Europe who’s language is based on very phonetically representive Cyrillic alphabet, have problems with reading texts even from the 19th century.

Qin instituted a unifrom written language

One comprehensive writing system takes its roots from 221 BC, when Emperor Qin Shi Huang did end warring states era by conquering other 7 kingdoms. In order to centralize power, the Qin Shi Huang had begun company of demolishing cultural diversity among the subdued kingdoms. One of his reforms was a standardization of writing system — one for all states. Since then, all Chinese “Dialects” are unified by same Han characters. Attentive people can outline some analogy with Latin — the common language for printed books and official documents in Europe till the end of the 17th century. Evidently, after falling of the Roman Empire, Latin had prevailed in daily life, but eventually was casted out by vernacular languages. Could we have one language in Europe today? Obviously, we could not. This process was led by growning cultural diversity among European regions which was impossible to overcome without centralized political system.

System of government

Up to now, China has been ruled under one party state. Once it was led by noble families, then, to become official, a candidate had to pass local exams. Imperial examination has been the cornerstone of Chinese legislative system for the long time, which gave an opportunity to become official to every men even peasant. For sure, members of wealthy families were privileged to have more free time (especially, in comparisons to villagers) as well as acces to best teachers and study materials, unlike peasants that were obligated to work whole day, instead of memorizing Confucian classics. However, villagers were trying to find talented people within their community in order to invest in their education for obtaining own representative in the government, Nowadays, Communists have a very similar approach: If you want to “change the system”, you have to join the party first.

Palace Examination at Kaifeng, Song Dynasty, China.

Meritocracy as a concept allowed China to become the most prosperous country in the world and retain this status for a very long time. China had been the richest and economically most powerful place in the world from ancient times to the end of the 18th century. China was truly Tianxia (Chinese: 天下 “under heaven”) and all foreigners had been treated as barbarians. For example, when foreigners had first stepped on Chinese ground and had made attempt to trade with local dwellers, they found out that they just did not have anything to offer (except noble metals that were conveyed from recently opened America). As for Chinese, they were completely self-sufficient. They had such goods as silk, tea, porcelain that had been unbelievable appreciated by Europeans. All of the silver from America was moved through Europe to China for exchanging on tea, gun powder etc. Economy of The British Empire was based on trading with China. Even after falling of declined Qing dynasty in 1912, new generation of politicians had never taken seriously polarized pluralism as suitable for China. As the matter of fact, most significant politicians of the 20th China: Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping insisted on one-party system. Likewise, centralized power and ideological unity allows government to concentrate on long-term goals without fear for getting all reforms aborted after another election, which is very important for developing country on the long way to prosperity. In Timeline of Chinese history, one-state rule means peace and greatness of Han, progressiveness of Tang and technological breakthroughs of Song dynasties, whereas ages of disunity are regarded as dark times.

Unity today

In modern China, different provinces cooperate more than it has ever been. Spread of Internet and intense propoganda of Mandarin (Beijing’s version of Chinese) in media and schools make communication between different provinces far easier. During last 6 decades amount of people who speak Mandarin increased exponentially. Now, people can work and live in any place they want which would be unbelievable under Qing rule. Free migration of people from province to province caused a huge mixing of cultures which gradually abolish disparity in rituals like wedding, funeral etc. Having said that people still prefer using local dialects in daily life and every day habits are distinguishable too. Then again, “Han people” (ethnic Chinese) feel that bearing in mind all the diversities, they are far less similar to Tibetans or Uyghurs than to each other. Furthermore, being “Han” is prestigious and honorable. China is much more respectful to its own cultural heritage then it was several decades ago. In contrary to Mao Zedong thought, Chinese culture is valuable again and “Han” want to be the part of it.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.