Methods of Political Control in Han China and Imperial Rome
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Han China (206 B.C.E.- 220 C.E.) and Imperial Rome (31 B.C.E. – 476 C.E.) were each amazing civilizations in their own ways. Each dynasty made many great ecological and technological advancements. Additionally, the governments of these civilizations each had ways of maintaining the political control over their subjects. The Han Dynasty of China and Imperial Rome’s methods of political control were similar in many ways (including their use of centralized governments and their uses of their military) and many differences (including the roles of citizens in the government and the governments techniques for keeping the lower classes happy) but I believe the similarities outweigh the differences because while the differences are definite ways to control the people, the similarities listed have been much more long-lasting and are also much more essential to this type of control.
The Han Dynasty and Imperial Rome each had forms of centralized governments. In each civilization (in the Han Dynasty, Han Wudi, and in the Roman Empire, Julius Caesar) a male political leader worked very hard to form a respectable form of a centralized government. As said in our textbooks, Han Wudi worked extremely hard to increase the authority and prestige of the central government. He built an enormous bureaucracy. Similarly, Julius Caesar fought to gain respect. Caesar, though, won his through battles fought and won. Once Caesar did make a name for himself, he was quick to take control and centralize the government underneath him. This method of political control proved to be very effective and it makes complete sense.
The more centralized the government is, the more power any one person has the capability to hold in that government. For example, when all parts of the government come together, a king could potentially control every aspect of their citizens’ lives, rather than just the more important pieces. The Han Dynasty and Imperial Rome each used military tactics in order to enforce political control. The Han Dynasty (most notably when it pertained to the Xiongnu) and Imperial Rome each used their militaries as a major method of political control. In the Han Dynasty, Han Wudi’s troops invaded northern Vietnam and Korea, and central Asia, bringing many under his control. In Rome, Julius Caesar was also using his military to bring threats under his control. Caesar conquered much land, including Gaul. He also confiscated land from conservatives and distributed it to his armies and other supporters too. Each of these men continually used their military power as a method of controlling the people.
The Han Dynasty and Imperial Rome differed greatly in their efforts to give citizens roles within the government. In the Han Dynasty, the line of succession remained very hereditary, whereas in Classical Rome, all citizens were allowed some sort of say in their government. The leaders from the time of the Han Dynasty were almost all from the same line of descent. For the Han Dynasty, this method of political control worked well, because there was little to no confusion. When a ruler died, it was widely known who would take his place. This kept the government more stable, and therefore gave the public the idea that they were very stable. Rome took a different approach. They allowed the lower classes (plebeians) to be granted the right to elect officials, known as tributes, to represent them in government.
The Han Dynasty and Imperial Rome had very different methods of keeping their political control over the lower classes. As is typical with a Legalistic form of government, the Han Dynasty cared much less about keeping the people happy, than the expansion of the state. The government officials during this time in China, used the method of oppressing the lower class. In Imperial Rome, almost exactly the opposite was true. Imperial authorities in Rome sought to keep the masses content with “bread and circuses”. The often unemployed urban masses were given subsidized grain and spectacular entertainment as a method of keeping them from rebelling.
All in all, the classical societies of China and Rome were incredibly diverse, yet shared much in common. The Han Dynasty of China and Imperial Rome’s methods of political control were similar in many ways (including their use of centralized governments and their uses of their military) and many differences (including the roles of citizens in the government and the governments techniques for keeping the lower classes happy) but I believe the similarities outweigh the differences because while the differences are definite ways to control the people, the similarities listed have been much more long-lasting and are also much more essential to this type of control.