Han China differed from Gupta India politically, developing a strong bureaucratic system while India allowed local rulers to stay in control, but the Guptas focused more on trade and made more intellectual achievements than China, especially in mathematics. They established empires that were successful, but also distinct in their own ways. Although these two civilizations were notably different politically, economically, and intellectually, both were successful in bringing prosperity to their empires. During the Han dynasty, China successfully improved its bureaucracy, but in India local rulers maintained regional control.
India’s territory never grew to be as large as China’s, so different forms of government were needed for each civilization. Han China retained the centralized government formed by the Qin, and expanded the bureaucracy. The bureaucratic system suited China, because it was able to support the civilization as it expanded into a large empire. The emperor Wu Ti created civil service examinations for his bureaucrats, which could be taken by any male. Wu Ti also urged Confucianism in order to gain support, as it urged respect for the government.
On the other hand, India lacked an extensive bureaucracy, and local rulers were allowed to keep control as long as they remained loyal to Gupta authority. Because of its separated regions, it was very difficult to politically unify India. Similar to China, the Gupta rulers turned to religion to strengthen support for the government. In contrast to China, they favored Hinduism because they claimed to be appointed by Hindu gods. Additionally, Hinduism encouraged the rigid caste system. The empires were also similar because political power was given to landowners.
Although the Gupta period is considered the golden age of India, providing its greatest period of political stability, it never developed the solid bureaucracy that Han China did. Although trade is vital to any civilization’s success, India emphasized trade far more than China did. China’s economy focused on extensive internal trade, while India developed more maritime trade. Trade gradually became more important during the Han dynasty, focusing on luxury items for the upper class such as silks, leather, and jewelry. Internal trade was made easier by the standardization of currency and circulation of copper coins.
Han rulers expanded the empire, which allowed trade with more places. Some merchants even took profitable trips to India. Even though they were important, trade and the merchant class did not become the focal points of Chinese economy. This was due to the emphasis on Confucianism, which frowned upon a life devoted to moneymaking. On the other hand, the Guptas established a strong economy. It was partly based on technological sophistication, new inventions, and production. For example, Indian artisans were the first to manufacture cotton cloth, calico, and cashmere.
In these areas, India and China were rivaling, but the India’s economy became more vigorous. Merchant activity was greater in India than in China, with merchants at a relatively high caste status. They traveled by land, and also by sea, increasing maritime trade. Han China and Gupta India’s economies can be compared as firmly agricultural, both relying on a large peasant class, organized into cooperative close-knit villages. Han rulers regulated agricultural supplies by storing extra grain and rice in good times, preventing price increases when harvests were bad.
The Gupta period in India was known for its wealth, which was due to extensive trading both internally and by sea, as opposed to Han China’s economy, which relied more on technological innovations. The Hans and Guptas both made many important intellectual achievements, but there was more academic success in India, especially in mathematics. The Chinese studied astronomy, calculating the movement of planets, as well as observing sunspots. During the Han dynasty, scientists invented a seismograph to register earthquakes. In addition, they actively researched medicine, studying principles of hygiene that would support longer lives.
Generally, the Chinese focused their studies on practical findings, such as discovering how things worked. They studied the mathematics of music that led to advances in acoustics. Like China, Indian scientists also progressed in astronomy and medicine. Many astronomical discoveries were made, such as the calculation of the solar year, the circumference and daily rotation of Earth, a theory of gravity, and the discovery of seven planets. In medicine, hospitals also stressed cleanliness, like China. India surpassed China in mathematical discoveries. Scholars created a numbering system and the concepts of zero and negative numbers.
Mathematicians also calculated square roots and a more accurate value of pi. These advances in both civilizations were possible because of support from the government. In China, the government sponsored intellectual life, organizing research in astronomy. The Guptas had a vast university center in Nalanda featuring lecture halls, libraries, and an observatory. This supported the new discoveries that were being made. Both civilizations made important intellectual achievements that were advanced by world standards, but Gupta India especially excelled in mathematics. The Han and Gupta dynasties were both successful periods in China and India.
Their success was due to different causes, because their societies were very unlike each other. China’s government centered on its strong bureaucracy developed during the Han dynasty, while India never advanced a decent bureaucratic system. Both civilizations had strong economies, but India focused more on over-sea trade than China did. Also, Gupta India made more intellectual achievements particularly in science and mathematics. The Han and Gupta periods were similar in some ways, but their civilizations showed distinct differences politically, economically, and intellectually.
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