What are the differences and similarities between China's Han Dynasty and India's Mauryan Dynasty in terms of politics, society, culture, geography, and religion?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Han Dynasty developed into the strongest and longest lasting Chinese Empire in 206 B.C., enduring until 220 A.D. The dynasty was as powerful as the later Roman Empire. Their government was structured with power being centered around the emperor, but the emperor also set up a bureaucracy in which he selected many officials to govern alongside him based on their abilities as opposed to social status.

Some of the government officials included the Excellencies, which functioned similarly to a cabinet; the Chancellor, who managed the government's budget; the Imperial Counselor, who was responsible for countering government corruption; the Grand Commandant, who was the head of the military; advisers to the Excellencies; and ministers who oversaw such things as religious ceremonies, imperial security, justice, and finance, as well as many other government officials. Government officials were appraised in three-year cycles and either dismissed or promoted (Ancient History Encyclopedia, "Han Dynasty"; Boston University, "The Han Dynasty").

In contrast, the Mauryan Empire (322 B.C. to 185 B.C.) of ancient India was established earlier than the Han Empire and lasted only 137 years. Regardless, similarly to the Han Dynasty, the government of the Mauryan Dynasty was also constructed as a complex bureaucracy. One difference, however, concerns the fact that the Mauryan government was sectioned off into four different provinces centered around the imperial capital Pataliputra, the seat of the Emperor. The four provinces were called the Tosali, the Ujjain, the Suvarnagiri, and the Taxila. Each province was ruled by a royal prince called a Kumara, and each Kumara had a Council of Ministers that advised the Kumara. The emperor also had his own Council of Ministers (New World Encyclopedia, "Maurya Empire: Administration"). Both the central imperial government and each province were also divided into various administrative roles, just like the Han Dynasty, which included overseeing the government's budget, overseeing justice, overseeing the military, and many others.

Hence, similarities between the governments of the Han Dynasty and the Mauryan Dynasty are that both were bureaucracies and both divided government responsibilities among officials. The biggest difference between the two governments was that the government of the Han Dynasty was far more centralized than the government of the Mauryan Dynasty.

kc-mac eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Mauryan and Han dynasties are both responsible for the development of Buddhism within their regions. Asoka the Great of the Mauryan dynasty is credited with the dissemination of Buddhism from the Indian subcontinent. Asoka was a great warrior king who annihilated the state of Kalinga in 261 BCE. Asoka surveyed the territory and became distraught at the sight of the destruction he had inflicted. This moment allegedly spurred Asoka to convert to Buddhism and renounce violence. Asoka promoted the ideal of ahimsa (to do no harm) and vowed never to lead an army again. This conversion was not beneficial to all members of Mauryan society. Brahmin priests viewed many of Asoka’s new policies and edicts as intolerant, especially concerning the Brahmins’ religious rituals of animal sacrifice. Though many of his adversaries were suspicious of his conversion, his later years are considered peaceful.

As Buddhism spread through China during the Han dynasty, it was not readily accepted by the Confucian emperors. In response to this, Buddhist monks would adopt Taoist and Confucian ideals in their teachings. Taoism was entrenched in concepts of immortality and magic, which became apparent in Han Buddhism as well. It was also widely believed that Lao-Tzu, the founder of Taoism, had been reincarnated into the Buddha (Siddhartha Guatama in Nepal), creating the religion. 

Though the Han and Mauryan dynasties both adopted Buddhism, the religion developed and spread very differently in the two regions. The Mauryan dynasty expanded Buddhism, though there was friction with the prevailing caste system, while the Han Dynasty assimilated Buddhism into current belief systems.