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Geography of China: How did geography and climate influence the early development of Chinese civilization? Were their influences greater than those of governmental and economic developments?  

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China developed a highly unique and individualized civilization over the last five thousand years that began largely in isolation due to a variety of geographical boundaries that kept it separated from outside cultural influences. About two-thirds of China's almost six million square miles are covered in mountains and plateaus that...

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China developed a highly unique and individualized civilization over the last five thousand years that began largely in isolation due to a variety of geographical boundaries that kept it separated from outside cultural influences. About two-thirds of China's almost six million square miles are covered in mountains and plateaus that served as a natural barrier to both outside explorers and invaders. Many of these mountains to the south and west were frigidly cold due to the high elevations and virtually impassible until the developments of modern technology like air travel. In addition, vast dry deserts to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the east provided further global confinement.

Within China were an abundance of foothills, plains, and basins with fertile soil that proved suitable for growing food. The Yellow River to the north and the Yangtze River to the south not only provided essential nutrients for the soil, but also fresh drinking water and a source of transportation that allowed tribes in different parts of the country to exchange goods, technology, and ideas. China's lakes were equally vital, especially around the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain, where they provided food, tide power, and various aquatic resources.

Climates varied across the country due to its sheer size. The northeast boasted hot, dry summers and freezing cold winters that served as both economic and physical impediments. The central region was temperate, with modest rainfall and diverse seasons that allowed for routine farming and agricultural self-sufficiency. The southeast's semi-tropical environment featured more modest winters and heavy rainfall that often led to flooding. As such, growing seasons and the type of crops that could grow in these regions were more limited and forced an expansion in trade with tribes to the north.

Many significant cultural developments originated from within China, from pasta to paper to gunpowder, and modern day scholars believe that a proclivity to trade with outside empires benefited the Chinese by providing resources and knowledge that was otherwise unavailable within their borders. Naval expeditions began in the third century BC under the Qin Dynasty, with foreign relations greatly expanding under the Han dynasty and continuing through much of the Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties, all despite occasional periods of unrest.

Not until the Mongol raids after the collapse of the Song Dynasty did the nation adopt a more averse stance to certain outside influences, even though the Mongols (who lived in the Gobi desert) often limited raids to tribes in the northern regions of China and didn't venture much further south. While fortifications that formed the earliest parts of the Great Wall began as early as the eighth century BC, much of the modern wall seen today was built in order to repell the Mongol hordes. However, diplomatic missions by Marco Polo and other Europeans, as well as the resurgence of military power under the Ming Dynasty in the fourteenth century, led to a renaissance in cultural exchange that accelerated national development until the seventeenth century.

As such, much of China's early development was shaped by the vast geographical and climatic barriers that kept it isolated from other nations and kept various tribes within its boundaries isolated from each other. However, through gradual advancements in technology, water travel, agriculture and general knowledge, China's political leaders were able to open the nation up to trade with other empires that greatly enhanced the development of its civilization and ultimately mitigated the isolating effects of its geography.

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I would say geography and climate are the dominant factors in developing civilizations and cultures.  It dictates where and how populations may live, the carrying capacity dictates what size populations are sustainable, and rivers are the arteries of trade and culture that both define and bind together economies and peoples.  I find that governments most often develop around economic systems and factors, rather than the other way around.

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Geography and climate are the initial shaping forces in the development of any new civilization. Rivers are starting points for any major settlement in any part of the world because they provide easy transportation of people and goods as well as irrigation for agriculture through flooding or canals. If the climate is suitable for the development of agriculture, allowing people to settle rather than continue as nomads following game and native edible plants through the seasons, the settlement will take root and grow accordingly. Part of that growth process will then be the development of a barter economy among the different people who have different goods or services to trade, and the development of rudimentary government as the growing group of people figures out the basic rules of conduct they need with respect to each other.

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Post 3 notwithstanding, China has been relatively unified for much of its history.  This can be connected to its river systems and its relative lack of barriers to travel and trade even between the two systems.

China has two major east-west rivers.  Products and people could always move relatively easily along each river.  This helped to develop China's economy and unify its political system.  In addition, there were no major natural barriers to travel between the two river systems.  This made commerce easier and also allowed political domination to spread over much of what is now China.

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China's geography definitely influenced its development.  For one thing, China is a huge area.  Many parts of it are remote and inaccessible.  This is one of the reasons that so many different dialects developed.  China was so large that it was basically more than one country.

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As with the case of Egypt and India, early Chinese civilization was a river civilization, based primarily on the Yellow River which flooded and deposited soil which could be planted. The flooding was very arbitrary and capricious and often was quite damaging, so much so that The river was frequently called the "river of sorrows." The rich topsoil, known as loess, made agriculture profitable. Successful agricultural practice made the development of settlements along the river possible.

The influences of the river and the agriculture it made possible were infinitely more important in the development of China than governmental or economic developments. The ability to produce an surplus of crops led to specialization and the development of settlements and from their stratified societies.

The link below can provide you with more information on Ancient China

http://www.historydoctor.net/Advanced%20Placement%20World%20History/(5).%20Early_society_in_east_asia.htm

 

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