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Water-Based Communication and Its Impacts: A New Perspective on the Grand Unification of Imperial China

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Abstract

Throughout the 2,000-year history of imperial China, water had great significance. The origin, expansion and maintenance of the empire, and its diverse political, economic and cultural interactions and changes were driven by water. Its influence was extensive and profound. China’s climatic characteristics and geographic features, determined that its civilization required various forms of water management activities (including water conservancy and a water transport network) from the beginning. This prompted formation of Chinese water-based ideologies (including water myths, water worship etc.). Over thousands of years of history, water’s reach has extended beyond its material existence. A system of water-based communication (WBC) developed within the empire since its beginnings as an agricultural civilization on the land of China. Compared with the west, the most extraordinary thing about China's history is that, after the collapse of the great empire, it has been able to rebuild and reunite repeatedly. Water-based ideologies provided this shared cultural identity, which supported the formation and continuation of the empire. At the same time, any monarch or political group which aspired to unifying imperial China and achieve lasting stability, had to carry out large scale water management activities through a centralized state, and so adapt the water network, under the political and geographical conditions of the empire, to realize the principle of core region governance. Therefore, water-based activities exactly suited the governance of empire and guarantee its effectiveness. Although WBC cannot fully explain every detail of the empire's historical-geographical evolution, the cultural identity and effective governance which emerged through water-based communication make it a convincing explanatory framework. Its influence continues to this day.

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Fig. 1

(Source Theobald 2015, modified by authors)

Fig. 2

(Source http://epaper.xxcb.cn/xxcba/html/2017-06/26/content_2932237.htm, modified by authors)

Fig. 3

(Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xiang River, modified by authors)

Fig. 4

(Source © Authors)

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Wu, B., Wen, Y., Lin, T. (2020). Water-Based Communication and Its Impacts: A New Perspective on the Grand Unification of Imperial China. In: Wang, F., Prominski, M. (eds) Water-Related Urbanization and Locality. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-3507-9_13

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-3507-9_13

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