Was China a super power in ancient times?




Pun Anansakunwat, Read Chinese history for 17 years

China has been a global superpower in almost every historical period.

The only exception was the century of humiliation (1850–1949), or during the imperialism era.

In Pre-Qin dynasties, China was ruled (nominally) by Shang and Zhou rulers. Their territories, despite being small compared to present-day China, was larger than its contemporary civilization, such as ancient Greece and ancient Egypt. The technology was at least equal to both civilizations. Almost every nomadic tribe in China proper was subjugated by Chinese states under the Zhou dynasty. The tribal people were sinicized, and became “Chinese.” During this age, Chinese culture flourished. Many ideological groups (Confucianism, Legalism, etc.) spawned in this era. 

Chinese civilization in the Spring-Autumn period.

Chinese civilization in the Warring States period, notice that the entire territory of Chinese civilization increased because of the colonization of the outer areas by states, especially Qin and Chu. Qin defeated as many as 25 tribes, and annexed the areas once controlled by nomads.






In Qin dynasty and Han dynasty, China became a unified, centralized empire (completely in the reign of Emperor Wu of Han). China became the end destination of the silk road. Trade and economy were flourished. Unlike Rome that was defeated by the nomads, Han Dynasty managed to defeat the mighty Xiongnu confederacy at its homeland, and repelled these nomads from the Chinese border. Furthermore, the eastern part of Central Asia, and Korea was conquered by Han Dynasty as well.

China (In red) had a large economy since antiquity. Notice that the share of world GDP decreased sharply during the century of humiliation (1849–1949), which paralleled to the imperialist era. The only country that had a larger share of world GDP in antiquity than China was India. However, since AD1, ancient India was not united into a single state as China (Han Dynasty). The closest ones were the Gupta Empire (320CE–550CE)


中国自古以来就是一个经济大国。请注意,在与帝国主义时代平行的屈辱世纪(1849-1949),其在世界GDP中所占的份额急剧下降。古代唯一一个在世界GDP中占比超过中国的国家是印度。然而,自公元1年以来,古印度并没有像中国(汉朝)那样统一成一个国家。最接近统一的是笈多帝国(320 - 550年)。


tomy Chan

I will use term that coined by the Chinese scholar.

They said :

Before the industrial era there was no superpower. The most powerful empire only attained the level of regional power.

take example Roman Empire or Tang dynasty, their action only affected their surrounding civilization. Since we are talking about China, we’ll talk about Tang Dynasty.

If we count superpower by the power of destruction that empire has, Tang dynasty most deadly weapon is crossbow, spear, bow. These weapon has a relative small destruction power compare to later weapon. In this respect no Tang dynasty can not be compare with the current destruction power weapon.

Also during Tang Dynasty, the Japan, Korean did learn and adopt many things from it. A lot of middle east trader did trade in Tang dynasty capital Chang an, But Tang dynasty influence has not reach the entire globe. The Maya or Aztec civilization probably never heard of Tang dynasty. Europe only seen China through it’s silk and porcelain.

The Tang dynasty even lost war with the Arab, in central Asia, this means the stretch of military power is limited to the sorrounding region.

In this respect Tang Dynasty was not a world power let alone superpower. The next dynasty is quite similar with Tang Dynasty.

So no…. China has never been a superpower.











Mark Dallas, Professor,Political Science & Asian Studies,Union College NY

The term “super power” implies that there is a single global system of inter-country relations and/or a single global economy. In my opinion, terms like “superpower” and “globalization” are inappropriately used with reference to ancient time periods. None of the great ancient civilizations had a global reach, and there was relatively sporadic and infrequent contacts between them, so you can think of the world as divided into regions, and each region may have had its own local “superpower” civilization at different points in time.

Globalization (in both economic and political terms) did not really become a phenomenon until European colonization. This is the beginning of the very first era of globalization.




Scott Tyler, B.Ed. Education, University of Western Ontario (2004)

No, China has never been a superpower. A ‘superpower’ is a country that has influence globally, and China’s influence has only ever been regional. Sure, it influenced Japan, but never occupied it.



Pothiraju Seetharam, Business Management from Singapore

Different empires with no defined borders exercised power, but often had influence or suzerainty over adjacent territories without actual army units deployed. No one had knowledge of the entire world until the Europeans sailed the ‘seven seas’ and detailed the world on to maps, and only the British navy had the ability to project power almost anywhere in the seas. They can probably be called the first naval superpower.

China’s famous Zheng He voyages happened to touch base with rather minor powers all around the south East Asian coast, the tip of India and parts of East Africa. It was of course the most formidable fleet of its time but not a globally known one.

The superpower era only began in the latter part of the 20th century, when a large nuclear arsenal, the ability to project power through an army and/or navy and a large economy was possessed. I'd say they can be called super powers only in the globalised era which is fairly recent.

Super power is a subjective name and status anyway manufactured to describe some nations. You could say the three countries always appearing at the top of the Olympic medals’ tally are the ones who are super powers! It's no accident they are there.





Sun Scott, studied Interdiscplinary (2004)

There are various claims and popular notions of China as being a super power from the ancient past up until the late 15th Century, is just but hogwash, and historical blunder or outright misrepresentation of facts.

From the first Shang Dynasty all the way to the current People’s Republic of China, only three dynasties stood out to the world that were close to qualify as world power, the Han Dynasty, Tang Dynasty and the Song Dynasty (China’s zenith period), before Mongol annihilation. Only these three Chinese dynasties can closely characterized as regional power. The rest of the various dynasties were either simply too weak, too isolated or too poor to be considered a world power.

This is a historical fact and objective reality about China’s history.

The following were historical Superpowers before the United States, in chronological order:





Mesopotamia (various empires and kingdoms)

Egyptian Empire

Indus Valley (empire/kingdom unknown but rich and advanced)

Shang Dynasty (limited influence)

Persian Empire

Greek Empire (including Alexander’s empire)

Han Dynasty (there you go China. Yet, still limited in influence)

Roman Empire

Tang Dynasty (only because Roman Empire Fell)

Umayyad Caliphate (because Rome Fell, it took advantage)

Song Dynasty (perhaps China's last hurrah)

Mongol Empire (despite it’s brutality and barbarity, albeit short-lived)

Mughal Empire

Spanish Empire

British Empire

United States of America

These were the major powers throughout World history.

But, if we are to be true to the real definition of a Superpower, only two countries came close to world domination in history, that is the British Empire (UK) and the United States. The other country that qualifies to this definition is the Spanish Empire.




















Thomas Sutherland

China was the second longest holder of the super power status in history, for it held that status for about 2000 years continuously.

The longest country to ho;ld that title was Egypt, who held the status of the world’s strongest super power continuously from 3100 BC to 52 BC, and then as a global super power from 772 ad to 1519 ad




David Albrecht, former Worked in Semiconductor Industry for 8 Years at Teflon (1999-2007)

Depends very much on the definition of Super Power. From a Western standpoint Super Power often means projecting power externally. While China most of the time has spent their energy projecting power internally. They do not seem very adept at creating and maintaining external alliances



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