Chinese traditionally regarded their land as the “Middle Kingdom,” not in the sense that it happened to lie in the midst of other, more or less equal political entities, but rather that it was literally the center of the earth under heaven.i To the Han Chinese, all other peoples-the non-Chinese people-were barbarians, and their cultures were held in low regard.
This attitude, however, did not completely prevent China from borrowing from these “inferior” peoples. For example, the idea of fighting from horseback, as opposed to the early Han practice of using horse-drawn chariots, seems to have come from China’s nomadic neighbors to the north. At a somewhat later date, the stirrup was adopted from Turkic invaders. This device allowed mounted warriors to shoot backwards, thereby enhancing their survivability. Both of these are military innovations whose value could be clearly demonstrated in combat. Yet even in the military field, where the nomads displayed obvious superiority, borrowing was rare.
There was a brief period in which several different philosophies contended for cultural primacy in China, but this was a debate within Chinese civilization, and occurred very early in Chinese history-from approximately 500 to 300 B.C. Known as the “Hundred Schools” period, it was characterized by vigorous debates on such matters as the relationship between the ruler and his subjects, and whether laws should apply equally or differentially depending on one’s status in the community in relation to the perpetrator of a perceived injustice.