What Causes Conflict Along the Nomad-Sedentary Frontier
Historically, the relations between nomadic and sedentary people were characterized by numerous conflicts and irrevocable antagonism, since nomadic and sedentary cultures were absolutely different. Conflicts between nomadic and sedentary people were a constituent part of the life of these people throughout century from the epoch of Han Chinese opposition to Xiongnu to Ming-Mongols conflicts. The historical evidences prove that conflicts between nomadic and sedentary peoples were regular and it was practically impossible to stop them, though, the conflicts and contradictions did not always result in active military actions. Having different technological development and military power, nomadic and sedentary people could not keep from coming into clashes even if they could not count for the significant military power. The failure of a military operation could be quite harmful, especially if people were not actually prepared for the war. Nevertheless, it did not prevent nomadic and sedentary people from conflicts, which were the natural result of the striking difference between civilizations. The different lifestyle determined the strategy and tactics used by nomadic and sedentary people that lead to the paradoxical situation when more economically and technologically advanced sedentary civilization, having larger human resources should protect its territory from attacks of nomads, which proved the effectiveness of their military organization. The latter was superior compared to that of sedentary people because it provided less numerous nomads, lacking economic resources to attack sedentary people regularly and dominate military until the 18th century.
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The conflicts between nomadic tribes and sedentary China affected relationships between the peoples considerably breeding distrust and disbelief to each other. The military conflicts also contributed to the formation of various biases and stereotypes within each people. Being enemies, nomadic and sedentary peoples naturally attributed all the negative qualities to their opponents. At the same time, these stereotypes and biases stimulated the further conflicts and, in a way, were ideological basis for the conflicts between peoples.
Economic causes of conflicts
The conflicts between nomadic and sedentary peoples were determined by a variety of factors that influenced both peoples. At the same time, economic causes of the conflict were apparently among the most significant factors that contributed to the growing contradictions and tensions between nomadic and sedentary peoples. The development of nomadic economy was absolutely different from the development of the economy of sedentary people, such as Chinese. The major principles of economic life of nomadic and sedentary people differed consistently making their alliance or, at least, peaceful co-existence practically impossible.
First of all, nomadic people traditionally concentrated their attention on the development of cattle which was the major source of food, clothes and other elementary but basic products that they needed in their everyday life. In contrast, sedentary people mainly concentrated on the development of agriculture and since the ancient epochs agriculture was the basis of the economy of sedentary people. For instance, the development of agriculture was one of the major conditions of the economic development and growth of Han China (Ma, 194). The development of contradictions between nomadic and sedentary peoples was inevitable because of such a different ways of the economic development.
The focus of sedentary people on agriculture stimulated the development of cultivation of different plants and gradual improvement and increase of crops. This led to the surplus production of food and other agricultural products that stimulated the growing exchange and, therefore, contributed to the development of trade. Naturally, the development of trade in sedentary civilizations stimulated the formation of cities where people could exchange their products, selling surplus of their crops and acquiring other essential products, including products of artisans.
Moreover, the increasing crops and the improvement of the technology of agricultural production was accompanied by the growth of the population because of the improvement of the quality of life sedentary people naturally grew in number as they could afford better living. In contrast, nomadic people were deprived of such an economic advantage as well-developed agriculture. Instead, they were basically focused on the search of new pastures for their cattle that was the basis of their economy and the main source of food and basic products which permitted nomadic people to survive in steppes. This difference of nomadic economy stimulated them to constantly move throughout huge territories in search of the better pastures. Their economy was predominantly extensive and resulted in the exploitation of the natural resources which could not provide nomadic people with the sufficient amount of fertile pastures where their cattle could stay for a long time. They have to move from one place to another as the pastures became exhausted.
On the one hand, this stimulated nomadic people to high mobility that became one of the major advantages of their armies in wars with sedentary Chinese. For instance, one of the major reasons for the failure of Han Dynasty’s efforts to defeat Xiongnu was the poor logistics and inability of Chinese army to catch up mobile and fast Xiongnu. The latter, instead, successfully used their mobility to attack Chinese army unexpectedly and in situations when they had consistent advantages and could defeat the opponent. Chinese army could not gain success in this military operation because there was “the problem of supplying food across long distances” and “the weather in the northern Xiongnu lands were difficult for Han soldiers” (Ma, 175). As a result, Chinese could not afford a long lasting military campaign while for Xiongnu it was a normal condition and they get used to the life in such climatic conditions while they did not need the food supply such as Chinese needed because they had all the food at hand.
On the other hand, they could not possess a large army because of the scarce resources that could not provide a large number of people with a sufficient amount of food. There was a natural limit that could not be exceeded, otherwise, nomadic people would start starving and slowly die out because of the lack of food. Consequently, nomadic people were highly dependent on the potential of pastures and they needed constantly to move from one pasture to another as the local sources became more and more scarce. Hence, they needed new lands and new pastures that forced them to move into the lands occupied by sedentary people that caused the conflicts between them. The lands of sedentary people were an attractive territory to nomadic tribes at different epochs. Another important reason and probably the most important one, for which nomadic tribes regularly attacked Chinese settlements was the growing economy and wealth of the local population. As agricultural development of sedentary Chinese progressed, they could develop industries that stimulated the development of trade and increased the effectiveness of agriculture due to the use of new tools and technologies of cultivation. The progress of agriculture, the development of trade and industries naturally led to the growing prosperity and accumulation of wealth of sedentary people. On the one hand this wealth became the basis of their power since Chinese could maintain a large army and implement new technological innovations, build fortifications, like the Great Wall, which was particularly fortified during the Ming dynasty (Barfield, 133). Thus, wealth gave them larger opportunities to strengthen their military potential which they needed to protect themselves from attacks of nomads and this need was constant in different epochs from Han dynasty to Ming rule in China. On the other hand, the wealth became the great threat to China because this made the territory of China attracting to nomads who viewed its territories as a source of enrichment.
At the same time, nomads did not only attack Chinese territories but they also affected the trade of China with other countries, especially to the west. For instance, during the Han dynasty, Xiongnu threatened to the Silk Route which was an important source of income for Han dynasty. In response Han dynasty attempted to defeat Xiongnu but mainly in vain, though there were certain successes, such as the successful military operations under the command of Ban Chao, the General Protector of the Han dynasty, who pushed Xiongnu to the West, but after his death they regained their position and still represented a threat to China and its trade.
The securing west frontier and provision of the security of trade became one of the major strategic goals of China in the following epochs. For instance, during Tang dynasty the foreign policy of the dynasty attempted to secure its western frontier. This is why in order to “handle and avoid threat posed by the Turks, the Sui government repaired fortifications and received their tribute and trade missions” (Schafer, 183). The trade and security was one of the major conditions of the economic prosperity of China. This is why Chinese conflicted with nomadic tribes permanently because they threatened to the economic security of China harassing its trade with other countries and attacking its territory, while nomads viewed China as a source of enrichment and they needed Chinese resources because their own resources were scarce.
However, China could not constantly oppose to nomadic tribes effectively because the struggle against nomads needed huge resources and undermined the national economy. On the other hand, nomadic tribes grew in power, which reached its peak during the Mongol Empire, which was probably the greatest threat to China. The Mongol Empire emerged at the epoch when the number of nomads was at its maximum and Mongols attempted to expand their empire by means of invasion but the reason and cause of this invasion was not just a question of enrichment, but it was rather the question of the survival because to maintain a large number of people and huge army Mongols needed new territories, new sources, and more income. In such a situation, sedentary people became the target of Mongols expansion and their “biggest conquest was the total invasion of China in the end” (Howorth, 122).
This historical experience stimulated China to develop new fortification leading to the construction of the Great Wall by Ming dynasty, which still viewed Mongols as “the major threat of barbaric tribes to civilized China” (Barfield, 221), but the major cause of this military fortifications was the threat to the economic stability in the country.
Socio-cultural causes of conflicts
Along with economic causes of conflicts, which were dominating, there were also socio-cultural causes. Sedentary Chinese people often viewed Mongols as “barbaric” and they felt superior in relation to nomads (Barfield, 224). Traditionally, sedentary people had a negative and biased attitude to nomads as the major threat to their life and prosperity. Nomadic tribes had an image of aggressive invaders who could destroy all the achievements of sedentary peoples since during their invasions they estranged all material values that constituted the basis of sedentary civilization. This is why Chinese people in different epoch had the same negative attitude to their nomadic neighbors on the north and west. The fortification of northern and western borders was the result of such a stereotyped view on nomads and the apogee of the fear of Chinese in face of nomads was the Great Wall of China (Waldron, 210).
On the other hand, nomadic peoples rejected the lifestyle of sedentary civilization and they had a scornful attitude to Chinese as well as other sedentary peoples because of their close link to the material values and specific locations. In contrast, nomads valued their freedom most of all and were unwilling to change their philosophy and they unable to comprehend the philosophy of sedentary people.
As a result, both sedentary and nomadic peoples had an extremely negative and scornful view on each other that became the ideological basis for conflicts because the defeat of “barbaric” Mongols was one of the major goals of Chinese rulers, for instance.
Thus, conflicts between nomadic and sedentary peoples were determined by both objective and subjective factors. On the one hand, there were objective economic factors such as the need of nomads in the invasion of new lands to get new pastures and to get new sources for maintenance of their traditional lifestyle, while Chinese attempted to eliminate the threat to the stability of their economy and trade. On the other hand, the permanent conflicts engendered numerous biases creating a negative image of both conflicting parties and these biases were the ideological basis for the conflicts.
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