Also, I am by profession an historian. In my story, I'm particularly interested in the people who came to what we now call India and China. We know that humans came originally from Africa, and that some of them left that continent to go to other parts of the world.
So India and China were not the birthplaces of civilisation. From a human point of view, they were empty places just waiting for people to come along.
I'm not sure the creatures already inhabiting those places felt quite the same way. They could have done without the humans quite happily.
To track the progress of people into India and China is a fascinating process, but I don't want to get into it here. All I'll say is that the great mountains, the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush, made a dramatic impact on people's progress and choice of where to go.
India was protected from massive invasions by that great mountain barrier. It was difficult to get into, going through those narrow passes in the Hindu Kush – the Khyber pass for example. Just about no-one in their right minds would attempt to enter India via the Himalayas. In many ways, if yours was a nomadic group travelling from Europe through the heartland of Asia, it was easier to give India a miss altogether and move on in the direction of China.
|The rivers provide the clue|
Obviously, I have to cut a long story short and simplify it so I can make my vital point. People did come into India, but it was a difficult journey, so mostly they came in dribs and drabs. They didn't come in in massive numbers at any one time. Generally speaking, they came into India at a rate that India could absorb without sudden changes.
The overall effect of this was to create a society where people of all sorts were accepted and integrated into the social system that was there.
China's story was completely different. People occupied the great river valleys, and settled civilisations became the pattern for various reasons, mainly because of the establishment of farming; “the hydraulic society,” it became known as, based on water.
A settled existence compared with a nomadic one changes everything. If things get uncomfortable for some reason, nomads can vote with their feet and move on. Settled people can't. Sedentary people invest time and effort in the farm, to build solid houses, and to secure them from attackers.
Ideas about property and ownership change. People who develop particular skills can sell their time and labour rather than farm and tend animals. Little villages can eventually become large cities. New rules are needed to govern urban populations.
The Chinese succeeded admirably in doing all of that, but they had one huge problem. They were wide open to land invasion from their western and northern frontiers. There were plenty of people prepared to attack the settled communities in the river valleys of China. For voracious raiders like the Huns, and later, the Mongols, they were easy pickings.
These were barbarians, as the Chinese called them, and for good reasons they feared and despised them. The constant threat posed by the barbarians caused the Chinese communities to bond tightly, to sacrifice individual rights for the needs of the community. And that mentality has carried through in China [until recently perhaps. We can't underestimate the nature of the changes that are taking place today, because they go against the fundamental traditions of China.]
It was for that very reason that the Chinese Emperor in the third century BCE ordered the construction of the Great Wall. It was intended to mark for the first time in history the area that the Chinese regarded as China proper. There was a defined border that no one could cross without invading China.
So there was the fundamental difference between India and China. India, because of an accident of the planet's formation, had its boundaries defined by nature, but in a way outsiders were accepted and included. There is no Indian race.
This may surprise some outsiders, who have their own perception of what an Indian man or woman should look like. Forget those perceptions if you have them. The divisions in traditional Indian society are based on class and caste, not upon race.
And what about China? That open boundary on the north and northwest has created a completely different attitude to the foreigner from the Indian one. The foreigner is the invader, the barbarian, with no real perception of civilisation.
The Chinese view was that theirs was the most civilised nation on earth. At its highest, there is good reason why they might have thought this. They developed the most complex and sophisticated bureaucracy to run a nation that had ever been devised. Their literature, arts and sciences ranked with the world’s most impressive.
India’s achievements over millennia are no less impressive in all these fields, but the Indians saw the world in a different way. And Buddhism, the export product of Hinduism, provided a uniting thread for all Asia.
All of this has been defined by geography. If you don't understand geography, then you can't understand history, because you can't understand the human response to the challenges that geography poses. And if you can't understand a country's history, then you can't understand why it is as it is today.