“[W]hile comparability does not necessarily require underlying similarities, Han China and New Kingdom Egypt do share some structural similarities and convergent developments that make the comparison quite compelling.”
—From Ancient Egypt and Early China
Studies comparing ancient China and Greco-Roman society are plentiful, while those drawing parallels between China and Egypt have been undeservedly scant. Focusing on New Kingdom Egypt (ca. 1548 BCE–1086 BCE) and Western Han China (202 BCE–8 CE), Barbieri-Low, a sinologist, observes that both societies subdued and governed vast territories administered by scribes, underwent periods of radical, albeit failed reform under charismatic rulers (
; and Xin Emperor Wang Man some 1,300 years later), nurtured “elaborate conceptions of an afterlife world” and developed so-called “hydraulic civilizations” thanks to life-sustaining rivers that were “prone to flooding” (Egypt’s Nile and China’s Yellow). The insularity of Egyptology offers one reason for the paucity of Sino-Egyptian comparisons; the chronological distance between the two civilizations is another, even though evident “underlying social and economic” parallels render the time difference between the two cultures immaterial.