There was an age difference of just 14 years between the Buddha and Confucius, who shared a huge number of philosophical ideas. Tang Xianzu and Shakespeare died in the same year. As father and son duo Li Yuan and Li Shimin built the Tang dynasty, the Arab Empire was as powerful as the sun at noon.
These events, unrelated yet strikingly similar, offer a fascinating glimpse into the world of historical coincidences.
Here are 10 of the best.
1. The great pyramids, and the first Chinese dynasty
The pyramids of ancient Egypt were an extraordinary feat, built in approximately 2,600 BC. At the same time, the legendary Huangdi, or “Yellow Emperor,” was ruling the Han dynasty in China, according to the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian.
Both events were considered fundamental to the development of Eastern and Western cultures.
From the 20th to 18th centuries BC, ancient Babylonians invented a way to use the lunar cycle to calculate the passage of time, using a calendar.
This invention coincided with the preference of the Chinese imperial court for using a lunar calendar, too. Interestingly, the Babylonian and Chinese approaches both recognized a leap year (1 additional day) every 2-3 years, despite never comparing calendars.
The 6th to 3rd centuries BC were a prosperous heyday for ancient Greece and Rome. They also marked the Spring-Autumn War period in Chinese history.
During this era, excellent scholars made their work known and formed the basis for the modern world’s major philosophies. Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato influenced the West; Confucius, Laozi, and Zhang Yi influenced the East.
At the same time, a number of genius leaders also emerged in the military: Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, Sun Tzu, Wuzi, and Sun Bin.
This was a glorious period indeed.
4. Shakyamuni Buddha of India and Confucius of China
Buddha and Confucius were born during the same period, with an age difference of just 14 years. The former planted the first seeds of Buddhist philosophy. The latter established Confucian traditional culture, lasting more than 3,000 years in the East.
Both exerted a great and longevous influence in the arenas of faith and philosophy.
5. The Roman Empire collapsed as China divided
The 4th century witnessed the invasion of the West by savage armies. The Roman Empire collapsed, and was split into “Eastern Rome” and “Western Rome.”
At the very same time in China, the Western Jin dynasty was annihilated and mainland China was divided. The Sixteen Kingdoms occupied a large area, and Eastern Jin took the South.
6. The Tang Dynasty and the Arab Empire
In 632 AD, Li Yuan and his son, Li Shimin, successfully reunified China. Together they founded the formidable Tang dynasty.
Almost at the same time, Muhammad attacked Mecca, and in doing so formed the Arab Empire. These two countries, although geographically distant from one another, were equally magnificent, prosperous, and large.
7. European crusades and invasion of the Song dynasty
The crusades in Europe, between 1096 and 1291, were a series of territorial religious wars between Christians and Muslims, fighting over previously shared holy sites.
At almost the same time in history, the Song dynasty in China lost control of its northern half to the Jurchen-led Jin dynasty, in the ferocious Jin-Song Wars.
Both history-changing events began in the early 12th century, and lasted for 200 years, ending in the late 13th century.
The victory of the first European crusade, capturing the city of Jerusalem (Photo: wikimedia)
8. Peter the Great of Russia, and Emperor Kangxi of China
Pyotr I, or “Peter the Great” of Russia, and the Emperor Kangxi of China, both took the throne and later died at almost exactly the same times.
Emperor Kangxi died in 1722; Peter the Great died in 1725. Peter the Great was the founder of the Russian Empire and Kangxi was the man who built the most powerful dynasty in the East.
Both were extremely powerful and influential rulers.
9. Playwrights William Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu
William Shakespeare was one of Britain’s greatest writers and playwrights, and Tang Xianzu was a famous Chinese writer and playwright of the Ming dynasty.
The two men not only lived during the same era, but also, curiously, both died in 1616.
Shakespeare was posthumously honored as the king of Western drama, while Xianzu was famous for his masterpiece, The Southern Drama Collection.
10. The Odyssey and the Book of Songs
Homer’s Odyssey is an epic poem of ancient Greek origin, and is considered fundamental to the modern Western canon.
Similarly, Kinh Thi, or the Book of Songs, is the oldest collection of Chinese poetry in existence.
Both epics were born in the 9th-8th centuries BC. Though coming from the East and West respectively, in combination, they exemplify the enduring power of the poetic hand.
Both epics are revered all over the world to this day.
Throughout more than 2,000 years of world history, the West and the East created an extremely rich tapestry of culture.
Historians are often preoccupied by cultural differences, but when we turn the spotlight onto the similarities that exist between major historical events of the past, we find the key to solving many of the long-standing riddles of human civilization.
Both the West and the East were driven by economy, territory, advancing culture, and strong faith. Our ancestors, the world over, had huge reverence for their gods.
As material science and technology advanced into the modern world we inhabit today, many historical curiosities were blurred in the process. When we take the time to revisit the past, we soon uncover that a barely-visible thread has always connected the philosophies of Eastern and Western civilizations.
Join the dots: everything is connected.