3-02 How do evalute the historical significance of the British Magna Carta?
Whatever the historical record, and however many changes the Magna Carta of Britain has undergone, it embodies a core fact. The nobles can restrict the power of the Crown. Through the history of multiple regency administrations, the challenge of Cromwell, and the subsequent dissolution of the colonies, the king’s royal power in Britain declined step by step. This was the inevitable path of the feudal system.
The path of the evolution of the history of feudal dynasties in Europe had been performed many times through the history of ancient China more than 2000 years earlier. Europeans just did not know it.
The written history of ancient China hints at the history of the Zhou dynasty in B.C. It hints at feudalism, which must have weakened the power of the king.
It is said that at the beginning of the Zhou dynasty, more than 1,000 small states were divided up. Gradually, these small states merged and disappeared. At the time when Confucius began to record Chinese history, there were dozens of small noble states under the Zhou empire. The main point is that the imperial dynasty needed its nobles to maintain the existence of the empire. The dynasty had to keep rewarding (or paying actually) its nobles with resources (including the granting of land). Thus the land under the direct control of the emperor was divided up into smaller and smaller. At the end of the Zhou dynasty, the empire had no more land to grant, but he still had to grant land to his subordinate nobles. So much so that the empire had to live in his cousins’ countries. This is the earliest historical record of feudalism leading to the loss of kingship that can be seen.
The second example is the state of Jin under the Zhou dynasty. The king of Jin relied on a dozen large nobles to run the state. As a result the nobles went on to own more people and land than the king. The king once exterminated a large nobleman with the surname of Zhao. As a general rule the king was able to confiscate the population and land of this large noble. But then the king’s position would gradually grow again. The nobles under the king then found many reasons to force the king to return the population and land to the family and to restore the family to its noble status. In time, these increasingly powerful nobles divided up all the king’s land and population.
Ancient Chinese statesmen saw the shortcomings of feudalism and finally put an end to it in the Qin dynasty. In Europe, however, the feudal system was maintained until modern times. Even today, there are still many kings in Europe. At the same time, there are still many feudal schemes of governance that are widespread in Europe today.
From your perspective, how do you assess the significance of the Magna Carta in Britain?
(notice by Ye QiQuan)