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Maat and Tianxia: Building World Orders in Ancient Egypt and China

In: Journal of Egyptian History
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  • 1 CNRS (France), UMR 8167 (Sorbonne University)
  • | 2 The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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Abstract

Ancient China and pharaonic Egypt were two of the most long-lived polities of the ancient world. Both of them succeeded in integrating a diversity of regions and peoples under a single monarch and in creating unique self-referential cultures, which survived periods of political fragmentation and of conquest by foreign peoples. Under these conditions, key concepts emerged that served to express order, justice, harmony, and good government. They provided an indispensable ideological tool to legitimize royal authority as well as a world view that helped define Egyptian and Chinese values when compared to neighboring areas and peoples, usually regarded as the “Other.” Two of these concepts, Egyptian maat and Chinese tianxia, may prove particularly useful for comparing the very particular ways in which Egyptian and Chinese leaders thought about their role in the world, both as builders of cosmic order and as efficient rulers that held together the peoples they governed.

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