I was talking to some people about the people who live near Jusenkyo in the Ranma manga. They were under the opinion that since they now are relatively small villages in a remote area of China they always were.
It is possible but personally, that doesn't make sense to me. We are told a little bit about how old these people are. Shampoo's people are over 3000 years old, the Phoenix peoples age is not told but Jusendo is at least 4000 years old and they have been using it for a very long time to force Saffron's ascension, and the Musk are 1400 years old. Herb gives us a date of 1400 years for his people (wikipedia and the online fanscan state it as 14000 years). The chances of them not having expanded beyond village size in that long a period of time is extremely remote. Possibly if they were peaceful farmers but at least two of those cultures are very aggressive. The Musk and the Joketsuzoku have also been training for an extremely long time. These three cultures are fairly xenophobic but they, given the massive time period involved, would have expanded in the past. I can not believe that any culture could exist and not expand in a time period of around 13 times the length my country has existed (232 years) never expanded beyond the size of small cities.
An empire is a state that extends dominion over populations distinct culturally and ethnically from the culture/ethnicity at the center of power. If any one of the known people who live in that area had conquered another of the people in that area they'd have been an empire (since they are all culturally different).
I will mention that since Jusendo was built (the pipes, faucets, hollowing out of the mountain, etc.) around 4000 years ago and probably took whomever built it generations (IMO - it was the Phoenix people). At around that time in history the Pyramids of Giza were built.
Random things about the area
- The province it is in (Qinghai) prior to 1724 was under Tibetan control not Chinese.
- The area in real life was an ethnic melting pot for centuries, mixing Tibetan, Han Chinese, Mongol, and Turkic influences. -Amazons and Musk aren't really Chinese since area is more than just Chinese and their cultures predate China's.
- The civilization of China 3000 years ago had not spread to the area that Jusenkyo is at that time. It is very likely that their civilization grew up isolated like it did several other places in the world -Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus Valley, and the Americas for example.