Exam preparation materials


1. China and Nearby Regions

The three powerful Chinese dynasties during this period, T’ang (618–907 C.E.), Song (960–1279 C.E.), and Ming (1368–1644 C.E.), developed Golden Ages with unique characteristics. T’ang and Song are grouped together (although they are very different) while the Ming came to power after a brief period of domination by Mongol invaders. You should understand from the outset that when we speak of China, we’re actually talking about its influence throughout much of east and southeast Asia. We’ll talk more specifically about Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia in a minute. For now, you just need to understand that China had an enormous impact on cultural and political developments in those civilizations.

A Quick Review of the Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall and Rise

The T’ang Dynasty ruled China beginning in 618 C.E. Under Emperor Xuanzong, the T’ang expanded Chinese territory into parts of Manchuria, Mongolia, Tibet, and Korea. By 907, however, the empire had become so large that local warlords gained more and more power, and the T’ang dynasty collapsed. In 960, after a brief era of restlessness, China was reunified under the Song Dynasty and Emperor Taizu. Despite a long period of peace and prosperity, the Song eventually fell to the Jurchen and then the Mongols until finally in 1279, the Mongols established the Yuan Dynasty in its place. That dynasty lasted less than a century. The Mongols were driven from China, and in 1368 the Ming Dynasty restored traditional Chinese rule to the empire.

From the seventh to the thirteenth centuries, the T’ang and then the Song Dynasties in China were accomplished in virtually every category of human endeavor—art, architecture, science, philosophy, porcelain-making, silk-weaving, construction of transportation systems, and more. Yet, it is probably poetry that made the T’ang Dynasty truly unique. Today, T’ang poetry tells us about daily life in China during that time. The Song built on the T’ang Dynasty’s talent for poetry with more practical applications of words, in the form of encyclopedias and histories. Under the Song Dynasty, China developed printing processes, which facilitated the spread of its literary accomplishments throughout Asia, and later influenced the development of literature in Korea and Japan.

At the height of both the T’ang and Song Dynasties, China was relatively stable. One of the many reasons for the stability was the bureaucratic system that was based on merit through the use of the civil service examinations (remember which dynasty created it? The Han Dynasty—see previous chapter for review). The T’ang and Song rulers continued to modify the civil service examination, but kept it focused on Confucian principles, which created a large core of educated, talented, and loyal government workers. The T’ang and Song also built an extensive transportation and communication network, including canals. They developed new business practices, including the introduction of paper money and letters of credit (hmmm … where have we seen these before?). All of this, of course, led to increased trade and cultural diffusion.

Because the power of the dynasties was based on trade and expansion, each developed an urban base to pursue their economic and political strategies. T’ang power was based on military garrisons along the central Asian trade routes and their capital at Chang’an (today Xi’an), the eastern terminus of the Silk Road and the largest city in the world at this time. This cosmopolitan city hosted a multinational and multireligious population. It was also the center of the T’ang tribute system, through which independent countries including Vietnam, Korea, Tibet, and various central Asian tribes, acknowledged the supremacy of the Chinese emperor and sent ambassadors to the city with gifts. Indirect rule of these vassal states spread Chinese influence far and wide and brought religion, among other things, into China. A similar tribute system would be repeated during the early years of the Ming Dynasty.

Focus On: Civil Service in China

The bureaucracy contributed to China’s stability in huge ways because it generally stayed in effect even as dynasties changed. Regardless of who was in charge, the leaders generally depended on the bureaucracy to carry out the functions of government. And remember, since appointment to a civil service position was earned by a strong performance on the civil service examination, the civil service was a meritocracy (earned) as opposed to an aristocracy (inherited). So when power changed from ruling family to ruling family, it didn’t impact the earned positions in the civil service.

   Think about it in terms of the U.S. bureaucracy. No matter who gets elected president, most of the bureaucracy remains the same. Most CIA agents, Department of Agriculture employees, and IRS agents are going to keep their jobs regardless of who is president. Some of the higher-up positions get newly appointed leaders when a U.S. administration changes, but the underlying functions of the government remain remarkably stable.

   Even when the Mongols ruled in China, the underlying bureaucracy remained. The Mongols brought in foreign government administrators, but the lower-level support and service jobs were kept by locals. Thus the system returned and stayed intact.

The Song Dynasty, under pressure from northern nomads, withdrew to the south and established a capital city at Hangzhou, the southern end of the Grand Canal. Here they concentrated on developing an industrial society, building on many of the ideas of the previous dynasty. An early form of moveable type resulted in an increase in literacy and bureaucrats among the lower classes. Printed books also spread agricultural and technological knowledge, leading to an increase in productivity and population growth. By the 1100s, the Song were an urban population with some of the largest cities in the world. Their wealth was based in part on their powerful navy and their participation in international trade throughout southeast Asia.

During the Song Dynasty, new technologies were applied to the military. Gunpowder started to be used in primitive weapons. The magnetic compass, watertight bulkheads, and sternpost rudders made the Chinese junks, as their ships were called, the best of their time. The junks were also used as merchant ships, of course.

Between 800 and 1100, iron production increased tenfold to about 120,000 tons per year, rivaling the British production of iron centuries later (in the 1700s). Song technology also included the production of steel, using water-wheel-driven bellows to produce the needed temperatures.

The introduction of Champa rice from Vietnam, a fast-ripening rice, linked with new agricultural techniques, increased food supplies. This led to a rapid population rise from 600 to 1200 C.E. China’s population more than doubled, increasing from 45 million to 115 million. The urban centers expanded greatly.

Chinese Women: One Bound to Lead, Most Just Bound

One of the more incredible events during the T’ang Dynasty was the rise of Wu Zhao, who became the first (and to date, only) Empress of China at the death of her husband, Emperor Gaozong. An able ruler, she was both ruthless toward her adversaries and compassionate toward peasants. The vast majority of women in China, however, never gained that kind of power. Highly patriarchal, Chinese men considered women inferior, and like European men of the Middle Ages, they considered a woman’s beauty and femininity as virtues worth protecting. During the Song Dynasty, adherence to a new Confucianism justified the subordination of women, and foot binding became a widespread practice. A woman’s feet would be bound shortly after birth in an effort to keep them small—if kept bound for a long enough time, they wouldn’t grow even as the rest of the body did. Large feet were considered masculine and ugly. This practice, which lasted for centuries among elite families, was not only painful, but also often deforming and sometimes crippling.

Religion in China: Diverse Beliefs

Following the fall of the Han Dynasty, there were a number of different religious influences in China, such as Nestorians, Manicheans, Zoroastrians, and Islam. But the religion that had the greatest impact by far was Buddhism, especially in two of its forms: Mahayana and Chan. Mahayana Buddhism appealed to many because of its emphasis on a peaceful and quiet existence, a life apart from worldly values. With its emphasis on meditation and appreciation of beauty, Chan (or Zen) Buddhism, won converts in the educated classes, who generally followed the tenets ofConfucianism.

Both the Confucians and the Daoists reacted strongly to the spread of Buddhism. Many Confucians saw Buddhism as a drain on both the treasury and the labor pool, especially because Buddhism dismissed the pursuit of material accumulation. The Daoists saw Buddhism as a rival religion that was winning over many of its adherents. In the mid-800s under Emperor Wuzong, a wave of persecutions destroyed thousands of monasteries and reduced the influence of Buddhism in China.

Neo-Confucianism in China

As China turned away from other worldly ideas of the Buddhists during the late T’ang and early Song, new ideas about Confucian philosophy developed. Where older Confucianism had focused on practical politics and morality, the neo-Confucianists borrowed Buddhist ideas about the soul and the individual. This new tradition became the guiding doctrine of the Song Dynasty and the basis for civil service. At its core was a systematic approach to both the heavens and the role of individual. Filial piety, the maintenance of proper roles, and loyalty to one’s superiors were again emphasized.

2. Japan

Because Japan consists of four main islands off the coast of mainland Asia, it was relatively isolated for thousands of years. Ideas, religions, and material goods traveled between Japan and the rest of Asia, especially China, but the rate of exchange was relatively limited. Only in recent centuries has Japan allowed Western influences.

Little is known of early cultures in Japan prior to 400 C.E., except that they were influenced by Korea and China. The first important ruling family was the Yamamoto clan, whose international connections helped them emerge as leaders in the fifth century. One of the unique things about Japan is that the Yamamoto clan was both the first and the only dynasty to rule it. The current emperor is a descendent of this same clan.

Early on, the Shinto religion took hold in Japan. Under Shinto, which means “the way of the gods,” the Japanese worshipped the kami, which refers to nature and all of the forces of nature, both the seen and unseen. The goal under Shinto is to become part of the kami by following certain rituals and customs. The religion also encourages obedience and proper behavior. The Yamamoto clan claimed that the emperor was a direct descendant of the sun goddess, one of the main forces in the Shinto religion. This claim helped the Yamamoto stay in power—if you believe the emperor is divine, you’re probably going to want to keep him around.

Can’t Get Enough of China? Go to Japan.

In the sixth century, the influence of China in Japan increased dramatically. In 522, Buddhist missionaries went to Japan and brought with them Chinese culture. In no time, Chinese things were all the rage. Buddhism spread quickly, but interestingly, it didn’t replace Shinto. Instead, most Japanese adopted Buddhism while also hanging on to their Shinto beliefs. In other words, they followed both religions simultaneously.

By the early seventh century, Chinese influence increased yet again. Prince Shotoku borrowed bureaucratic and legal reforms, which were modeled on the successes of the T’ang Dynasty in China. These reforms were enacted after his death as the Taika Reforms (645 C.E.). In the eighth century, when the Japanese built their new capital, they modeled it on the T’ang capital. At the risk of giving the impression that Japan became a “Little China,” you should keep in mind one thing: the Japanese largely rejected Confucianism, as well as the idea of the civil service examination. Why? Both of these systems held the educated in high esteem. In Japan, education wasn’t nearly as important as birth. The noble classes were hereditary, not earned.

Contrast Them: China and Japan

Even though China influenced Japan enormously, it didn’t penetrate Japanese identity. Birth was more important than outside influence or education. The aristocracy remained strong. Despite the widespread influence of Confucianism and Chan (now Zen) Buddhism, Japanese continued to observe the rites of their indigenous religion, Shinto. Even at the height of T’ang influence, it can be said that Japan drew inspiration from China, but maintained its own distinctive traditions.

Here Come the Fujiwara: At Home in Heian

In 794, the capital was moved to Heian, and a new era of Japanese consciousness began. The Chinese influence abated, while the power of aristocratic families increased. One of the most powerful families, the Fujiwara, intermarried over several generations with the emperor’s family and soon ran the affairs of the country. The emperor remained as a figurehead, but the real power had shifted to members of the Fujiwara family.

Under the Fujiwara, Japanese society experienced somewhat of a golden age, especially in terms of literature. Japanese noblewomen were particularly prolific, especially when compared to women of other cultures. But by the twelfth century, power in Japan spread among a larger and larger pool of noble families, and soon they were fighting with each other for control over their small territories. In other words, Japan had devolved into a feudal system not unlike the one in Europe.

Feudal Japan

The interesting thing about feudalism in Japan is that it developed at around the same time as feudalism in western Europe, but it developed independently.

In 1192, Yoritomo Minamoto was given the title of chief general, or shogun, by the emperor. As with the Fujiwara family, the emperor was the figurehead but he didn’t hold the real power. The real power was in the hands of the shogun.

Below the shogun in the pecking order were the daimyo, owners of large tracts of land, or the counterparts of the lords of medieval Europe. The daimyo were powerful samurai, which were like knights. They were part warrior, part nobility. They, in turn, divided up their lands to lesser samurai (vassals), who in turn split their land up again. Peasants and artisans worked the fields and shops to support the samurai class. Just as in European feudalism, the hierarchy was bound together in a land-for-loyalty exchange.

The samurai followed a strict code of conduct known as the Code of Bushido, which was very similar to the code of chivalry in Europe. The code stressed loyalty, courage, and honor; so much so that if a samurai failed to meet his obligations under the code, he was expected to commitsuicide.

Interestingly, unlike under European feudalism, women in Japan were not held in high esteem. Remember that in Europe, noblewomen were given few rights, but they were adored, at least to the extent that they were beautiful and possessed feminine traits. In contrast, Japanese women lost any freedom they had during the Fujiwara period and were forced to live harsher, more demeaning lives.

Compare and Contrast Them: European and Japanese Feudalism

They were similar in terms of political structure, social structure, and honor code. They were different in terms of treatment of women and legal arrangement. In Europe, the feudal contract was just that, a contract. It was an arrangement of obligations enforced in law. In Japan, on the other hand, the feudal arrangement was based solely on group identity and loyalty. In both cases, the feudal arrangement was based on culture, and so the feudal system stayed around for a very long time.

3. Vietnam and Korea

Because China’s dynastic leaders were intent on expanding by means of trade and force, Chinese armies had been in Korea and Vietnam as early as the Han Dynasty. But it was the large-scale military campaigns of the T’ang that resulted in cultural exchange in both regions.

Korea had its own independent and powerful dynasty, but in order to maintain the appearance of cordial relations with their powerful Chinese neighbors, the Koreans became a vassal-state of the T’ang. The gift-giving and exchanges resulted in Korean schools and the imperial court being organized like those of the Chinese, although the power of the royal houses and nobility in Korea prevented the development of a true bureaucracy based on merit. The tribute relationship was also responsible for the spread of both Confucianism and Chan Buddhism to Korea.

The Viet people of Southeast Asia were much less willing to accept even the appearance of a tribute relationship with their northern neighbors, and actively resisted the T’ang armies. Although a tribute relationship was eventually established, Confucian education was accepted, and an active trade relationship existed between the two entities, the Vietnamese maintained local traditions and continued to actively revolt against T’ang authorities. After the fall of the T’ang, the Vietnamese would maintain their independence in the face of later Chinese expansion.

4. India

As you should remember from the last chapter, India was the birthplace of two major religions: Hinduism and Buddhism. In the tenth century, another major religion made its way to the Indus valley: Islam.

The Sultan Ate at the Deli? Yes, the Delhi Sultanate

After defeating the disorganized Hindus, the Islamic invaders set up shop in Delhi under their leader, the sultan. Hence, this kingdom is referred to as the Delhi Sultanate. For over three hundred years beginning in about 1206, Islam spread throughout much of northern India. While many Hindus held on to their religious beliefs under this theoretically tolerant regime, individual sultans were highly offended by Hinduism’s polytheistic ways and did their best to convert them. Like non-Muslims under the Umayyads in Arabia, non-Muslims under the sultans in India had to pay a tax. But more than that, the sultans were capable of religiously motivated destruction. Hindu temples were sometimes destroyed, and occasionally violence erupted in communities.

Contrast Them: Hinduism and Islam

Islam on top of Hinduism was a strange concoction. Hinduism is polytheistic while Islam is monotheistic. Islam holds that all people are equal under God, while Hinduism upholds the caste system. To Islamic people, cows are food; to Hindus, cows are sacred. Hinduism sees itself as universal and exclusive; Islam sees itself as tolerant of other beliefs and even mixed with other beliefs. These two religions have always been a strange mix and have often clashed. If you don’t remember how bad things got between the two groups in India, you’ll review the consequences later in this book.

Despite the differences between the Islamic and Hindu cultures, an amazing amount of progress occurred in India under the sultans. Colleges were founded. Irrigation systems were vastly improved. Mosques were built, often with the help of Hindu architects and artists. And many Hindus in northern India converted. Sometimes the conversions were genuine; other times, they just made life easier. In any case, a considerable number of Hindus in northern India converted to Islam while the vast majority of Hindus in southern India held on to their traditions.

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