Culture of East Asia

Sui Dynasty

The Sui Dynasty

The Period of Disunion ended in 589 BC when a northern ruler named Wendi reunified China. Wendi founded the Sui dynasty and became the first emperor. Wendi worked to build a centralized, empirical government, also creating a legal code, and reformed bureaucracy. At this time the“Three Departments and Six Ministries” system was officially instituted. This was also a time when Confucianism began to regain popularity and Buddhism was further spread and encouraged throughout the empire. He created many new policies to provide all adult males with land to ensure the availability of food an grain. Some of the great accomplishments of the Sui dynasty were the creation of the Grand Canal which is a a 1,000-mile long waterway linking northern and southern China. This made it much easier for northern China to access the resources from the south such as rice . During the later rule of yang Di, Wendi's son, the Grand Canal was finally complete after several years. The dynasty came to an end in 618 BC when emperor Yang Di forced millions of peasants to work on the Grand Canal tragically causing many of them to die.

The Grand Canal in China

Tang Dynasty

The Tang Dynasty

The Tang Dynasty started when a Sui general seized power, this new leader was Li Yuan, a military commander who proclaimed himself emperor in 618. The Tang dynasty lasted from 618 to 907. At this time, Chinese culture spread and the Tang government was used as a model across East Asia. The founders created a strong government, one capital at Chang'an, and the second capital at Loyang. The government remained centralized and based on a bureaucracy of officials. To get good officials, the Tang achieved bringing back the civil service examination system. People had to pass written exams to work for the government. The Tang greatly expanded China and its influence through foreign affairs. Expansion and more contact with other people outside of China contributed to the growth of foreign trade and economy. This expansion occurred under the rule of Taizong, one of China's greatest emperors. After Taizong dies his wife, Wu Zhao took power. Empress Wu Zhao was overthrown in 705. The Tang dynasty reached its height under the rule of Xuanzong from 712 to 756. Buddhism was a major part of China because it taught that people could escape suffering and achieve peace. By the Tang dynasty, Buddhism was well established in China, and the period from about 400 to 845 in China is now known as the Age of Buddhism. However, a Tang emperor launched a campaign against Buddhism, weakening it in China. This later caused a blend of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. The Tang dynasty declined in the 750s. Many harsh things happened at this time eventually leading to the death of the emperor and the fall of the Tang dynasty.

Song Dynasty

China again split after the Tang Dynasty and didn't reunite until the Song Dynasty in 960. Zhao Kuangyin created a capital at Kaifeng and restored centralized government. They enlarged the government bureaucracy, and they reformed the civil service examination system after the fall of the Tang dynasty. Even though they has many achievements, the Song rulers never regained the northern and western lands. The Tang and Song dynasties were periods of great cultural achievement. Two of the most famous poets during the Song dynasty were Du Fu and Li Bo. Du Fu wrote poems about Confucian ideals, and Li Bo wrote poems about the many joys of life. Art also was at a peak during the Tang Dynasty. One of the artists was Wu Daozi who painted murals celebrating Buddhism. Artists focused on nature and great beauty. Artisans also made things out of clay and porcelain. As well as art, the Song dynasty had many achievements in technology and science. One of the major inventions was gunpowder which was used mainly for fireworks and firearms. Another advancement was the magnetic compass. This advance would in time contribute to a dramatic increase in world exploration. Trade also largely helped with the expansion of culture within the Song Dynasty by bringing in new customs and cultures into the dynasty.

Clay Pottery made during the Song Dynasty age


In the 1200's nomadic people called the Mongols burst forth from Central Asia creating the largest land empire in history. These nomads lived as pastoralists on large steppes, relying on herds of domesticated animals for their needs. For centuries the Mongols were divided into separate clans, each led by a khan. Eventually, a powerful khan named Temujin began to conquer his rivals and unite the Mongol clans. Genghis Khan set out to build an empire. He organized the Mongols into a powerful military machine. Genghis Khan led the Mongols in conquering much of Asia with his fierce war tactics. These tactics included brutality and physiological warfare. The Mongols burned any town or city that resisted them. Genghis Khan led the Mongols in conquering much of Asia by learning how to use gunpowder. Genghis Khan died in 1227 challenging his sons to conquer the world. The Mongols divided the vast empire into four khanates with one leader ruling each section and an all powerful Great Khan ruling over all of the regions. Kublai Khan worked to conquer China and Korea, Hulegu conquered Persia, and Batu worked to conquer Russia. After their success, the fierce rulers turned back after hearing the news that the Great Khan had died. Although they had brutal tactics, the Mongols ruled in peace, tolerating ways of life and the cultures of the places that they conquered. The Mongol Empire established peace and stability across Asia, making this time period later called Pax Mongolia. They controlled trade making sure that Chinese innovations such as gunpowder, the compass, and printing spread westward.

Mongols Conquering

Yuan Dynasty

In 1260 Kublai Khan became the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire. In 1279 he defeated the last Song Emperor and created the new Yuan dynasty declaring himself emperor. As emperor, Kublai Khan tried to gain the loyalty of his Chinese subjects. Kublai Khan did not force the Chinese to adopt Mongol ways of life, he adopted some Chinese practices instead. He even moved his capital to a new city in China. The new capital was located near what is now the city of Beijing. There he built a walled city in the Chinese style. The Mongols that lived within the dynasty lived separately  from the Chinese as to not absorb Chinese culture. Marriage and even friendship were discouraged between the Mongols and the Chinese. Although much of the Chinese government was still in place, Kublai Khan limited the Chinese's power. Only non-Chinese people or foreigners could hold government power. Large taxes were also placed on the Chinese to support public -works projects. Chinese laborers built new roads, and extended the Grand Canal to the capital city. Foreign trade increased with the building of large ships and much safer land for merchants to cross. Through foreign trade culture was spread and many people came to the Yuan dynasty including the famous Marco Polo. The Yuan dynasty began to weaken in the last part of Kublai Khan's reign. There were many military defeats while trying to expand the empire. Kublai Khan died in 1294 and the dynasty weakened eventually being defeated by a rebel army.

Kublai Khan

Yamato Clan

The most revered kami in Japan was Amaterasu the sun goddess. The first emperor of Japan was in The Yamato Clan and said to be the grandson of Amaterasu. The Yamato Clan lived on the Yamato Plain, a rich farming region on the island of Honshu.  The clan controlled most of Honshu by the AD 500's. Although they didn't control all of Japan, the Yamato chiefs started calling themselves Japanese emperors claiming to be divine. Today, Japan's emperor still claims to be a descendant from the Yamato clan. Other clans eventually gained power or Yamato, but they did not remove the Yamato emperor controlling him instead. The emperor had no real authority and served only as an imperial figure head. This continued in Japan until the 1900's.

Yamato Emperor

Heian Period

The Heian Period started when Japan's emperor, Kammu moved the capital to Heian , now called Kyoto in 794. Many of Japan's nobles moved to Heian, establishing a stylish court society. The Japanese era from 794 to 1185 is now known as the Heian Period. The Nobles living in Heian lived a great life of luxury spending there time admiring art and reading poetry.  They called themselves the "dwellers among the clouds." The rulers of etiquette governed all aspects of court  behavior and the way people dress. Woman typically wore elaborate silk gowns. The Nobles took care of how they spoke and wrote. Art form was the proper way to write a note often times through poetry. The woman of the Heian court enjoyed reading a writing. Noblewoman were discouraged from learning any form of Chinese language so many of them spoke Japanese. Heian woman produced many of the great achievements of early Japanese Literature. One of the great writers was Lady Murasaki Shikibu who wrote The Tale of Genji. The Fujiwara family controlled Japan during the Heian Period. Many of them were regents and married their daughters to royalty. Although private landowners eventually threatened the centralized government of  Japan.

Traditional dress of a Heian woman.

Koryo Dynasty

The kingdom of Koryo or Goryeo was named after the Silla dynasty who was in control until a rebel leader named Kyon Hwon took over and founded the Koryo dynasty. The English name Korea comes from the word Koryo. Koryo's rulers continued to adopt Chinese ideas but maintained Korean features. Koryo adopted the civil service exam from China, but only Nobles could take the test and government positions were inherited. As a result the society was divided into powerful nobility and the common people. During this period, Korean culture thrived. Artisans made pottery called celadon. This celadon battled the Song porcelain for its beauty. The Koreans also used Chinese printing methods to create 80,000 wooden blocks with Buddhist texts inscribed on them. They later improved this method by creating the metal movable type. After the Yuan dynasty weakened Koreans rebelled against them and a Korean general ruled until 1910.

celadon potery

Pagan Kingdom

People called the Burmans established the Pagan Kingdom around the AD 840's in what is now Myammar. The kingdom was located in the Irrawaddy River valley which was a good spot for farming rice, due to the fertile soil. The first great King of the Pagan Kingdom was Anawrahta who ruled from 1044 to 1077. He began to conquer surrounding areas and united Myanmar under his rule. This conquest provided pagans with trading ports, making the kingdom thrive. The King and his successors supported Theravada Buddhism which greatly influenced their culture. They built Buddhist temples and Pagan became the center of Buddhist learning. The vicious Mongols under the rule of Kublai Khan eventually demanded tribute from the Pegans in the late 1200's. The Pagans refused and the Mongols crushed the Pagan army causing the Pagan king to flee southward. The Pagan Kingdom survived but lost its power.

Borobudur Temple

Khmer Empire

The Khmer Empire arose in what is now Cambodia under the rule of king Jayavarman II. The Khmer began to conquer other kingdoms to build their empire in the 800's. The empire reached its height between 850 and 1220 when it controlled most of the Southeast Asian mainland. The Khmer Empire had a large Indian influence, adopting both Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. The Empire's capital city, Angkor symbolized the shape of the Hindu universe. In Angkor the Khumer rulers built fantastic temples, Angkor Wat being the most famous. It was built in the 1100's. The Khmer rulers could afford such vast temples because of the large profit that they got from rice farming. The Khmer derived a irrigation system in order to improve agricultural production. With this system the Khmers could grow several crops of rice per year. Costly building projects and invaders contributed to the empire's eventual decline.

Angkor Wat temple

Trading Kingdoms

        Several trading kingdoms developed to the south of the mainland on the Southeast Asian Islands. Sailendra was on the island of Java which flourished from 750 to 850. Rakai Pikatan was the ruler of the Kingdom. The people relied on agriculture and trade for their lives. They adopted Mahayama Buddhism which greatly influenced their culture. The kingdom is known for it's impressive Buddhist art and architecture especially the monument Borobudur, their most famous achievement.

        On the island of Sumatra was the Srivijaya Empire which flourished from the 600's to the 1200's. The empire reached to the Malay Peninsula and Borneo. It gained its wealth from its control of overseas traders through the Malacca and Sunda straights. The rulers of Srivijaya worked to make sure that trade continued throughout the empire. The people of the kingdom adopted Hinduism and Buddhism which allowed them to blend it with local beliefs. The Srivijaya capital, located in Palembang on Sumatra became the center of Buddhist learning and it was later announced that students should spend a year there before going to India. In 1025, and Indian kingdom attacked the Empire. The empire survived, but it was quite weakened. Other kingdoms grew reducing the Srivijaya's control over trade. A Muslim kingdom took over the trade ports spreading Islam throughout the other islands.

Southeast Asian Islands


Vietnam was strongly influenced by China. In 111 BC, the Han dynasty conquered the kingdom of Nam Viet which is now northern Vietnam. The Chinese ruled the region on and off for the next 1,000 years. Vietnam absorbed many aspects of Chinese civilization. They were forced to speak the Chinese language and wear the Chinese clothing and hairstyles. Confucianism and Daoism influenced Vietnamese society. They had many features of Chinese government as well, including a bureaucracy and a Confucianism based civil service system. Vietnam practiced Mahayana Buddhism, and art and architecture influenced their culture. Vietnam still practiced a lot of their original traditions like continuing to worship nature spirits. In hopes of regaining independence from China, the Vietnamese often rebelled. One of the most famous rebellions was in AD 396 when two sisters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi briefly drove the Chinese from Vietnam, but the Chinese quickly regained power. The fall of the Tang dynasty gave the Vietnamese another chance to rebel and they succeeded this time renaming the kingdom northern Vietnam.

Vietnam with Chinese culture

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