All About the Asian Cultures

The Beginning

     The Han dynasty ruled China from 206 BC to AD 220 -- more than 400 years. After the dynasty collapsed, however, military leaders split China into rival kingdoms. These events began a period of disorder and warfare that historians now call the Period of Disunion.

     During the Period of Disunion, nomads invaded northern China and formed their own kingdoms. Many northern Chinese, unwilling to live under the rule of the nomadic invaders, fled south to the region of the Chang Jiang. There, a number of southern dynasties rose and fell.

     Despite such events, Chinese civilization continued to thrive and envelope. In northern China, the nomadic invaders adopted many aspects of Chinese civilization. Meanwhile, in the south, the culture of the northern Chinese immigrants blended with local cultures, and a flowering in arts and philosophy occurred.

Sui (589-618)

    The Period of Disunion lasted more than 350 years. The period need in 589 when a northern ruler named Wendi reunified China. Also known as the Yan Jain, Wendi founded the new Sui dynasty and became its first emperor.

     With earlier dynasties as examples, Wendi worked to build a centralized government. He resorted order, created a new legal code, and reformed the bureaucracy. Many policies were also created by Wendi. One in particular provided all adult males with land and to ensure the availability of grain.

     One of the greatest accomplishment was during the time of the Sui dynasty, the completion of the Grand Canal. This 1,000-mile waterway linked northern and southern China. As a result, northern China could more easily access the resources of the south, such as the rice production in the lower Chang Jiang valley. Beginning in the rule of Yang Di, Wendi's son, the Gand Canal too several years and many in forced labor to finish.

    In the time of his rule, Emperor Yang Di forced millions of peasants to work on the Grand Canal and many other projects. Hundreds died, causing a major rebellion. A series of failed military campaigns worsened the situation. In 618 an official assassinated Yang Di, and the short lived dynasty came to and end.


     In the same year a Sui general seized control and founded the Tang Dynasty. Under this rule, China experienced a period of prosperity and major cultural achievements. The Chinese influence spread, and the Tang government and other institutions served as models across East Asia.

     The rulers in the Tang built on the foundations of the Sui to create a sting government. They established one capital city placed at Chang'a, the Sui capital, and a second capital at Luoyang. Government control remained centralized and based on a bureaucracy of officials. To obtain these talented officials, the Tang expanded the civil service examination system. Within this system, people had to pass written exams to work for the government. In foreign affairs, the Tang significantly expanded China and it's influence. Tang forces regained western lands in Central Asia and gained influence over Korea and other neighboring states. The Chinese contact with Japan increased, and Japanese scholars traveled to Chine to study the government and culture.

     Most of this expansion was during the rule of Taizong, who ruled until 649. As one of China's most admired emperors, he relied on talented ministers to help him govern. After Taizong's death, one of his sons became emperor. The new emperor was weak and sickly, and his wife Wu Zhao gained power. When her husband died, Wu Zhao continued to rule through her sons. Wanting full power, she became emperor herself -- the only women to hold the title in Chinese history. Empress Wu Zhao was overthrown in 705. The Tang dynasty then reached its height under the rule of Xuanzong. He ruled until 756 and during his rule the dynasty flourished.

      By this time, Buddhism was well established in China. Many of the Tang rulers were Buddhists and supported the religion. Temples appeared across the land, and Chinese missionaries spread Buddhism to other Asian lands. Because of Buddhism's importance, the period from about 400 to 845 in China is known as the Age of Buddhism.

     The Tang dynasty started to decline in the 750s. Although the Tang put down a rebellion in 755, the government remained weak. At the same time, military defeats led to the loss of Tang lands in Central Asia and the north. Nomadic invasions and peasant rebellions over rising taxes created more problems. When a powerful general killed the emperor in 907, the Tan dynasty ended.


    The Song established a capital at Kaifeng and restored centralized government control. To manage their empire, they enlarged the government bureaucracy. In addition, they reformed the civil service system, which ensured that talented people ran the government. Those that passed these exams became scholar-officials. The exams tested the students grasp of Confucianism and related ideas. In the Song and new form of Confucianism was practiced, called Neo-Confucianism. Neo-Confucianism emphasized not only the Confucian ethics but also the spiritual matters.

     Despite trying, Song rulers were never able to regain the northern and western land that the Tang Dynasty had lost. Nomads in these lands threatened the Song borders. Like previous rulers, the Song tried to buy peace with the nomads by sending them lavish gifts. In the 1120s a nomadic tribe called Jurchen conquered northern China dn founded the Jin empire. The Song continued to rule as the Southern Song dynasty for 150 more years.

     Many things were achieved during the Song rule. In Literature and Art, Chinese painting began to reach new heights. As well as art, literature became a very big way of promoting the beliefs of many. Poets such as Du Fu created poems that empresses the ideas of Confucianism within the work. Innovations and Inventions were made that no one ever thought was possible. The major advancement was the magnetic compass was perfects. Another important and widely used innovation is known as woodblock printing. This was the main system for printing text. Agriculture and Trade grew too. They were able to expand trade routes and find new ways to farm  their fields. City life turned into ways to provide new foreign goods with everyone. And along with all of this the society grew. China's common aristocratic families declined and a new class known as gentry was developed.


     Genghis Khan led the Mongols in conquering much of Asia. In their fight against the Chinese and the Turks in Central Asia, the Mongols learned the are of siege warfare and the use of gunpowder. This knowledge helped the Mongols take city after city.

     By the time Genghis Khan died in 1227, the Mongols controlled much of northern China and Central Asia. The Mongols divided Genghis Khan's vast empire into four khanates, ro regions. An heir of Genghis Khan riled each region, and a leader called the Great Khan ruled over the whole empire. Under grandson Kublai Khan, the Mongols resumed their efforts to complete the conquest of China and Korea. Another grandson, Hulego, ruled the Ilkhan part of the empire. He and his forces conquered Persia, leaving a path of destruction. The Golden Horde under grandson Batu took up thetas of conquering Russing in 1236. The Mongols took Moscow and laid waster to the city of Kiev. The Mongols then stormed through Poland and Hungary. As they stood ready to invade Western Europe, the Mongols suddenly turned back on learning of the Great Khan's death. India and Western Europe escaped the Mongol wrath, but most of Eurasia had been destroyed. Millions of people had died, and entire cities had been annihilated.

     The Mongols adopted aspects of the more civilized cultures they had conquered. For example, the Mongols in Central Asia and Persia adopted the religion of Islam. They established peace and stability across Asia. For this reason, some historians call this period the Pax Mongolia. The Mongols trade routes such as the silk road ensured safe travels across Asia. People, goods, ideas, and innovations such as gunpowder moved westward.


    It is believed that the first people to settle in Japan migrated from the Asian mainland. These early people were likely hunters and gatherers. In time, the developed societies with distinct cultures. One early Japanese culture is the Ainu. Experts are not sure where the Ainu came from, but they do not resemble other East Asians. One of the most revered kami in Japan was Amaterasu, the sun goddess. According to legend, Japan's first emperor was the grandson of the sun goddess. this emperor belonged to the Yamato Clan. They lived on the Yamato Plain, a rich farming region on the island of Honshu. The clan controlled much of the island.

      Many foreign influences contributed to Japan. Korean influences Japan through trade and travelers. Korea introduced the religion of Buddhism to Japan as well . Buddhism influenced Japanese art; and Buddhist temples including pagoda architecture from China. One of the people who spread Buddhism the most through Japan is Prince Shotoku. He served as a regent to the Japanese empress. In Japan, Chinese foods, fashions, and tea was adopted as well. But the biggest adoption of ideas was the Tang government. They believed in a  a stronger centralized government and a bureaucracy.

     The Heian Period people in Japan developed an elegant and stylish society. The nobles at Heian lived in beautiful palaces and enjoyed lives of ease and privilege. The loved elegance and beauty and passed the time strolling through lovely gardens or admiring art and poetry. Court life was so removed from that of Japan's common people that many novels called themselves "dwellers among the clouds." The women of the Heian court enjoyed writing and reading. These women produced some of the best works of early  Japanese literature.

     During most of the Heian period of the Fujiwara family controlled Japan. Many served as regent, and the Fujiwara s often married their daughters to the heirs to the throne. However, rich landowners with private armies eventually began to challenge the Fujiwaras and Japan's central government.



   Much of the Korean peninsula is covered by large rugged mountains. This limits the amount of land they have for agriculture. Korea's main population in placed near the west, where the land flattens into plains. The first Koreans were nomadic people from northeastern Asia. China was the first to influence Korea, when the Han dynasty of China defeated and colonized in part of Korea in 108 BC. The Korean then adopted confucianism as well as Chinese writing, political institutions, and agricultural methods. Eventually Buddhism was introduced as well. After the Han decline the Silla took over and allied with China, then soon after they turned on China and ran them out of Korea.

    After the Silla dynasty the Koryo Dynasty was founded. the rulers continued to adopt Chinese ideas but worked to maintain distinct Korean features. At this time Korea adopted the civil service examination system. And during this dynasty Korean culture thrived.


Southeast Asia

     The region of Southeast Asia is located between India and China. These two powerful neighbors shaped the development of civilization in the region. At the same time, geography and trade also played important roles in the region. The waterways through Southeast Asia were the predominant trade routes between India and China. The two most important trade routes were the Malacca Strait and the Sunda Strait. Control of these and other important trade routes brought wealth and power. Seasonal monsoons shaped the trade in Southeast Asia. Ships relied on the monsoons to sail form place to place. Many port cities quickly became economic centers when ships had to stay at port for several days until the monsoon winds continued in the correct direction.

     As Indian and Chinese traders came to Southeast Asia, they began to influence the region. Indian influence spread through trade and missionaries. For example, Indian missionaries introduced Hinduism and Buddhism to Southeast Asia, and many kingdoms adopted the religions. Over time, Indians ideas about writing joined the mix along with the Islam religion not long after.

     Many important empires and kingdoms came and went during this time. These included those of the Pagan Kingdom, the Khmer Empire, and Vietnam. In the Pagan Kingdom they practiced Buddhism under their first ruler, Anawrahta. They were located in the fertile Irrawaddy River Valley which made rice farming very easy. In what is modern day Cambodia is where the Khmer empire was located. There was a strong Indian influence through this empire led by Angkor Wat. And Finally, in Vietnam they had strongly embraced the Buddhism religion under their Chinese rule.

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