East Asian Cultures
By Tommy Baker
In China there was a history a period of time where it was all separate small kingdoms, but in 589 AD this changed. Wendi (Yang Jian) founded the Sui Dynasty and became the first emperor. He made a government system, made peace with everybody, built a new legal code, and recreated a bureaucracy. One of the greatest accomplishments of the Sui Dynasty was the Grand Canal. This canal was 1,000 miles long and linked northern and southern China. This made it so it was easier to trade and the north was able to get things from southern china and vice versa. Wendi's son Yang Di pushed the effort to build it but in doing so he forced millions of peasants to work on it. This caused a lot of peasants to die and a rebellion started. This lead to the assassination of Yang Di and ultimately the Sui Dynasty's demise.
This 300 years that the Tang Dynasty was in control of China was a very prosperous time period. The Tang Dynasty was so successful that it was used as a model for other East Asian Civilizations. They created a strong government based off the Sui Dynasty and they Established a capital in Chang'an (present day Xian). Another capital they had was shared from the Sui Dynasty, Luoyang. The government was almost the exact same. Around this time we see a Civil Service System pop up. It is basically was a test to select only the talented individuals to work in the government system. The Tang expanded China's land and reached farther west. They also had good relationships with Korea and other nearby states. Because of this trade happened and the economy prospered. This is a lot thanks to a leader named Taizong, an emperor who ruled from 626-649. He relied on ministers with certain skills to help him govern the people of the Tang Dynasty. His daughter in law was the next significant ruler, her name was Wu Zhao, her husband was unable to rule because he was very sick and weak. She was the only woman to be an emperor in the ancient Chinese world. She became very ruthless and was overthrown in 705 AD. The empire was its best under Xuanzong from 712-756 AD. Buddhism also had a large impact in this dynasty, until an emperor thought the Buddhist people were a threat and launched a campaign against it. They destroyed a lot of Buddhist architecture, art, books, etc. This dynasty started to decline because the government was week and nomads from the north have started invading. The official end was in 907 AD when a general killed the emperor.
The Song Dynasty, started in 960 and ended in 1279 AD. It is probably one of if not the most prosperous dynasties in China making Chinese civilization the most advanced in the world. They were in southern China because they were never able to get the western and northern land the Tang Dynasty lost. With a capital in Kaifeng they restored a bureaucracy and also started the civil service examination system again.These tests were very difficult and the people who passed them became scholar-officials, a prestigious group of government officials with a high salary. Anybody could take these exams so a poor person could easily become wealthy. During this dynasty "Neo-Confucianism" started which included spiritual matters as well as ethics. Art and literature flourished during this time. With poets such as Du Fu and Li Bo one can see the type of lifestyle these ancient people lived. And the artist Wu Daozi withe the ability to paint so well that people thought he had magic powers. The arts were definitely a huge part of the Song lifestyle. Some inventions at this time included gun powder which gave them an advantage in wars, the compass, woodblock printing, and the movable type.
The Mongols, a nomadic people from the steppes in north central Eurasisa show up around the year 1200 AD, these tribes will create the largest land empire in all of history. They relied on domestic herds of animals. They were tough because they were raised in harsh environments and had little resources. The Mongols were ruled in separate clans lead by chiefs called khans, however a very powerful khan rose to power you've probably heard of. His name was Temujin or more formally known as Genghis Khan. All of the Mongols were together under him and he turned the Mongols into a very fierce military force. They began to conquer a lot of land because of Genghis Khans cunning military tactics. A lot of it was actually psychological warfare, not just physical warfare. They spread fear throughout Eurasia so many people gave up before they even attacked if they heard the Mongols were coming. They took over most of Asia for 20 years and than Genghis Khan died in the year 1227 AD. He wanted his sons to conquer the whole world. They divided the Mongol empire into four regions named, Khanate of the Great Khan, Khanate of the Golden Horde, Khanate of Chagatai, and Ilkhanate (Persia). Yet still had a leader called the Great Khan rule over all regions. Genghis' grandson, Kublai Khan ruled over China and Korea. Another Decedent named Hulegu ruled over Ilkhanate. Batu ruled over the Golden Horde. The Mongols were fierce in battle but they controlled their empire very peacefully. This is due to the fact that they adopted the cultures they conquered. They even made a Pax Mongolia which means mongol peace. We already saw this with the Roman peoples Pax Romana. The Mongols ensured safe travel on the silk road as well.
Japan AKA Nippon (Land of the Rising Sun) is just off the coast of China. It consists of thousands of islands forming an archipelago. The islands lie on multiple tectonic plates creating a ton of active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes. The rugged terrain makes it hard to farm in most of the country but the soil is so great where you can farm so the productivity of those areas even it out. In Japan you are never too far from the sea so that was a large influence as well. Early people moved to Japan from the Asian mainland, most likely hunter-gatherers. An early Japanese culture is the Ainus. We don't know where they come from because they do not resemble any other East Asians. These people almost disappeared in Northern Japan. Japanese people worshiped nature spirits. and that became the Shinto religion. A reserved spirit or kami was called Amaterasu or the sun goddess, Supposedly Japans first emperor was Amaterasu's grandson. Japan had influence from Korea from trading with them. The Koreans had their writing from China and the Japanese adapted it and Buddhist practices spread to Japan largely due to Prince Shotoku of China. Japan entered a period of time called the Heian period where they developed an elegant lifestyle where they love beauty. Poems of love were really popular. The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki Shikibu is the world's first full length novel.
Korea is rugged like Japan. Early Korea was ruled by nomadic people from the northeast. China obviously had a large influence on Korea from the Han dynasty when they had colonies there. Missionaries from China introduced Buddhism to Korea. After the Han Dynasty Korea split into different kingdoms. The Silla allied with China during the Tang Dynasty but eventually turned on them. Rebels conquered the weakend Silla Kingdom and founded the Koryo Dynasty. The Koryo people mixed the Chinese culture with Korean features. They had a civil service system test similar to China's. Eventually the Mongols took over and enslaved many Koreans.
Southeast Asia includes the mainland nations such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and part of Malaysia. It also includes the islands such as Sumatra, Borneo, Java, the rest of Malaysia, Brunei, East Timor, Indonesia, Philippines, and Singapore.Trade was very important between these countries. Monsoons effected their lifestyle too. This are was influenced by both China and India. In 840 AD the Burmans made the Pagan Kingdom with the king of Anawrahta. In the southeast the Khmer Empire rose in what is now Cambodia. They are the people who made the Angkor Wat- a very big temple still standing today. The Kingdom of Sailendra flourished on the island of Java. Vietnam was more influenced from China versus India like the rest of the countries in SE Asia.