Asia’s width is wide and there’s a lot to unpack. Without further ado, let’s get started!
👉The one thing you need to know about this theme:
Asia has been an area of trade and exchange since the very beginning. While world leaders and empire-rulers in its heyday, Asia suffered from the rise of European Colonialism and imperialism. After a long period of conflict, both in global wars and decolonization, Asia is returning to prominence in world affairs.
Overview of Asia
Asia is a very large, very diverse area. It covers everything from the sands of the Middle East to the shores of the Indonesian islands. It’s at the center of almost every Unit due to its connections with the Afro-Eurasian world. All of the world’s major religions have touched this area and many land empires rose to prominence here. The area is a rich tapestry of cultures and economies. In short, Asia is a beautifully complex region and, unfortunately, WHAP Modern only covers a very small part of that complexity.
💡Study Tip! Although there may seem like a lot of information to learn, it’s alright if you don’t memorize all of it. One of the great things about the AP histories is that they’re focused on the big picture. The examples are just that—examples to help you understand the concepts better and the sorts of specific information that LEQ graders love.
Unit 1: The Global Tapestry (c. 1200-c. 1450)
After the fall of the Tang Dynasty, the Song Dynasty rose to power in China and ruled from 960-1279 C.E.
They were able to maintain their rule through a merit-based bureaucracy system, where recruits came from the civil service exams.
These civil service exams were based on Confucian principles.
Confucianism, a way of thinking that emphasized maintaining order in society, has been a major part of Chinese history and still influences how modern Chinese people think about their society and communities.
This bureaucratic system remained a continuity, even as dynasties changed. It helped maintain stability in China because changes in leadership didn’t disrupt it.
Buddhism, which originated in India around 500 BCE, spread to China through missionary work and trade contacts.
It then, in turn, spread further east and South, influencing much of Eastern civilization.
Eventually, branches began to pop up:
Buddhism, like Confucianism, does not demand undivided loyalty, and the two belief systems coexist to this day.
China played a major role in influencing the development of civilizations in many of the countries of East and Southeast Asia through some of its key ideas.
Neo-Confucianism, a syncretic belief system that arose from the spread of Buddhist ideals to China, came to greatly influence China’s sphere of influence as well.
Under Confucian ideals, women were expected to be subordinate to the men in their lives. The practice of foot-binding arose in China, restricting women’s influence.
Filial piety, the virtue of devotion and obedience to one’s parents, was an integral part of Confucianism.
Paper and printing became prevalent during the Song Dynasty with the rise of movable type systems. This, combined with their strong basis in schooling, led to the rise of a literary world.
Heian Japan would also see a flourishing of the arts and the publishing of the world’s first novel, The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu.
Korea adopted many of China’s literary traditions as well.
The Song also had a flourishing economy due to innovation and expanded trade networks.
Song China had a very commercialized economy, but agricultural labor by a free peasantry still played a large role.
The equal-field reforms led to an increase of wealth in the rural areas and the Song paid workers to build public projects.
Flying cash were certificates issued by the government to pay merchants in other parts of the empire, so that metals coins did not have to be transported such long distances
Textiles and porcelain, major consumer goods, were traded on the Silk Road and the Indian Ocean trade routes.
The Song established their capital city in Hangzhou and expanded the Grand Canal system around it, contributing to the rise of urbanization in the area.
Champa rice, a form of fast-ripening rice, gave Song China a food surplus.
Steel and iron production increased greatly in this time period
The Islamic World
The fall of the Abbasid Caliphate led to the rise of independent kingdoms in its former territory.
The Seljuk Empire was founded by the nomadic Seljuk Turks and came to encompass much of the Middle East.
The Mamluk sultanate of Egypt arose from the shift in power following the Mongol invasion of Baghdad (1258) and developed a center of Muslim scholarship and culture.
The Delhi Sultanate, located in Northern India, introduced Islam to the South Asia subcontinent through conquest, but did not create lasting changes to the religion of the area due to the prevalence of Hinduism.
Even with the fall of the caliphates, Muslim rule expanded due to both conquest and trade.
Merchant trade along major trade networks spread the religion into Southeast Asia and to the islands of the Indian Ocean. Many merchants also converted due to a desire to foster trade with the Islamic world.
Sufis, those practicing a branch of Islam focused on an emotional connection with Allah, undertook missionary work and spread Islam further.
The Mongol conquests also contributed to Islam’s spread.
Along with their religion, the spread of the Islamic world also furthered technological innovation and dissemination.
Islamic scholars translated Greek works into Arabic and wrote their own commentaries on the ideas, helping preserve Greek philosophy.
The House of Wisdom in Abbasid Baghdad was a public library where scholars of all religions worked, and represents the knowledge seeking heritage of the Golden Age of Islam.
Al-Andalus, or Islamic Spain, had a rich cultural and educational heritage. In places like the grand library in Cordoba, Greco-Roman ideas mixed with Islamic sciences and mathematics. Scholars of all religions rose during this time.
Religion in South and Southeast Asia
Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism continued to influence societies In South and Southeast Asia.
Hinduism, an ethnic religion of India, is polytheistic with a strong emphasis on its caste system.
movement, like Sufism, emphasized the personal role of a god in a worshiper’s life.
Buddhism, due to its role as a belief system more than a religion, was far more widespread than Hinduism and influenced much of the region.
With the exception of India, Islam also influenced much of Southeast Asia.
New Hindu and Buddhist states arose in South and Southeast Asia during this time:
Vijayanagara Empire (Deccan Plateau of South India, 1336–1646)
Srivijaya Empire (Modern Indonesia, 7-13th centuries)
Rajput kingdoms (North India, 7th century on)
Khmer Empire (Southeast Asia, 802-1431)
Majapahit (Island of Java, 293-1527)
Sukhothai kingdom (North-central Thailand, 1238-1438)
Sinhala dynasties (Sri Lanka, 543 BCE-1815 CE)
Unit 2: Networks of Exchange (c. 1200-c. 1450)
The three major trade routes of this time period all extended into some part of Asia.
The Silk Roads, which connected Asia and Europe, was used heavily during this time period.
The Indian Ocean Trade, connecting western India to Persia and east Africa, was controlled mainly by the Persians and Arabs during this time.
The Trans-Saharan trade rose due to the expansion of the Islamic world into North Africa.
Advancements in commercial practices rose at this time:
Bills of exchange
Use of paper money
These advancements also accompanied advancements in transportation (caravanserai), which also made trade easier.
This led to more trade and expanded trade routes, which promoted the growth of new trading cities:
The production of luxury goods increased due to a growing demand.
The Chinese, Persian, and Indian textiles and porcelain industries grew.
Chinese iron and steel manufacturing also grew.
The Mongols, a nomadic culture originating in the steppes of Central Asia, rose in influence and power due to the leadership of Genghis Khan in the 12th and 13th centuries. At its height, the Mongol Empire was divided into Khanates that covered much of the Asian world.
The Golden Horde was a tribute empire that occupied land in modern-day Russia
The rise of the Ilkhanate in modern Iran ended the Abbasid Dynasty. The Mongols of the Il-khanate eventually assimilated and converted to Islam.
In China, the Yuan Dynasty was established by Mongol Kublai Khan, a grandson of the famous Genghis Khan.
Chagatai khanate in Central Asia
The Mongols promoted cultural syncretism
During the Pax Mongolica of the 13th and 14th centuries, peace and stability allowed for the increase of cross cultural exchange.
They reinvigorated the cross-Eurasian trade and routes such as the Silk Road, which had fallen into decline.
The Mongols developed a strong communication infrastructure, with the world’s first Pony Express and postal systems, thus increasing the effectiveness of communication.
The Mongols often assimilated to other cultures and were unprecedentedly tolerant of other religions, thus preserving the culture of lands they had conquered.
This cultural exchange was not all good; one of the consequences of Mongol expansion was the spread of Bubonic Plague.
The Indian Ocean exchange routes, like the Silk Roads and the Trans-Saharan Trade routes, were already around before this time period. However, improved maritime and trade technology, as well as a changed political climate, increased the volume and frequency of trade.
This led to the development of new trade cities as well:
These expansions were only possible due to traders’ knowledge of their environment.
For example, knowledge of the seasonal monsoon winds allowed merchants to time their voyages properly.
These winds also kept traders in ports for months at a time, which led to them interacting with the local culture.
Along important trade routes, cultural exchange happened between diasporic communities of merchants and the cultures around them.
Arab and Persian communities in East Africa
Chinese merchant communities in Southeast Asia
Malay communities in the Indian Ocean basin
Trade routes also led to the diffusion of people, goods and ideas.
Religions spread across trade routes, especially Islam.
Goods and technology, such as gunpowder and paper from China, spread as well.
Travelers, whether they be missionaries or simply adventurers, took advantage of these routes and often left behind records of their adventures.
Crops diffused along these routes, such as a range of new rice types in East Asia.
Trade routes diffused illnesses such as the Bubonic Plague.
Unit 3: Land-Based Empires (c. 1450 to c. 1750)
In Asia, Unit 3 sees the rise of large land empires. These are:
The Manchu in China
The Ottomans around the Mediterranean
The Mughal in the Indian subcontinent + Central Asia
The Safavids in the Middle East
The last three are also known as the Islamic Gunpowder Empires, known as such because they were all Muslim and all relied on firearms (ex: gunpowder, cannons, armed trade) to gain and expand their power.
Power consolidation became more pronounced during this time period, (Ferdinand and Isabella as a non-Asian example) with rulers developing political and economic institutions to centralize their power. (Ex: Henry VII’s Star Chamber).
The political institutions that were developed turned management into a business, with more and more nations developing complex bureaucratic and professional organizations.
Economically, tax collection became more effective and this added revenue helped to stabilize and increase the power of states.
Tax farming (ie: Ottomans)
Other tax innovations (ie: Ming practice of collecting taxes in hard currency)
Mughal zamindar tax collection
Art and architecture, as well as religious ideals, were also used as a way for rulers to increase their legitimacy.
Political and religious disputes led to conflict between the land based empires.
The Safavid-Mughal conflict, a consequence of both religious differences as well as geopolitics, exacerbated the rift between the Sunni Muslims (Ottoman Empire) and the Shia Muslims (Safavid Empire)
Sikhism developed in South Asia in the late 15th century from Hinduism and with influences from Islamic mysticism. It was tolerated and even supported by the Mughal ruler Akbar (1556-1605).
Unit 4: Transoceanic Interconnections (c. 1450 to c. 1750)
Unit 4 is called the Transoceanic Interconnections unit and details the Columbian Exchange and the Maritime Empires. Although a great deal of this unit focuses on primarily Europe, Asia plays a large role in the Age of Exploration, from its causes to its effects.
We’ve talked about how ideas have spread through Asia to Europe through trade routes and conquest.
The combination of these ideas and technologies sparked European innovations that allowed them to embark on their voyages.
New Types of Ships
Thanks to the Age of Exploration, Europe rose in power and established new trade posts in Asia. (Example: British East Indian trading posts in India) The arrival of foreigners was not always welcomed; some dynasties enacted isolationist trade policies to limit their effect.
Trade in the Indian Ocean—both intra and inter-Asian trade—continued to flourish, although there were changes due to the increase in activity of European traders.
One of the changes due to the increase in European merchants arriving was a rivalry between Muslim and European traders in the Indian Ocean.
The new global trade of goods (Europe to Asia, Europe to the Americas, Africa to the Americas) was predicated on the flow of silver, which was used by European countries to purchase Asian goods. Regionally, markets benefited from shipping services developed by European merchants. Peasant and artisan labor intensified due to this new demand.
Goods made with peasant and artisan labor
The rise and expansion of empires led to resistance from local groups.
Many diverse empires, facing a wide range of ethnic and religious differences in their citizens, adopted practices to accommodate or use this diversity. Other empires suppressed diversity or excluded certain groups from full participation in society.
Conquest and the changing economy created new elites around the world.
The power of existing elites was threatened by the increase of power of heads of state.
Unit 5: Revolutions (c. 1750 to c. 1900)
The 18th century is characterized by a series of revolutions around the world, based on Enlightenment ideals. Although Asia doesn’t see many of these rebellions themselves, they are influenced by the changing spirit of the times.
The rise of nationalism and the national identity led to calls for unification within the boundaries of the nation or liberation from a foreign invader.
The Industrial Revolution led to the reduction of the share of global manufacturing that Asia and the Middle East controlled. At the same time, the innovations of the Industrial Revolution would spread through Asia and primarily Japan.
Some states led their industrialization processes through the government. A key example of this were the Meiji Emperors, who oversaw government-financed industrialization in Japan. The changes to Japan brought by the Meiji Restoration eventually led to the rise of imperialist sentiments in Japan.
The global economy led to the further rise of large-scale businesses that spanned across multiple nations, all using new banking and finance methods.
New Banking Methods
The rise of industrialized states led to reform and modernization movements by some Asian governments as a response. These reforms were often opposed by those with power and high status.
Nations with Significant Reform Movements
Unit 6: Consequences of Industrialization (c. 1750 to c. 1900)
This unit is all about imperialism and, for the most part, Asia gets the short end of the stick.
States increased their imperialist activity during this time period through military and/or diplomatic ventures.
Some colonies changed hands into direct state control.
Japan became a major player in the imperialism game, gaining territories in Asia and the Pacific.
The authority of these empires was not without question: anti-colonial movements began to rise during this time period as well. Anti-colonialism took many forms and at its most extreme led to direct rebellion and/or the creation of new states.
Another form of imperialism was known as economic imperialism, the economic dominance of one country by another, practiced mainly in Asia and Latin America. For example, the expansion of British and French influence in China due to the Opium Wars is a form of economic imperialism.
This time period sees a sharp change in migration patterns and an increase in the number of both coerced and uncoerced migrants. See here
for more info on migration as a whole.
Examples of Asian Migrants
Japanese agricultural workers in the Pacific
Chinese and Indian indentured servitude (where?)
Chinese in Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, South America, and North America
Indians in East and Southern Africa, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia
Unit 7: Global Conflict (c. 1900 to the present)
Through the major global conflicts of the first half of the century, emerging land treaties affected some nations more than others.
Three major land empires collapsed, two of which were primarily in Asia.
Anti-imperialist sentiments and opposition to China's growing dependence on western powers led to the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. It was replaced by a Chinese Republic with Sun Yat-sen as its first leader, although the government was weak due to the influence of warlords. A civil war would break out that eventually led to the founding of the communist People's Republic of China.
The Ottoman Empire, already struggling due to overexpansion and a failure to modernize-as well as the desire for many Ottoman territories to have self-rule-was greatly weakened by the major loss of its land after WWI. This led to the overthrow of the empire in 1923 and its replacement with a republic led by Mustafa Kemal, who saw Turkey greatly westernized.
After WWII, many former colonies were able to successfully demand their independence.
States challenged existing political and social structures.
The weakness of the nationalist government and the aggrandizement of Japan after WWI led to the May Fourth Movement, a series of anti-Japanese demonstrations in 1919. This air of dissatisfaction would eventually lead to a power struggle between the Nationalists and the Communists in the Chinese Civil War.
Various movements arose in European colonies seeking independence and self-determination in the face of entrenched colonial power-structures. This topic is covered more intensively in Unit 8.
World War One, although primarily fought in Europe, touched Asia as well.
The most direct link is in the Ottoman Empire, which joined the Central Powers along with Germany and Austro-Hungary. This turned out very well for them.
Indian troops were drafted into the British army, as part of one of Britain’s colonial holdings.
Other members of European colonial holdings fought in support roles, such as soldiers from China and Vietnam fighting for France. Arabs fought for the British because the British promised them self-rule in exchange.
At the war’s end, the Mandate System crushed these dreams for the Arabs and Europe’s reluctance to free their colonies, generally speaking, strengthened nationalist movements.
Japan joined the war on the side of the Allies to gain control of some German colonies in the Pacific and also occupied Qingdao, a port in China that had been under German control at the time. At the war’s end, they began to expand their influence in East Asia.
The Great Depression, a global recession, hurt the economy of Asia as well. The inter-war period also sees a great deal of nationalism and conflict.
The Chinese Civil War broke out during this period, although there was a slight truce for ten years (1935-45) when the country united to fight Japan.
Nationalism arose in much of Asia, with Turkey and India being notable examples.
World War Two began in 1937 for Asia, with the invasion of China by Japan. This invasion was marked by incidents of atrocity and violence, such as the Nanking Massacre.
Japan would eventually control much of East and Southwest Asia, labeling their holdings the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.”
The United States were brought into war against Japan in 1941 with the attack on Pearl Harbor and established naval superiority in the 1942 Battle of Midway. The tactic of island-hopping gave the Allies greater victories, although at considerable cost to human life.
The war ultimately ended in the east with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the first use of the newly-created atomic bomb.
Asia was no stranger to the mass atrocities that touched this period.
The Armenian Genocide (1915-17) killed anywhere between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey.
Although the Japanese Empire in WWII (1937-45) did not carry out a mass genocide to the scale of the Holocaust, their labor programs caused the deaths of millions.
Under the Khmer Rouge
and the Marxist dictator Pol Pot (1975-79), Cambodia saw the death of over two million due to execution, starvation, disease or overwork.
Unit 8: Cold War and Decolonization (c. 1900 to the present)
After World War II, anti-imperial sentiments and the decline of the major European powers led to a period of decolonization, where many of the colonies in Asia became independent. At the same time, this new world became dominated by two major superpowers—The Soviet Union and the United States.
The rise of the democratic and, capitalist, U.S. starkly contrasted with the authoritarian communism of the Soviet Union. The two became rivals and started a war of ideals and for power in the Cold War, dragging in most of the world.
Although most nations took sides, favoring one sphere of influence over the other, some resisted this new order and proposed alternatives.
The Non-Aligned Movement
Sukarno in Indonesia
The Cold War led to the formation of new military alliances. It led to nuclear proliferation, the buildup of nuclear weapon stashes, and proxy wars between the US and USSR in Asia.
One of the largest communist states in Asia was China, where the Communist Party seized power in 1949.
The leader of the Communist Party, Mao Zedong, oversaw the unsuccessful Great Leap Forward policy, where peasant lands were organized into communes.
During the Cold War era, the country also saw the Cultural Revolution, a repressive social movement that greatly harmed Chinese society.
Land and resource redistribution movements arose during this time period within some Asian states, some advocating for communism or socialism.
The process of decolonization did not look the same across the board. Some former colonies negotiated for independence, while others had to fight for it.
Nationalist leaders and parties in colonial holdings often led decolonization movements. Religious and ethnic movements such as the Muslim League in British India also played a part.
The process of decolonization led to the drawing of new political boundaries. These changes led to conflict between the newly created states and the world around them.
In new states created in the decolonization period, the government would often enact policies to help guide the economy.
The Cold War and Decolonization era was a period of conflict, much of it violent. Some people tried to reduce or oppose this trend, advocating for peaceful action or nonviolence, while others fed it. Combative behavior, such as weapons trading, as well as plain violence such as terrorist acts contributed to the trend. Responses by established states to resistance also intensified the conflicts of the period.
Leaders of Non-Violent Movements
Martin Luther King Jr.
The failed invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union played a role in their ultimate downfall and the end of the Cold War.
Unit 9: Globalization (c. 1900 to the present)
I like to think of this unit as “mini-APHUG” because the two touch many of the same themes. The material isn’t quite the same, but this is one of the many, many times where it pays to work hard in school.
As the unit is called, well, Globalization, many of the trends discussed here will apply to the world as a whole and aren’t just limited to Asia.
New technologies arose which greatly improved people’s quality of life.
New methods of communication
(such as the internet) and transportation (such as shipping containers
) have helped reduce the issues related to geographical distance.
New sources of energy such as nuclear power
have increased production and productivity worldwide.
More effective birth control (such as the birth control pill) have empowered women and reduced fertility rates.
The Green Revolution, a period when agricultural productivity increased due to technologies such as genetic modification, has helped sustain the population but has also harmed the environment and caused social conflicts.
Medical advances such as vaccines and antibiotics have allowed humans to live longer lives.
While some old diseases remain, the major epidemic diseases such as smallpox have largely vanished. Today, diseases (and the efforts to fight them) come in three strains: those that are poverty-related, new-epidemic and increased-longevity diseases.
This period sees the start of serious concerns about climate change (especially in large countries such as China) and (both potential and current) resource competition
for commodities such as clean air and water.
After the Cold War, many countries enacted free-market economic policies and promoted economic freedom.
The increase in technological capability led to the rise of “knowledge economies,” economies where intellectual services such as research and consulting act as the goods. Developed countries where these economies sprang up often outsourced manufacturing and industry to places in Asia and Latin America.
Knowledge Economies in Asia:
Industrial Economies in Asia:
A variety of global economic institutions arose, demonstrating the increasingly global economy of the period.
Political institutions arose as well, dedicated to maintaining peace and cooperation between the nations of the world.
Multinational corporations came to embody both globalization as well as the spirit of free trade this period produced.
World Trade Organization (WTO)
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
Multinational Corporations (Country of Origin)
The promotion of the doctrine of Human Rights challenged old beliefs. At the same time, access to positions in the political and professional worlds became more inclusive. In this spirit, movements in this period protested the inequalities that came with globalization.
The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially because it was concerned with protecting the rights of children, women, and refugees
Global feminism movements
Increased access to the political and professional spheres
The right to vote and/ or to hold public office granted to women in Turkey (1934), Japan (1945), and India (1947)
The rising rate of female literacy and the increasing numbers of women in higher education, in most parts of the world
Caste reservation in India
With globalization in general came the globalization of culture, as popular and consumer culture became more prevalent in the world.
Examples of Popular, Globalized Culture:
McDonalds and Coca-Cola (Food/Popular Brands)
Bollywood, Hollywood (Movies)
Twitter and Facebook (Social Media)
Ali-Baba (Online Commerce)
Whew! So, that’s Asia in a nutshell. Have fun studying, everyone!
[Sources: Princeton Review’s Cracking the AP World History Modern Exam, 2020; 5 Steps to A 5 AP World History, 2019; AMSCO World History, 2018; Encyclopedia Britannica; Ancient History Encyclopedia]