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Unit 1

1.1 East Asia from 1200-1450

4 min readjune 19, 2020

William Dramby


Developments in East Asia

Government Developments in the Song Dynasty

The Sui and Tang Dynasties were able to reunite China after centuries of war. The Song Dynasty, starting in 960, was able to build on this stability and help advance the government of China.
A bureaucracy is made up of all the people who work for the government. The Chinese government was unique for the era, as its large bureaucracy was based on merit.  Meritocracies are formed based on the abilities of the people versus their wealth and nobility.  To help build this large bureaucracy, many took the Civil Service Exam.  
The Civil Service Exam system started under the Han Dynasty and reemerged under the Tang and Song.  Chinese men would spend years learning the Chinese classics like The Analects by the famous Chinese philosopher Confucius.  Based on their abilities, they would take a series of exams that would award them greater power and influence.  A person who passed any one level of these exams entered a new social class: the scholar gentry.  This approach to governing lasted until around 1900!
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Chinese Scholar Gentry. Image Credit: Wikipedia

Economic Development

The stability of the Tang and Song Dynasties allowed for the Chinese to economically develop. A lot of this development was based on their new technologies, regional trade, and their growing dominance.
Below are a series of new developments that helped the Chinese to have the strongest economy between 1200-1450.

Economic Developments in China, 1200-1450

Grand Canal 🌅 This canal linked southern China’s Yangtze River with northern China’s Yellow River, thus promoting interregional trade
Gunpowder 💣 The Chinese invention of gunpowder led to the development of guns and trade along the Silk Road
Champa Rice  🍚 Champa is a region of Vietnam. Its rice allowed for multiple harvests per year.  With more harvests came more food and, once it was imported to China, a growing population.
Coal ⛏ The vast coal reserves of China allowed for the increased production of iron goods. With more iron came more construction
Artisan 🍶 An artisan is a person who specializes in the making of items like porcelain and silk.  China had an emerging artisan class.
Public Works 🛣 The Chinese government built roads and canals due to its wealth, food, and workers, which led to more interregional trade.
Tribute System 💰 The Chinese government was paid a tax, known as a tribute, by foreign powers. Japan, Korea, and Vietnam all paid China in money, food, materials, and even workers rather than have to go to war with the superpower!
Paper 📜 The Chinese development and use of paper allowed for its government to be more efficient, the arts to thrive, and for paper money to be used around the dynasty.

Social Structures in China

The social structure of China has been extremely stable since the Han Dynasty. This is because it is very hierarchical. A hierarchy is a system in which people or groups are ranked according to their status. 
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China's social hierarchy circa. Han Dynasty

Part of this hierarchy is the fact that China is a patriarchal society where men dominate most systems of power.  Though women were charged with raising the children, they rarely were given political or economic roles.  This is exemplified in the process of foot binding. Much like modern-day cosmetics, foot binding was done to make women more desirable for men as well as a sign of wealth.   🎥Watch: WHAP - China in the Global Middle Ages

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Periphery of China

A core society impacts the societies in its periphery.  Much like how the US impacts nations around it and New York City impacts communities around it, China has had a long-lasting impact on the development of Japan, Korea, and Vietnam:

Post-Classical Japan, Korea, and Vietnam

Japan
This archipelago (series of islands) region has unique elements to it like the religion of Shintoism, stories like The Tale of Genji, and a unique feudal hierarchy.  The Emperor and Shogun (military leader) would rule over various Daimyo (landowners) who would all hire Samurai to protect their land.  The Samurai would practice a unique brand of chivalry called the Bushido Code.  Though feudal and largely decentralized, Japan was able to develop its own unique society.
Though Buddhism did spread to Japan, the Japanese government did not embrace the civil service system nor did the society accept Confucianism.
Korea
Korea has been the most influenced by China, adopting Confucianism, Buddhism, and the civil service system.  However, the aristocracy in Korea did not allow for social mobility or true unity of the Korean peninsula.
Vietnam
Vietnam has tried very hard to maintain its own independence from China.  Though closely translating to ‘southern people’, the Vietnamese do not think of themselves as Chinese.  They do not have as a hierarchical society; rather life is dominated by villages and smaller nuclear families.  Though Confucianism and Buddhism spread there, the impact of Confucianism is limited.

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