China

Sui Dynasty 589-618 CE

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Leadership/Government – How a civilization creates an organized way of leadership.

Achievements – The lasting contributions of a civilization.

Decline – How each kingdom lost strength and regional influence.Reunification of China

The last ancient Chinese civilization, the Han Dynasty, collapsed in 220 CE due to a breakdown of bureaucracy, their highly organized government system with multiple levels of appointed officials. Corruption and disloyalty, as well as unrest of the heavily taxed farming class broke all of China into multiple dynasties ruled by military leaders. During this 369 years of disunion, or time of disorder when China wasn’t unified, clans were competing for resources. Chinese culture blended with the nomadic clans, who settled in the north, and the Asian cultures to the south. Styles of dress, art, and music were all affected.

Despite these adaptations, one northern Chinese leader wanted to reunify the Chinese people. In 589,  Yang Jian conquered Southern China and set up a centralized (ruled from one location) government. Thus, began the Sui (pronounced SWAY) Dynasty.

One of the Sui Dynasty’s greatest achievements was the planning and initial construction of the Grand Canal. This waterway would eventually connect northern and southern China, and improve trade, and allow southern grown agricultural goods to be transported to the north.

Under this new leader, taxes were kept high for lower classes, and this again created social problems. After only 29 years of control, the Sui Dynasty was overthrown by an ambitious government official, and a new dynasty began.

 

Grand Canal of the Sui and Tang Dynasties

Tang Dynasty 618-901 CE

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Leadership/Government- How a civilization creates an organized way of leadership.

Decline – How each kingdom lost strength and regional influence.

Continuing work of an earlier dynasty

Sui dynasty military general Li Yuan lead the rebellion that eventually lead to the Sui downfall. He seized power in 618 and started the new Tang Dynasty. The Tang dynasty lasted almost 300 years, and this period of time is sometimes alluded to as China’s Golden Age by historians. The Tang Dynasty continued the work of the previous dynasty in many ways. They expanded the reach of the Grand Canal, conquered Northeast and Southwest Asian lands, and kept the centralized (ruled in one area) government style.

In dynasties before the Tang, bureaucracy (government appointments) had been faulty. The Tang attempted to rectify this by opening up the Civil Service Exam to all people in all classes. Despite their good intentions, only the wealthy could afford the time to study and books to pass these rigorous tests and become scholar officials, that is government officials who earned their right to hold their position by these exams.

Great Tang Leaders and their influence

In addition to Li Yuan, several other prominent leaders of the Tang Dynasty added to the Medieval Chinese culture. Taizong is remembered for many government programs, including military funding, as well as a code of laws and land reform. Another Tang leader leaned more toward the arts. Xuanzong helped to build Tang Dynasty Era culture, and during his rule many of the great Chinese poets wrote their craft. The only female ruler of China in Medieval history also claimed part of the Tang Dynasty. Empress Wu is noted for vicious and intelligent decisions to quell (stop) rebellion as head of her country.

Similar Government, Similar Fall

Just as the Tang mimicked the Sui Dynasty’s style of government, the Golden Age of China had a similar destruction. Lower class rebellion and military leaders hungry for power toppled the dynasty. Chaos and divided kingdoms reclaimed China. This short 53-year period is sometimes called the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms.

Song Dynasty 960-1279 CE
Part 1 of 2

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Leadership/Government – How a civilization creates an organized way of leadership.

Social Classes – How a civilization is divided into classes that have different roles, responsibilities, and privileges.

Religion-A belief system that influences the development of a civilization.

Near Perfection of Civil Service  process

The Song Dynasty greatly improved the difficult tests called Civil Service Exams given to gain the status of scholar official during earlier dynasties. Not only did they allow any man in society to take it, but they also took precautions against cheating by making the hopefuls take the test from inside a small room. The exam guaranteed that men of the highest moral fabric as well as versed in the Confucius ideas being embraced by Chinese government ended up in power. Only a handful of the exam-takers succeeded, but they had plenty of incentive, or reasons, to do well. Not only did a successful canidate’s new social status grant him power, but also respect, reduced consequences for any crimes he may commit, and wealth in the form of gifts from those seeking his wisdom and guidance. Once an exam was passed, a scholar-official had to wait several years before being assigned a position away from his home region. This placement ensured that he didn’t allow bias to interfere with his job.

The Reformation of Confucianism

Confucian teachings originated in China during the Zhou Dynasty. Traditional Chinese religion, Daoism, and the introduction of a new religion, Buddhism, pushed Confucianism out of Chinese society during the time of Discord following it. At the end of the Tang Dynasty, Confucius’s two key dogmas, Ren (concern for others) and Li ,(appropriate behavior) returned and morphed with religions to form Neo-Confucianism.  These teachings became central to the Song Dynasty government.

 

 

Song Dynasty 960-1279
Part 2 of 2

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Economy – How a Civilization makes money by the buying and selling of goods and services.

Social Classes – How a civilization is divided into classes that have different roles, responsibilities, and privileges.

Achievements-The lasting contributions of a civilization.

Geography – Physical environment and how it influenced economy and culture.

Rise of Wealth

During the Song Dynasty, the agricultural foundation of China boomed. Advances in irrigation and a new species of faster growing/ripening rice, as well as improvement in the growing of other crops, such as cotton, created a surplus of wealth. This wealth paid taxes and increased the quality of life for the Chinese people. Since rice only grew in the southern areas of China, many of the farmers in the north abandoned their wheat and barley crops for the more productive crop. The increased food supported a growing population, and soon all that wealth translated into urbanization, or the development of cities. The Song Dynasty saw a surge in populace from 60 million to 100 million. Trade and commerce increased, and the merchant class developed with the demands for foreign and luxurious items. The world’s first paper money was created for carrying and trade convenience. The major Chinese trade city Chang’an became a hub of philosophical and religious thought and practice.

Inventions that changed the world

The wealth of the Song Dynasty offered time for developing many products and gadgets of earlier dynasties. A smooth type of pottery, porcelain, became a Chinese specialty during the Tang Dynasty and was improved upon during the Song Dynasty. Literature, poetry, and art all increased with the wealth of China. Woodblock printing, a process of carving into a solid block of wood and using it as a stamp on paper, aided the spread of literature and ideologies. Gunpowder, a powder mixture used in weapons, found innovative uses such as fireworks and continued to affect war outcomes worldwide. Travel and trade also benefited from the development of the magnetic compass, a device that showed direction based on the earth’s magnetic fields.

 

Yuan Dynasty (Mongols) 1279-1368

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Economy – How a Civilization makes money by the buying and selling of goods and services.

Social Classes – How a civilization is divided into classes that have different roles, responsibilities, and privileges.

Geography – Physical environment and how it influenced economy and culture.

The Mongol Ascendency

Toward the end of the Song Dynasty, a new threat emerged from the north. The nomadic Mongol tribes had gathered into an army under Genghis Khan and conquered much of western Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. Now, they eyed China and its wealth. In 1211, the Mongols started attacking Northern China. Their brutal tactics decimated whole villages, including farmland and their crops. All of Northern China was under his control when he died in 1260. His grandson, Kublai Khan, completed the conquest of China, and named himself Emperor in 1279. This was the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty.

The Mongols threw out the Confucius–based government system, and banned it to keep Confucian leaders from holding any power. They also appointed clan members in powerful places. Since they couldn’t read or write, Mongols hired foreigners to take prominent government positions as well. The Chinese were only allowed to be common clerks, though a few managed to gain trust and hold a higher government office.

Despite their forceful reinventing of the Chinese government, the Mongols allowed their Chinese population to keep their own culture. The Mongols spoke a different language, dressed and looked different, and had a different religious system. Rather than forcing the Chinese to alter their ways, the Mongols appointed soldiers to every town or city to keep their Chinese populace in line. The Chinese were also taxed heavily, and this oppression eventually lead to the Yuan Dynasty’s downfall.

 

Yuan Dynasty 1279-1368

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Economy – How a Civilization makes money by the buying and selling of goods and services.

Achievements – The lasting contributions of a civilization.

Decline – How each kingdom lost strength and regional influence.

Trade flourishes under Mongol rule

Despite the general belief that the Mongols were ruthless, barbaric conquerors, they highly valued trade and commerce. This preference lead them to plan and expand public works. The Grand Canal was widened and lengthened for better commercial exchange. The Silk Road and other routes throughout their vast land were improved. Stations were also constructed about every 20 miles along those routes so merchants could rest and eat on their way to China to trade. Soldiers patrolled these roads as well to ensure safety for travelers from thieves. These improvements also positively influenced the mail, so communication between Asia and Europe increased. Palaces, and a new capital city of Dadu near modern-day Beijing. All of these projects were constructed on the backs of the Chinese people. The Mongols were a maritime society, and their fine skills helped increase trade to southern Asia and India. Foreign traders, such as the famous Italian Marco Polo, were welcomed as honored guests and many spent privileged time in the Yuan Courts.

Mongols collapse under failure

The Mongols’ success in China made them want even more, so they turned their attention to Japan. Despite good maritime skills, three unsuccessful attempts to cross the sea and conquer the Japanese people greatly reduced their army and wealth. Unrest among the Chinese people stirred rebellion, and eventually, the Chinese people retook their country.

 

 

Ming dynasty 1368-1644 CE
Part 1 of 2

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Leadership/ Government- How a civilization creates an organized way of leadership.

Achievements -The lasting contributions of a civilization.

China Reigns Again

In 1368, former monk Zhu Yuanzhang led the Chinese rebellion against the Mongol oppressors, and declared himself Emperor of China under the Ming Dynasty. This 300-year time period offered China more stability and wealth than it had ever had. Though Yuanzhang re-established the scholar-official exam system of previous Chinese dynasties,  he also took an active approach in most of the state affairs. Civil Service exams were also used to fill a new position, called a censor. This official was responsible to regularly judge the morals of leadership as well as the quality of schools and institutions. This control approach to government was meant to establish a secure country with limited foreign control, and probably stemmed from the resentment of the past Mongol rule.

Two Major Ming Achievements

Under the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese became great sailors and built huge fleets of bigger, better ships. A particular sailor Zheng He used his massive fleet of more than 60 ships to go on trade and treaty trips to East Africa, the Middle East, and all of the Asian seas. With each stop, he presented foreign leaders with presents and encouraged them to do the same for the Chinese Emperor. He also brought many of them back to see the power and unique culture of China.

The early wealth of the Ming Dynasty lent itself to several building projects. The Forbidden City was erected as a symbol of China’s power and prestige. This palace held homes for leadership, government buildings, and religious temples, as many as 9,000 rooms! Its name came from the fact that lower social classes weren’t allowed in. Another building project of the Ming Dynasty was the reconstruction of the crumbling Great Wall. Not only did this give them a 2,000 -mile long wonder of the world to brag about, but it also kept the northern tribes from invading again, with its 25-foot high and 12-foot thick structure.

 

Ming dynasty 1368-1644
Part 2 of 2

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Leadership/Government – How a civilization creates an organized way of leadership.

Decline – How each kingdom lost strength and regional influence.

It takes progress to sustain a nation

Upon the return of Chinese explorer Zheng He, the Chinese were unimpressed with the outside world and decided  to close their doors to any foreign influence or interaction. In 1434, the newest Ming Emperor Zheng He broke down the Chinese fleet and cut off foreign relations. No Chinese were allowed to leave the country, and any communication or contact with the rest of the world had to be specifically approved by the Chinese government.  This period of isolationism, or policy of avoiding contact with others, was meant to keep the Chinese people safe, but had dire consequences for China. They missed out on technologies of Western countries, and eventually China became vulnerable as Westerners took over bits and pieces of the empire. The rigid government couldn’t adapt to its country’s needs. China couldn’t resist foreign invasion or peasant revolts, and soon lost its power and glory. Furthermore, the decision to deny foreign contact resulted in a loss of the exchange of ideas hence, China fell behind technologically.

 

 

 

 

 

Religion’s Effects on Medieval china

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Religion-A belief system that influences the development of a civilization.

Buddhism on the move

In ancient China before the period of disunion, Daoism and Confucianism were the two prominent belief systems. The religion of Daoism emphasized living in harmony with all of creation. It stressed to live simply through observing and learning from nature and its natural balance of both good and bad. The philosophy of Confucianism focused more on morals and how one should behave in personal, professional, and authority based relationships. Confucius asserted that people should be loyal, honest and obedient in five relationships: sibling, parent/child, leader/subject, friendship and marriage. But during the dark years of the disunion, the Chinese turned to a new belief system that gave them a way to cope.

Buddhism came northeast from India during the Han Dynasty, and it relayed teachings on comfort and peace, offering relief from the suffering of disunion. Buddha and Buddhists around the world believe that people are reincarnated (re-born on earth) back to earth until they have reached inner peace. The Four Noble Truths are central to Buddhism: that life is painful and full of suffering; that desire is the cause of pain; that a person can overcome desire; and that following the Eightfold Path will end suffering caused by desire. According to Buddha, following an Eightfold Path by conducting a life of discipline, mindfulness and meditation will lead a person to a state void of desire. This path is a process of facing reality and leads to enlightenment, a state of inner peace. Buddhists believe that nirvana is the highest state that someone can attain, meaning a person’s individual desires and suffering go away. At this point, they will no longer be reincarnated to earthly suffering.

When the disunion was finally resolved, Buddhism started to flourish in China. The rich classes donated funds for lavish Buddhist temples to be built with massive statues of Buddha. Chinese missionaries continued to spread the Buddhist religion to such places as Japan, Korea, and other Asian lands.

Law and Religion blur

As mentioned above, Confucian beliefs were ancient and consisted of guidelines on how to behave in given relationships and circumstances. Confucianism led to law creation early in Medieval China. At the end of the Tang Dynasty and through the Song Dynasty, the two main Confucian creeds blended with Daoism and Buddhism thought to form what was known as Neo-Confucianism. These teachings became core to the later Song Dynasty government.

Tang Dynasty Buddha statues in Longmen Grottos Henan Province, China