BECK index

Summary and Evaluation

of China, Korea, and Japan to 1800

by Sanderson Beck

Ancient China to 221 BC
Imperial China 221 BC to 1368
Ming Dynasty
Qing Dynasty to 1800
Korea to 1800
Japan to 1800
Evaluating China, Korea, and Japan to 1800

This chapter has been published in the book CHINA, KOREA & JAPAN to 1800. For ordering information please click here.

Ancient China to 221 BC

The long tradition of Chinese civilization goes back about 7,000 years. Deforestation may have been a problem near the end of the Xia Dynasty, which was replaced by the warlike Shang Dynasty that developed bronze artistry and lasted about five centuries. The Zhou Dynasty claimed the mandate of heaven in the 11th century BC as they criticized the drunkenness and oppressive policies of the last Shang king. Chinese kingdoms operated as a feudal system under the sovereignty of the Zhou king for centuries.

Several early literary classics indicated a sophisticated culture. The Book of Changes applied philosophy to the art of divination, developing the ideas of yin and yang and other natural symbols, as they sought to live in harmony with nature. Songs and poetry expressing human feelings were collected and passed on in theBook of Odes. Courtesy and manners were precisely delineated in the first of many works on propriety (li). China's early interest in history was recorded in the Book of Documents, which developed a political philosophy of following the will of heaven under hereditary monarchs. Government became bureaucratized under the prime minister and the ministries of Instruction, Religions, War, Crime, and Works.

Many wars occurred in China in the half millennium from 722 to 221 BC, the first half known as the Spring and Autumn Era and the second as the Period of Warring States. Small feudal states were taken over by expanding kingdoms; then a few kingdoms struggled for power until the western state of Qin overcame the rest. A commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals made moral judgments and drew political lessons from this ancient strife. Guan Zhong's political skill was later admired by the Legalists. A brief respite from these wars occurred when Heang Seu convened a meeting in 545 BC that was able to organize a league of states to keep the peace for a few years. Cheng prime minister Zichan encouraged open discussions of his government's policies. The state of Wu was militarized by following the advice of Sun-zi, who wrote The Art of War. Yet Wu's rapid rise to power was followed by its even faster decline and destruction in 473 BC.

The intrigues of active advisors caused frequent conflicts between states. Wu Qi was another whose military advice stimulated violence. Legalists later emulated the harsh punishments of Shang Yang, who was killed in 338 BC. His contemporary Shen Buhai was influenced by Daoist ideas and developed subtle techniques of administration. Su Qin and his brothers tried to use diplomacy to form alliances against the powerful Qin, while Zhang Yi negotiated with other states for Qin. Hundreds of thousands were killed in these battles, as warlords like the Lord of Mengchang (who went from Qi to serve Qin and Wei before going back to Qi), Zhao's Lord of Pingyuan, the Noble Scion of Wei, and Chu's Lord of Chunshen struggled for power. Finally Li Si became prime minister for Qin's King Zheng, enabling him to overcome all the other states and become the first emperor of China in 221 BC.

Amid these troubled and warlike times China experienced its golden age of philosophers. Confucius (551-479 BC) became the first known professional teacher of adults. As a practical humanist, Confucius emphasized the goodness and wisdom that produce ethical behavior. An indefatigable learner, Confucius studied the classics, particularly the Book of Changes to which he wrote commentaries. His conversations with his students recorded in the Analects portrayed him as a genial and patient teacher. He would have liked to have been an advisor to kings, but few would listen to his humane ideas.

Confucius did not consider himself an innovator but one who taught the ancient Zhou wisdom of love, justice, conscientiousness, courage, and filial piety. Most of all he sought goodness (humanity), but he never believed that he or others fully attained it. He pointed out the difference between the attitudes and behaviors of superior people compared to small people. Instead of judging people by birth or family, Confucius evaluated them by their character and actions. His thorough and life-long teaching enabled individuals to rise in Chinese society through education. Although he was more philosophical than religious, Confucius did pray and perform rituals sincerely; yet he believed serving people was more important than serving spirits. He taught that we should not do to others what we do not want them to do to us. He recommended we correct ourselves before we try to correct others. For Confucius rectifying language depended on truthfulness and the integrity of matching actions to words. Confucius focused on political reform as well as self-improvement. He believed studying literature could help prevent one from violating the way and that social relations could be harmonized by propriety. Confucius showed that virtue could be attained by the love of learning.

Of the followers of Confucius, his favorite student Yen Hui died before him; the bold Zilu died serving his prince; Ran Qiu was criticized for raising taxes; Zigong became one of the first active diplomats; Zeng Shen emphasized filial piety; the well educated Ziyu gained a position; and Zixia became the master of his own school. The grandson of Confucius wrote a book or two and was the teacher of Mencius.

Mencius (371-289 BC) was the next great Confucian philosopher, and his book became a Confucian classic. Mencius advised the aged King Hui to avoid war and improve his kingdom with education and other reforms. Good government would reduce taxes and the violence of punishments and war. The king could become great and make his kingdom great by practicing kindness. The people need to be nurtured and provided with education. After King Hui died, Mencius went to Qi to counsel King Xuan; but he loved money and women and would not listen when Mencius implied criticism of him. Mencius recommended consulting the people in decisions that affected them. Mencius also advised Duke Wen of Teng to do good.

Mencius emphasized goodness and believed that in the heart of everyone is goodness. Every human would naturally go to save a baby about to fall into a well. This human goodness can also be applied in government. He recommended a middle path between negligence and too much meddling. For Mencius virtue is more important than profit. People can help each other and live in harmony. Mencius admired Confucius and criticized Yang Zhu for teaching selfishness. Mencius suggested seeking and thinking in order to find the answer. Everyone loves, but the wise love what is more important. Goodness is like water and can overcome the cruelty of fire. If virtue is put before profit, human relationships will be mutually beneficial. Mencius criticized advisors who pandered to the evil desires of rulers. Mencius found no just wars in his era and thought that military experts were grave criminals.

Xun-zi (Hsun-tzu) lived almost a century (310-212 BC) in a violent era. He studied and taught at the academy in Qi but had to flee during the massive invasion of 284 BC. In Qin-dominated Chu, Xun-zi was influenced by Daoism and wrote about education, returning to the Qi academy after eight years. Slandered there, in 265 BC Xun-zi traveled to Qin and Zhao to advise rulers that support of the people was most important. He criticized military methods and profit motivations, emphasizing propriety and moral education. Unity is better than deception. Xun-zi believed that war was only justifiable as a punitive expedition and that a good person does not contend for spoil. Li Si, who became prime minister of the Qin empire, and the Legalist philosopher Han Fei-zi both studied with Xun-zi. As a Confucian he recommended the use of virtue over that of force or wealth.

In his native Zhao, Xun-zi was appointed magistrate of Lanling by Chu prime minister Lord of Chunshen, but he was removed for doing such a good job that he threatened the ruler's power. Reconciled, he returned to serve there until Chunshen was assassinated in 238 BC. Xun-zi's book was influential but never became a classic like that of Mencius. Xun-zi also valued education; but he believed human nature is basically selfish and evil, and thus people need to be taught how to behave. He recommended the classics and aimed at self-improvement. The virtuous are not subverted by power or the love of profit. Xun-zi also contrasted the gentleman of moral conduct and the petty person. He taught the Confucian virtues of justice, truthfulness, humanity, courage, and propriety. Xun-zi criticized the utilitarian Mo-zi and believed followers of Mencius were deluded. In government Xun-zi advised promoting the worthy, dismissing the incompetent, punishing the incorrigibly evil, and teaching the people. Xun-zi was admired for teaching moral values in an era when humanity was degraded.

The Classic of Filial Piety ascribed to Zeng-zi emphasized family loyalty and based all love on parental love. Additional books were written on propriety and ceremonies, and one of these collections contained two outstanding Confucian classics-Higher Education and The Center of Harmony, both attributed to the grandson of Confucius. The first described learning as manifesting clear character, loving the people, and living in the highest good. These can be achieved by directing purpose, calm clarity, peaceful poise, and careful deliberation. The eight steps are investigating things, extending knowledge, a sincere will, setting the heart right, cultivating the personal life, making families harmonious and government orderly, resulting in peace in the world. The Center of Harmony recommended finding one's center through self-observation and harmony through sincere and conscientious reciprocity based on understanding.

During the Han dynasty Confucian philosophy was promoted by Dong Zhongshu, who urged Emperor Wu to open an imperial university for the study of the five traditional classics. His own Luxuriant Gems of the Spring and Autumn Annals combined the yin-yang cosmology with Confucian values. Confucianism had emerged as the dominant philosophy in China and was already greatly influencing government and society, promoting education and humanistic values in all relationships.

Lao-zi in his famous book, Dao De Jing, taught the mystical ideas of the way and its virtue, founding the Daoist philosophy and religion. In the receptivity of the feminine principle (yin) he experienced peace without competing. Valuing simplicity, the natural flow of water, and the mystical source, Lao-zi transcended strife and taught loving people without interfering. Troubles come from being selfish, but those who value the world as themselves may be trusted. Observing the folly of much striving, Lao-zi saw unity in simplicity, and he criticized the destructiveness of war. His way of love and frugality without ambition would be very influential, as his enigmatic book has been translated more times than any other book in history.

Mo-zi lived about seventy years and died about 390 BC. Mo-zi in his writing taught universal love and following the will of heaven. He believed that mutual love would lead to mutual respect. He not only advised rulers, but he and his followers actively attempted to stop wars with counsel and defensive techniques. Mo-zi went from Qi and persuaded Gong Shu Ban of Chu to stop his threatened attack on Song, where 300 of Mo-zi's disciples were prepared in defense. The frugal Mo-zi asked only for necessary food and clothing for his political work. He also advised the leaders of Qi and Lu not to attack each other, and he suggested that the small state of Wei focus on defense rather than luxuries. Mo-zi was imprisoned in Song. In 393 BC Mo-zi persuaded Prince Wen of Lu Yang not to attack Zheng. Several of his disciples gained political positions.

Mo-zi argued that universal love is most useful for everyone. The universal person will feed the hungry, clothe the cold, care for the sick, and bury the dead. Who would not prefer the person of universal love to the selfish person? Mutual benefit is most profitable. He suggested that when the wise rule, they will honor the worthy so that the people will be well served. Mo-zi condemned offensive warfare as the greatest crime for causing so much killing, destruction, and waste of resources. The utilitarian Mo-zi also criticized excessive expenditures on luxuries, elaborate ceremonies, and funerals. The will of heaven is to love people; this will be rewarded, because heaven is just. Mo-zi looked to the wisdom of the ancient sages, the current evidence, and the pragmatic test of future results. Mo-zi criticized the Confucians for their elaborate funerals, social distinctions, and hypocrisy; but after two centuries of rivalry, Moism was overcome by the Confucian scholars.

Song Keng also worked to check aggression and proposed disarmament. Zhuang-zi agreed with him but chose not to enter politics; he and Lie-zi were two other Daoists who left charming writings. Their reclusive lives had little political affect, but their humorous stories amused many. Like Lao-zi, Zhuang-zi transcended worldly ambitions, and he satirized the meddling of Confucius.

In the Songs of Chu the poet Qu Yuan expressed his sorrow at being dismissed from government, found consolation in Daoist simplicity and mysticism, and composed beautiful songs before drowning himself. Other poets continued his themes and exalted the shamanistic travels of the Daoists.

In the Han era a collection of writings called the Huai-nan-zi expressed Daoist ideas, condemning militarism and valuing the inner life of joy over outer desires and ambitions. Like the short-lived Qin empire, a state disordered by harsh punishment cannot last long, while the virtue of Han culture resulted in prosperity. These Daoists believed that violence can be prevented by using troops to stop oppressive behaviors, but they should not be allowed to burn crops, destroy property, rob animals, or enslave people. When soldiers are just, there is no war.

The realistic Legalist philosophers based their writings on the reforms of Guan Zhong and Lord Shang. The Guan-zi believed in Confucian virtues but considered the use of force inevitable. The Book of Lord Shang tried to reduce everything to agriculture and war-making, advocating strong government based on strict laws and punishments in an authoritarian philosophy that led to the tyranny of the Qin empire.

Han Fei-zi wrote more elegantly about Legalism and urged Qin to dominate China, but he was forced to take poison before Qin united China under its imperial power. His philosophy made the ruler most powerful and discussed techniques for using ministers to govern the people with clearly defined laws using carefully calculated rewards and punishments. Power and authority are concentrated at the top in the ruler. Han Fei-zi taught how ministers could effectively persuade a powerful ruler to follow their advice. Although his aim was to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak, his method of accomplishing that was to make the government headed by one man very strong, a dangerous formula. Ministers should be punished for disobeying orders even if their actions were virtuous and successful. All private interests must be subordinated to public order.

Han Fei-zi thought that even small crimes could be deterred by severe penalties, and he criticized a duke for eliminating some laws that were resulting in too many foot amputations, for he believed that any leniency to criminals harmed the good and the political order. Rewards and punishments must not be delayed and should be dispensed with praise and censure. The coldly logical Han Fei-zi believed that penalties should not be made light out of compassion nor severe from cruelty. These Legalist ideas would be tried out in the Qin empire.

Imperial China 221 BC to 1368

When Qin king Zheng proclaimed himself the First Emperor of China in 221 BC, he divided the empire into 36 provinces with military commandants, confiscated local weapons, and instituted strict laws with harsh penalties. Large building projects used convict labor, and an attempted assassination stimulated a repressive and widespread investigation. A half million men, who had evaded conscription or taxes, were put to work completing the Great Wall. In 213 BC all books not considered practical were ordered burned. Scholars resisting this were tattooed and put in labor camps. The next year the Emperor ordered 700,000 castrated convicts put to work building his new palace complex. The escape of two scholars led to an investigation and the execution of 460 others in the capital.

The First Emperor died in 211 BC, and the intriguing eunuch Zhao Gao controlled power under the Second Emperor. Two years later the leader of 900 convict laborers, rather than be executed, started a revolution using plow handles and sticks. Zhao Gao contrived the execution of chancellor Li Si, whom he replaced, got the Second Emperor to commit suicide, but was killed himself by his replacement, Ziying. Only 46 days later the Qin imperial armies were defeated by the widespread rebellion. Eventually the governor of Pei, who became king of Han, defeated Xiang Yu to found the Han Dynasty in 202 BC as Emperor Gaozu.

Confucian scholars persuaded Emperor Gaozu that the Qin empire had failed because of its harsh Legalist policies. He called for men of virtue in his government, though he made his relatives kings in the provinces. When he died in 195 BC, the Chinese empire was allowed to experiment under the Daoist policies of the Empress Lu while she was busy with violent intrigues in the capital. Emperor Wen reigned 180-157 BC, and he was acclaimed a great exemplar for his benevolent policies that abolished cruel punishments, reduced taxes, and instituted civil service examinations. Emperor Jing (157-141 BC) had to deal with a rebellion after he reduced the size of several kingdoms.

The martial emperor Wu Di began ruling at age 16 and often during his 54-year reign had his army fighting the barbarian Xiongnu in the northwest; other military campaigns attacked Korea, Manchuria, and Mongolia. Wu Di established an imperial university for the study of the classics, but in the second half of his reign the Legalists had more influence than the Confucians. Laws became more strictly enforced, and criminals were pardoned if they served in the army. Corruption led to larger and larger bands of robbers; the army attacked them and cut off 10,000 heads at a time. Commandant of justice Du Zhou always had at least a hundred officials in prison and arrested 60,000 people. Even the great historian Sima Qian was arrested in 99 BC and castrated, because he could not pay. Eight years later tens of thousands were arbitrarily executed for witchcraft.

A public debate on the salt and iron monopolies was conducted in 81 BC, indicating a free exchange of ideas. Emperor Xuan reigned using Confucian principles from 74 to 48 BC. Emperor Yuan during his fifteen years also followed Confucian ways, but the emphasis on family led to the problem of nepotism. Emperor Cheng took over in 33 BC and abolished the palace writer so that the eunuchs would not have so much power. Chinese civilization had stabilized in a monarchical empire guided by Confucian ideas, though intrigues would soon bring the fall of the Former Han dynasty.

The earlier Han dynasty came to an end in China after having had trouble producing an heir, and the revolutionary Confucian Wang Mang took power in 9 CE. His attempts to control the economy while hoarding gold failed; as millions died from famine and the turmoil, peasants joined with Han nobles in a wide-spread rebellion that overthrew and killed Wang Mang in 23 CE. The Eastern Han dynasty moved the capital to Luoyang and expanded to the south, overcoming numerous rebellions by the Yue people. The Han army reconquered central Asia by defeating the Xiongnu, and sons of barbarian leaders were educated in Chinese culture. The Chinese developed iron into steel, the shoulder collar for draft animals, the wheelbarrow, porcelain dishes, and paper. Population increased again, and 30,000 were studying in the imperial academy by 146. Eunuchs gained increasing power and wealth, which they passed on to adopted sons as corruption flourished at court. In 184 Daoist healers led rebellions in Sichuan and in the east as Zhang Jue promised equality and common ownership to 360,000 followers wearing yellow turbans.

After 220 China became divided into three kingdoms that invaded Korea, Vietnam, and the southwest. In the 4th century Buddhism spread rapidly in China. Later the Qin ruler Yao Xing (r. 393-415) sustained 3,000 Buddhist monks as Kumarajiva in Chang'an directed translations of Buddhist scriptures. The Martial Emperor (Wu Di) of Liang patronized Buddhism in the first half of the 6th century. However, Confucians won a struggle with Buddhists and Daoists as the Northern Qi reunified north China in 577. Sui Wen Di (r. 581-604) reunited all of China and promoted reforms and Buddhism. The Sui conquered Chen and tried to impose morality. Sui Wen Di stored grain to prevent famines and had canals built with convict labor. Confucian schools were closed in 601. Wen's son Yang Di (r. 604-17) was even more extravagant in building but in 606 instituted the examination system based on Confucian classics. Yang Di's biggest mistake was launching a major war against Koguryo (Korea) in 612 with 1,132,800 men. People rebelled when he broke his promise to end the war, and the fleeing Sui emperor was assassinated in 618.

General Li Yuan founded the Tang Dynasty (618-907) with the help of his son Li Shimin, who took over and reigned as Tang Tai Zong (r. 626-49). He expanded Confucian education and kept Buddhists out of politics. The Tang army subjugated the Eastern Turks in 630, and 100,000 defeated Turks were resettled in southern China. The Tang helped Silla dominate Koguryo and Paekche in Korea from 619 to 643, but then the Tang had to retreat from this imperialistic adventure. Tai Zong's son Gao Zong was dominated by the concubine he made Empress Wu. She promoted reforms according to her Daoist ideas, suspending most examinations for ten years. She tried to start a new dynasty, but the Tang dynasty was restored and flourished under Xuan Zong (r. 712-56). Building of Buddhist and Daoist temples was suspended, and 30,000 monks and nuns were returned to lay life. Yet the Pure Land practice of chanting and Chan concentration on meditation developed. New laws were promulgated in 715.

The Tang had conflicts with Tibet, and the central government declined. De Zong (r. 779-805) managed to rebuild the palace army to 100,000 men commanded by eunuchs. In the 9th century China's total military increased to nearly a million men. Daoist Wu Zong (r. 840-46) confiscated the wealth of the tax-exempt monasteries, freeing their 150,000 slaves (dependents), and returning 260,000 monks and nuns to lay life. Yet the Buddhist monasteries had been providing many useful services to the poor, the sick, and the aged. Banditry and rebellion eventually brought the end of the Tang dynasty in 907 and a period of regional governments.

Northern China was ruled by a sequence of five dynasties from 907 to 960 while eight kingdoms existed simultaneously in the south. Farther north the Khitans made Abaoji their great khan in 907, and he founded the Liao empire that conquered east to the Yalu and Ussuri rivers. In 1005 the Liao made the Song emperor send them annual tribute, and in 1010 the Khitans invaded Korea. The Jurchens defeated and ended the Liao empire in 1125, while a remnant fled west as the Kara-Khitai. In the northwest Tanguts formed the Xia kingdom in the tenth century, and in 1038 Yuanhao was proclaimed emperor. A Xia alliance with the Liao forced the Song empire to pay both these northern empires extensive annual tribute, while Chinese culture strongly influenced both. The Mongols first invaded the western Xia in 1205 and conquered them in 1227. Wanyan Aguda led the Jurchens in Manchuria and founded the Jin dynasty in 1115. They conquered the capitals of the Liao empire by 1122 and four years later besieged the Song capital, taking over northern China for a century. Jurchen nobles governed the Chinese majority and adopted their examination system. The Jin dynasty made a treaty with the southern Song in 1142 and eventually adopted Chinese laws. Mongols invaded the Jin empire in 1211 and overcame it in 1234.

Another general founded the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and became Emperor Song Taizu, but he put regional governments under civilian authority. Military expenses increased and by 1041 were 80% of government spending. Buddhism became corrupted by selling certification of monks. Paper money, iron production, and increased rice yields added to prosperity. However, the status of women declined as foot-binding became a vogue, and prostitution flourished in cities. Printing began using moveable type about 1030. The poet Wang Anshi became prime minister and reformed lending, taxes, and government employment, establishing public education and social welfare; but conservatives in the north managed to reverse his reforms by 1085. The multi-talented Su Shi criticized Wang Anshi for not being liberal enough and tried to reduce the killing of female babies. The Jurchens helped the Song fight the Liao, but as the Jin they took over the northern capital in 1127. Gaozong (r. 1127-62) continued the Song dynasty in the south and paid the Jin tribute.

In the 11th and 12th centuries thinkers developed the Neo-Confucian philosophy that recommended liberal education and humane government, formulating the ethics that would guide Chinese culture for the next eight centuries. Zhou Dunyi wrote that integrity is the basis of the ethical mean. Zhang Zai identified with heaven and universal love. The brothers Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi emphasized seriousness. Cheng Hao became popular by preventing a famine. Cheng Yi, who advised extending knowledge and criticized Buddhists, was banished, and his teachings were banned during the first half of the 12th century. Zhu Xi (1130-1200) debated the idealistic Lu Xiangshan and wrote extensive commentaries on the Confucian classics, which became the basis for civil service examinations. Zhu Xi promoted the principle of love, suggesting that the mind uses moral principle to master the body. He also commented on the writings of the other Neo-Confucians. His book Family Rituals has been criticized for having a deleterious effect on the roles of women and the young in Confucian societies. His grand synthesis of Confucian philosophy has been compared to the work of Thomas Aquinas.

Poetry and calligraphy have been important components of Chinese literary culture. Correct knowledge of poetry was essential to passing the examinations, and scholarly officials often wrote and quoted poetry. The wine-loving Li Bo and his friend Du Fu were two of the most popular poets during the artistic Tang era. Bo Juyi (772-846) wrote many poems but also rose to become a governor after having been banished.

Temujin was born in 1162 and gained a following among the Mongols. By 1206 he was ruling a million Mongols and was proclaimed Genghis (Chinggis) Khan. He promulgated their laws with freedom of religion and tax exemptions for teachers, doctors, and lawyers. The Mongols were joined by the conquered Khitans and the peasants rebelling against the Jurchens. The Mongols invaded Central Asia and killed about fifteen million people in five years. Genghis Khan died in 1227 while the Xia capital was being besieged. East Asia went to his son Ogodei (r. 1229-41), and the Mongols conquered the Jin empire that included northern China by 1234. Two years later they issued paper money based on their reserves of precious metals. Ogodei's son Koden invaded Tibet in 1239 and was healed by their lamas in 1247. Subodei had led the Mongol invasion of Georgia and Russia in the early 1220s, and in 1240 his army looted Kiev before invading Poland, Germany, Hungary, and as far as Vienna. Subodei died of drinking, and the Mongols withdrew from Europe in 1242, leaving their cousins, the Golden Horde, to rule Russia. After a struggle for power, Mongke was elected Mongol leader in 1251. He assigned his younger brothers Hulegu to rule western Asia and Khubilai to govern northern China. Mongke paid off debts and slowed the issuing of paper money. Using explosives, Hulegu led the conquest of Baghdad in 1258. He was stopped by an Egyptian army, but his descendants continued to rule the Persian empire as the Ilkhans.

Khubilai Khan won a civil war against his brother Arik Boke and ruled eastern Mongolia, northern China, Tibet, Manchuria, and Korea. He promoted recovery and agriculture, and his army conquered Sichuan in 1265. Khubilai proclaimed the Yuan dynasty and with Korean help launched a campaign against Japan in 1274, but a storm destroyed their fleet and 13,000 invaders. The Mongol forces conquered southern China by 1279. Two years later a rebellion was crushed, and a second attempted invasion of Japan was even a worse disaster with a hundred thousand drowned in the storm. Khubilai Khan ruled over a class system that favored Mongols and foreigners over the Chinese. Efforts to conquer southeast Asia failed. Finance ministers such as Ahmad, Lu Shirong, and Sangha collected heavy taxes, and pirates were given lucrative contracts for transporting grain. Millions of laborers worked on the Grand Canal from Hangzhou to Daidu (Beijing). Khubilai tried to reduce taxes, implement reforms, provide public schools, and improve roads with way stations and by planting trees. Italian traveler Marco Polo served Khubilai Khan from 1275 to 1291 and wrote about his court and his admiration for Christian ethics.

Khubilai's grandson Temur (r. 1294-1307) tried to reduce corruption by convicting 18,473 officials, but his seven successors had to deal with rebellions against the Mongol domination. Emperor Renzong implemented civil service examinations in 1313, but half the positions went to Mongols and other foreigners. Toghon Temur (r. 1333-68) was the last Mongol ruler of China. Rebellions by the White Lotus Society that expected the Maitreya Buddha began in 1335. Confucians gained more influence at court for a while, but factions at court and regional warlords divided the Yuan empire. Zhu Yuanzhang was a Buddhist monk who joined the rebels. He gained custody of a prince and invaded Nanjing in 1355. Salt smuggler Zhang Shicheng robbed the rich and led ten thousand rebels. In 1357 the Red Turbans captured Kaifeng, but they were defeated two years later. By 1363 Zhu Yuanzhang had set up several monopolies, collected taxes, and minted millions of coins. He defeated the Red Turbans and then overcame Yuan forces in 1367. The next year Zhu proclaimed the Ming dynasty and renamed Daidu the "northern capital" Beijing. Heavy taxes and discrimination against the Chinese had provoked numerous rebellions in the south after 1350 against the large estates that had been taken over by the Mongols.

Theater developed rapidly during the Yuan era in China, as the Chinese at the bottom of the social hierarchy next to actors and prostitutes expressed their discontent with Mongol domination. Guan Hanqing wrote many plays with the theme of correcting social injustices. Ma Zhiyuan wrote Daoist plays that offer an escape from the woes of this world in immortal life. The Romance of the Western Chamber was written about 1300 and is one of China's most famous plays. Actually a series of five plays, this drama is very romantic and affirms the value of a scholar passing the exams to gain success. The Chalk Circle by Li Xingdao is another courtroom drama in which the wise judge, Bao Zheng, cleverly discovers the truth to save the innocent and punish the guilty. Gao Ming's The Lute is a transitional play between the Yuan and Ming eras in which a loyal wife suffers dire poverty in the country while her young husband is rewarded for excelling on the examination at the capital.

Ming Dynasty

Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Ming dynasty and ruled as Emperor Hongwu from 1368 to 1398. The Ming armies continued to fight the Mongols until Koko Temur died in 1375. Hongwu resumed the examinations. He required Buddhists to pass an exam to be ordained, and he banned secret Buddhist societies. The Ming army invaded Tibet twice in the late 1370s, capturing 30,000 people and more than 300,000 animals. In 1380 the Emperor executed his prime minister and 15,000 people. His government was organized into the six ministries of Personnel, Revenue, Rites, War, Justice, and Works. He organized a secret police force and censors in all twelve provinces. In 1388 a Ming army of 150,000 crossed the Gobi Desert and captured 77,000 Mongols. Hongwu required skilled students to serve in the government or face death. The Ming code of laws was completed in 1397. Punishment for minor crimes was usually by beating with a stick. In the 1390s the Chinese planted about one billion trees, and in 1395 more than forty thousand reservoirs were repaired or built. That year all Buddhist and Daoist monks had to pass an examination or return to lay life. Upon his death 38 of Hongwu's concubines took their lives.

Zhu Jianwen succeeded his grandfather Hongwu and applied Confucian principles to make the government more liberal. However, Prince Zhu Di of Yan rebelled in the north and eventually won the civil war in 1402 to become Emperor Yongle. He established a military aristocracy and engaged in expensive campaigns against Mongols in the north. Large numbers of horses were purchased and bred. The Ming army also invaded Annam (Vietnam) and made it a province despite continued resistance. The Emperor sponsored the compiling of the massive Yongle Encyclopedia in 11,095 volumes, while his empress Xu wrote on Buddhism. Between 1405 and 1422 the Muslim eunuch Zheng He led six voyages of exploration that reached India, Africa, and possibly even America. Yongle moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. Although Emperor Hongxi only ruled for eight months, he made significant reforms by restoring civilian government. Emperor Xuande (r. 1426-35) put down a rebellion and withdrew the Ming troops from Annam in 1427. He continued his father's initiative to bring the military under civilian control, and Gu Zuo replaced many of the censors. Young Yingzong (r. 1435-49) was dominated by the dowager Lady Zhang and Wang Chen during the rebellions that followed famines, epidemics, and floods. Mongols captured Yingzong in 1449, and his brother became Emperor Jingtai during the rebellions that continued until he died in 1457. Then Yingzong was restored and ruled until his death in 1464.

Emperor Xianzong (r. 1464-87) was dominated by his consort Lady Wan. Officials complained that ten thousand eunuchs served in the bureaucracy. Thousands of Miao were killed in uprisings. In 1484 some 70,000 Buddhist ordination certificates were sold. Xiaozong (r. 1487-1505) applied Confucian policies and developed the law code. Rebellions in the early 1500s were suppressed by the imperial army. Young Emperor Zhengde (r. 1505-21) was influenced by the corrupt Liu Qin and other eunuchs, but the drunk Emperor ordered Liu Qin executed in 1510. The palace was burned down during an extravagant lantern festival and cost a million ounces of silver to rebuild. The Prince of Ning rebelled, but the philosopher Wang Yangming led the army that defeated him in 1519. Zhengde took hundreds of women into his harem.

Emperor Jiajing (r. 1521-66) had protesting officials beaten, and seventeen died. In 1527 treason trials purged the Hanlin Academy clique. In 1534 Jiajing went into seclusion and took Daoist aphrodisiacs and elixirs. Mongols led by Altan invaded Shanxi, killing or capturing 200,000 men and a million cattle and horses. When they besieged Beijing in 1550, Jiajing held an audience and had his minister of war executed. After making an agreement, the Chinese began building a wall around Beijing. The Emperor had a thousand pre-menstrual girls brought into his palace to increase his male energy. A large surtax, drought, and floods caused starvation and epidemics. Banning trade caused piracy, which was reduced by 1563.

Zhang Juzheng helped young Emperor Wanli (r. 1572-1620) by reducing unnecessary government. Zhang died in 1582 before a land survey was completed. The Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci learned Chinese and wrote books on scientific knowledge and Christianity. After the Japanese invaded Korea in 1592, the Chinese fought them there until 1598, costing the Ming treasury ten million taels of silver. Wanli had 16,000 eunuchs in the civil service and sent them out to collect taxes in 1596. He ignored criticism and vacant positions. The Donglin Academy was founded in 1604 to work for major reforms. Buddhists Yuan Liaofan and Zhuhong developed a system for measuring merits and demerits of actions with numbers. Zhuhong aimed to harmonize the Pure Land and Chan schools, and he encouraged lay Buddhists. As Chinese population increased to 230 million, those working in cotton, silk, paper, and iron industries in the north had to be supplied with grain from the south, where peasants had heavy taxes.

Nurhaci organized the Jurchens in Manchuria, and his army helped fight the Japanese in Korea. He stopped sending tribute to Beijing in 1615 and expressed his grievances. Nurhaci defeated the Ming army and by 1621 ruled over a million Chinese. Ming emperor Tianqi (1620-27) relied on the eunuch Wei Zhongxian, who punished those in the Donglin movement. Emperor Chongzhen (r. 1627-44) dismissed Wei and resumed trade, but eunuchs inspecting the provinces and famines caused rebellions. Nurhaci died in 1626 and was succeeded by his son Abahai, who held exams in the Chinese, Manchu, and Mongol languages. He proclaimed the Qing dynasty of the Manchus, and in 1638 their army returned with 400,000 captives. Li Zicheng led rebels who besieged Kaifeng and made Xiangyang their capital. Abahai died in 1643, and Dorgon ruled for his young son. When Li Zicheng occupied Beijing the next year, the last Ming emperor committed suicide. Chinese general Wu Sangui joined the Manchus and helped them defeat Li's rebels. The Manchus entered Beijing and announced an amnesty.

Many Confucians served in the Ming government; Wang Yangming (1472-1529) was the most famous and influential. While in the public works department, Wang submitted a memorial on improving defense by expanding emergency personnel, reducing the army, using the military in farming, enforcing the law, and showing imperial mercy. He investigated and reversed convictions in Yunnan, and in 1506 he defended officials imprisoned by the eunuch Liu Qin. While in exile he wrote on the unity of knowledge and action. He was a judge in Nanjing and was promoted back to Beijing. By 1516 he was a senior censor and a governor. He established primary schools in Jiangxi. After capturing Prince Ning, he governed Jiangxi and implemented reforms. Many followed his philosophy of extending innate knowledge. After his death he was condemned until the next emperor restored his honors. He explained his idealistic philosophy in Instructions for Practical Living. Wang advised eliminating selfish desires and identifying the mind with heaven (nature). He believed that the poison of profit has infected human minds, and he urged self-examination. Wang summarized his teachings in his "Inquiry on the Great Learning." The eccentric Li Zhi developed his own philosophy of personal autonomy and wrote controversial books.

Gao Qi lived during the transition to the Ming dynasty and criticized the Yuan government in stories. He was executed for revealing palace secrets in 1374. The astrologer Liu Ji also criticized the Yuan rulers and others in his satirical parables. Qu Yu wrote stories that reveal the spiritual justice of various actions.

The Ming Era produced several outstanding novels. The Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong is filled with exciting stories of the civil wars during and after the decline of the Han dynasty. Their intrigues teach wisdom, while the stories in the Outlaws of the Marsh inspire courage. This band of noble robbers lived at the same time as Robin Hood. The novel was believed to promote rebellion and was sometimes banned. However, the longer versions of the novel end with the heroes dying or joining the imperial service. Wu Chengen wrote the imaginative novel The Journey to the West about the pilgrimage of Xuanzang to India in the 6th century to bring back Buddhist scriptures. The character Monkey symbolizes the mind seeking enlightenment. Monkey uses his supernatural abilities in various adventures and eventually is taught by the Buddha. Guanyin instructs Monkey and two monsters to help the pilgrim on his journey. The pilgrim learns how to restrain the Mind Monkey, and they all submit to the Buddha. The fourth long and great novel of the Ming era is the erotic Plum in the Golden Vase (Jin Ping Mei). The author intended to portray life realistically and expose the dangers of promiscuity in a decadent family during the decline of the Song dynasty in the early 12th century. Li Yu also wrote an erotic novel, Jou Pu Tuan, in 1635 to entertain young men and warn them of the consequences from sensuality and moral corruption.

Zhu Yudun wrote sympathetic Theater plays about prostitutes and Daoists. Xu Wei had a difficult life in poverty, but he managed to paint and write plays. The Lady General portrays the heroic Hua Mulan, and The Lady Scholar also implies that women are not inferior to men. Tang Xianzu developed the genre of romantic plays that emphasized diction. In the Purple Hairpin he gave a tragic story a happy ending, but he is most famous for the romantic play, The Peony Pavilion, in which a beautiful woman makes love to a scholar in a dream, paints her portrait, dies for love, and comes back to life to elope with him. Tang Xianzu's The Nanke Story is a dream play that moves from romance to Daoist mysticism. In The Handan Story by Tang a farming inspector dreams he has a melodramatic life and then decides to wander as an immortal. The Kunshan play Fifteen Strings of Cash by Shi Wu Guan is an example of a detective mystery that satirizes a foolish trial.

Qing Dynasty to 1800

After taking Beijing in 1644, the Manchus began winning over the Chinese with amnesty and tax reductions, but a Ming court moved to Nanjing. The Prince of Fu tried to flee from there but was captured in 1645. The rebel Zhang Xianzhong ruled Sichuan tyrannically and was defeated and killed in 1647. The Ming emperor Yongli fled to the southwest, reaching Yunnan in 1651, and in 1659 he went to Burma, where he was finally killed in 1662. Merchant Zheng Chenggong led Ming resistance, but he retreated to Taiwan, also dying in 1662. Qing emperor Shunzhi revived the Hanlin Academy and the grand secretariat in 1658 before he died in 1661.

Four Manchu regents governed until Emperor Kangxi became old enough in 1667. In 1670 he promulgated sixteen moral maxims in a sacred edict that he ordered read aloud twice a month. They emphasized filial piety and other Confucian values. Kangxi's policy was to treat Manchus and Chinese equally, though the governor-generals were usually Manchus. Wu Sangui and two other feudal leaders revolted in 1674. The next year Mongols rebelled and had to be put down in Manchuria. The rebellion in the south was quelled by 1681, and hundreds were beheaded. Taiwan was captured two years later. The devastating war between the Ming and the Manchus caused an economic depression in the second half of the 17th century. Kangxi visited the southern provinces six times to inspect water systems and schools. In 1711 he decreed that poll taxes not be raised above the current level. Two years later corvée labor requirements were changed to a tax. Kangxi sponsored the writing of a history and an encyclopedia, publishing of a dictionary and the Complete Tang Poems as well as translation of Chinese classics into Manchu.

For many years Kangxi suspected plots involving his son Yinreng, who was finally arrested in 1708 for having procured boys. Jesuits in the Qing court gave advice on how to make guns and cannons. They also had helpful scientific knowledge, and Kangxi decreed that Christians could preach in China. After the Emperor quarreled with a papal legate over Chinese rites, Catholics who refused to sign his agreement were deported. In the far north the Russians had been moving east for a century, and in 1689 envoys agreed on a treaty at Nerchinsk. After the Dzungars invaded Xinjiang and Mongolia, Kangxi led an expedition that defeated and killed Galdan in 1697. Olods and Dzungars invaded Tibet, but the Qing army took over Lhasa in 1720.

Kangxi's son Yongzheng (r. 1723-35) eliminated two of his brothers but relied on Yinxiang. The Emperor pardoned Zeng Jing and Lu Liuliang for criticizing the Manchu rule of the Chinese. Yongzheng was influenced by Confucian philosophy and Chan Buddhism. He increased official salaries in order to encourage honesty and managed to build up the imperial treasury to sixty million taels of silver. He implemented land reclamation with incentives and limited the tax exemptions of scholars. The Emperor made opium illegal except for medical purposes. He withdrew troops from Tibet and let native chiefs govern there, but in China native chiefs were replaced by Qing administrators.

During the long reign of Qianlong (r. 1736-99) the territory and population of the Qing empire nearly doubled. Farms became smaller as land was divided between sons. Prices of rice and cotton greatly increased. Qianlong allowed migration to relieve poverty. He tried to protect Miao children from racketeers and gave them schools. The gentry who passed exams had special privileges, and the wealthy could avoid punishments by paying fines. Households were organized into baojia communities and were responsible for each other. Qing troops occupied the western territory of Xinjiang, slaughtering Dzungars in 1759. Pacifying Tibetans in western Sichuan cost twice as much in the 1770s. Customs duties on growing commerce helped double the Qing treasury in thirty years. Compiling the enormous Complete Works of the Four Treasuries caused an inquisition as scholars searched houses for books. Many books were destroyed for having anti-Manchu references or information affecting national defense. Imperial policy persecuted Christians in 1746 and again in 1784. Qianlong avoided getting troops involved in Vietnam in the late 1780s, but in 1792 Qing forces pushed the Gurkhas back to Nepal.

The Chinese economy grew in the 18th century with improved agriculture and few wars. Hong Liangji and Yang Xifu warned about the increasing population. The Emperor refused to make a trade agreement with the English, who started increasing their sale of opium for tea to slow their growing trade deficit. As Qianlong moved toward retirement, he let Heshan, who became grand secretary in 1786, exert more control and acquire an immense personal fortune that reached 800 million taels. After Qianlong's death in 1799, Heshan was accused of embezzling the money for fighting the White Lotus rebellion; he committed suicide.

Huang Zongxi wrote A Plan for the Prince to recommend liberal principles. Gu Yenwu opened up historical criticism by studying philology in what was called "Han Learning." Gu traveled to do research and emphasized evidence, utility, and originality. Confucians such as Yen Yuan, Li Gong, and Dai Zhen turned away from Neo-Confucian idealism and toward practicality. Zhang Xuecheng and Bi Yuan emphasized regional histories. Governor Chen Hongmou and poet Yuan Mei advocated for the rights of women, but China remained a patriarchal society in which the young were expected to defer to seniors.

Hong Sheng completed his romantic play The Palace of Eternal Youth in 1688, but it was banned the next year for its revolutionary implications. Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712-56) falls in love with a concubine. During the An Lushan rebellion she sacrifices her life for him, and he dies to be with her. Kong Shangren's 1699 play The Peach Blossom Fan portrays a romance during the fall of the Ming dynasty. Corrupt Ming politicians are satirized and suffer the consequences of their actions, while the heroic lovers end up in a Daoist retreat.

Wu Jingzi (1701-54) wrote the autobiographical novel The Scholars about a scholar who squanders his fortune by helping others. The social status gained by passing the examinations is apparent, but several characters criticize the exam system and the limits of official positions. This comedy of manners extends over several generations, and Dr. Yu emerges as one who attains a high position but also secretly helps others, demonstrating the theme of giving charity wisely. His involvement in the world is contrasted to the historical Wang Mian at the beginning of the novel, who lives as a hermit.

The Dream of the Red Chamber is the most famous Chinese novel. Cao Xueqin (c. 1715-63) was from a family that experienced difficult times. His long novel begins in myth as a Buddhist and a Daoist go from heaven to Earth to witness the story of a magical stone. Jia Baoyu (Precious Jade) is born with it and loves spending his time at home with various women. He especially likes the intellectual Black Jade. In their domestic life the matriarchs are more influential than his father, who nearly kills him once by punishing him for suspected homosexuality. Various intrigues occur, and Baoyu is kept from marrying Black Jade. Baoyu marries but ends up going off with the Buddhist and Daoist. This novel portrays realistically the complex experiences of women in the domestic environment.

Qing Decline 1800-1912
China's Long Revolution 1912-49

Korea to 1800

The early Korean kingdoms of Koguryo, Paekche, and Silla were influenced by Chinese culture and received Buddhism in the 4th century. In the east Silla king Pophung (r. 514-40) formalized an aristocratic social hierarchy based on the hereditary "bone-rank" system. After fighting off a massive Chinese invasion in 612, Koguryo in the north built a wall from 631 to 647. Silla formed an alliance with Tang China in 655, and in 668 they ended the kingdoms of Koguryo and Paekche. Then Silla drove the Chinese out of the peninsula in 677. In the north the Parhae kingdom was founded in 698 and lasted until it was conquered by Khitans in 926. The Buddhist monk Wonhyo (617-86) wrote extensively and tried to unify Korean Buddhism. Silla suffered succession struggles but instituted civil service examinations in 788. The Nine Mountain Sects of Son (Zen) Buddhism developed during the 9th century. Rebellions began against the Silla in the late 9th century, and new kingdoms formed.

In 918 Wang Kon founded the Koryo dynasty, and by 936 he had unified Korea. He promoted Buddhism, and Koryo used Chinese administrative methods. Land was granted according to government rank. A large Khitan army invaded Koryo in 993. The Koreans fought them and their Liao empire invasion again in 1009 and then built walls around the capital and in the north. In the 11th century the Buddhist Tripitaka was carved on blocks and printed. Koryo defended itself from a Jurchen invasion that began in 1104, but King Injong submitted to the sovereignty of the powerful Jin empire in 1127. Military officers rebelled against King Uijong in 1170, and a period of revolts did not end until 1202 as Ch'oe Ch'ung-hon took control. He and his son Ch'oe U governed Korea as military dictators until 1249. Chinul (1158-1210) revived Son Buddhism by teaching meditation and study. Mongol invasions of Koryo began in 1231, and after six invasions the Koreans submitted to the Yuan empire in 1270. Mongol princesses married Koryo royalty, and Koryo princes were brought up in Beijing. The Koreans built ships for two Mongol invasions of Japan that failed. A national university system was reorganized under King Chungnyol (r. 1275-1308). After 1350 Koryo had to contend with Japanese raids and an invasion of Red Turbans who were rebelling against the Yuan regime in China. King Kongmin (r. 1351-74) recognized the Ming dynasty in 1368, and General Yi Song-gye fought a pro-Mongol rebellion and Japanese piracy. Yi refused to attack Ming China and deposed King U and his son in 1389.

Yi Song-gye founded the Choson (Yi) dynasty in 1392 and implemented land reform. He promoted Confucian advisors and drastically cut back the privileges Buddhists had gained during the Koryo dynasty. Yi's fifth son Pang-won gained the throne as T'aejong (r. 1400-18) and centralized his authority over the military and the six departments. The lands of the yangban class became hereditary, and Neo-Confucian philosophy became the orthodox doctrine. King Sejong (r. 1418-50) founded the Chiphyonjon for research to promote learning and economic progress. They designed the phonetic Han'gul alphabet and printed many books. The arbitrary rule of King Sejo (r. 1456-68) provoked rebellions that were crushed. Songjong (r. 1469-94) tried to restore humane government, but his policies favored the growing yangban class at the expense of women, Buddhists, and others. Yonsan'gun (r. 1495-1506) ruled very badly, executing dissenting officials until he was deposed. The Neo-Confucian Cho Kwang-jo helped King Chungjong (r. 1506-44) bring reforms, but in 1519 an ultimatum Cho and radicals made was answered by their execution. Neo-Confucian philosophers Yi Hwang and Yi I promoted liberal reforms in their writings.

During the reign of Sonjo (r. 1567-1608), more provincial colleges provided teaching positions for yangban scholars. Hyujong (1520-1604) worked on blending Buddhism with Daoist and Confucian philosophy. The era of factions began in 1575 with a split in the capital between Westerners and Easterners, who in 1589 divided into Northerners and Southerners. In 1592 a Japanese army of 160,000 invaded Korea, occupying Seoul and P'yongyang; but Korea's armored navy devastated Japanese ships, and a Chinese army drove the Japanese forces south. Hideyoshi sent his Japanese army again in 1597; but after he died the next year, they withdrew. Korea spent several decades recovering from the war devastation. Ho Kyun wrote a novel about a bandit leader to criticize the rigid class system that discriminated against the sons of concubines. Yi Su-gwang met the Jesuit Matteo Ricci in Beijing and brought back western ideas. The Manchus invaded twice, and Korea submitted to its new Qing dynasty in 1637. Alternating factions continued to dominate the Korean government.

Yu Hyong-won (1622-73) began the Practical Learning (Sirhak) movement in Korea by proposing social reforms. King Sukchong (r. 1674-1720) turned from the Old Doctrine (Noron) faction to the Young Doctrine (Soron) in 1689. Kim Man-jung wrote novels about the displaced Queen Inhyon and Nine Cloud Dream with the Buddhist theme of reincarnation. The anonymous novel Life of Unyong deplores the plight of women in the palace who cannot marry. Copper coins became popular, though land tax was usually paid in rice. The military tax was two bolts of cotton cloth and was hard on the poor. King Yongjo (r. 1724-76) worked hard to reduce factionalism by appointing the best officials from all four colors. Famine provoked rebellion in 1728, and Yongjo reduced taxes. In 1750 he cut the military tax in half. He appointed his son Sado regent but was so disappointed by the Prince's erratic behavior that he had him locked in a rice box in 1762. Sirhak scholars such as Yi Ik proposed various social reforms and practical improvements in their extensive writings. In 1772 Yongjo allowed sons of concubines to gain high offices. Pak Chi-won (1737-1805) exemplified the Northern Learning in his satirical Jehol Diary. King Chongjo (r. 1776-1800) favored research and practical improvements. Irrigation and double-cropping increased food production, and commerce developed. The son of an envoy came back from Beijing a Catholic in 1784, and the religion quickly spread in Seoul.

Korea 1800-1949

Japan to 1800

The ancient culture of Japan practiced human sacrifice, but Korean and Chinese influence added subtlety to the native Shinto religion that worshipped the emperor. Prince Shotoku (574-622) particularly applied more enlightened Buddhist and Confucian ethics to government. Fujiwara clan founder Nakatomi Kamatari implemented reforms in 646 by eliminating private ownership of land, which was distributed to cultivators equally; weapons were put in government storehouses. By 692 Japan had 545 Buddhist monasteries and shrines. Laws favored the emperor and hereditary aristocrats, and the Tang-like reforms were promulgated in the Taihe code of 702. Females and slaves got only two-thirds as much land, but males had to provide labor or military service. Minister Oshikatsu retained popular support by reducing taxes and the farmers' government labor from sixty to thirty days. After Empress Koken (r. 749-58) regained the throne in 764, she let her lover, the Buddhist priest Dokyo, govern until her death in 770. After that, the council refused to put a woman on the throne.

The Heian era (794-1192) gave Japan nearly four centuries of relative peace until it deteriorated in civil war. Saicho (Dengyo Daishi) founded Tendai Buddhism from the similar Chinese Tiantai, and Kukai (Kobo Daishi) founded the Shingon sect of esoteric Buddhism in 816. For three centuries Japan was dominated by the emperor and the Fujiwara clan. Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book was written as a diary; but the great classic of this era is the long Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki Shikibu, who described the psychological subtleties of Japanese aristocrats in a multi-generational story of the 10th century. Tendai Buddhism split in 933, and in the 12th century the powerful monasteries had their own armies. Yoritomi eventually won a civil war between clans and became shogun in 1192 to begin the militaristic feudal era. Yoritomi's son was forced to abdicate and was assassinated and replaced by the Hojo family of the Taira clan that held the chief political position until 1333; often a child was made shogun so that the Hojo regent held the power, though Yasutoki established a state council for advice in 1226. Feudal law was established in 1232 and tried to be impartial, allowing women to own land.

Following the Buddhist schools of China, Honen (1133-1212) founded the Jodo (Pure Land) sect and Eisai (1141-1215) the Rinzai Zen based on Chan. Nichiren (1222-82), like the Pure Land of Honen and Shinran (1173-1262), emphasized chanting the nembutsu to Amida Buddha. Nichiren gained credibility when he correctly prophesied the Mongol invasions. The Japanese believed that divine winds (kamikaze) produced the storms that helped them defeat the Mongolian, Chinese, and Korean armies that invaded Kyushu in 1274 and again in 1281.

The Bakufu rule of the Hojo family ended in 1333 when Emperor Go-Daigo changed sides and proclaimed a new era. However, his favoritism provoked Takauji to take military control as shogun, and he issued a moral exhortation called the Kemmu Shikimoku. For six decades a civil war raged between warlords. Takauji was succeeded by his son Yoshiakira in 1358, and the office of shogun remained in the Ashikaga family for the next two centuries. In 1392 the southern and northern emperors agreed to alternate ruling. The civil war had made the military class dominant. In the late 14th century the No theater came alive as Kannami wrote musical plays with spiritual themes that included female characters played by male actors. His son Zeami wrote the most outstanding plays and for a while was patronized by Shogun Yoshimitsu. In the 15th century Japan developed trade with China and Korea. Ending sole inheritance and developing manufacturing and guilds improved the economy despite oppressive warlords and rebellions.

The Onin War between the Hosokawa and Yamana clans broke out in 1467 and lasted ten years, and the frequent battles between warlords went on for a century. About twenty local warlords proclaimed and enforced house laws while collecting taxes. People rioted to get their debts canceled. Shogun Yoshimasa also sponsored the arts until he died in 1490. After that, the shoguns became puppets of the Hosokawa family until 1558. Farmers, who had to pay half their crops for war taxes, formed self-governing organizations and leagues with other clans to settle their own disputes. In the mid-16th century peasants who returned to their land were forgiven their back taxes. Agriculture improved with draft animals, better irrigation, and new crops such as soy beans. Commerce increased, and Chinese coins were used. Samurai warriors formed powerful associations. Japanese piracy increased, but the Chinese suppressed most of it by 1560 and ended its trade embargo. The Portuguese brought fire-arms to Japan in 1543, and Francis Xavier introduced the Catholic religion in 1549. A few Jesuits made many converts, but in 1565 the Emperor expelled the Christians. In 1571 the Portuguese established a base for Europeans at Nagasaki.

Oda Nobunaga developed strong military forces and was assisted by Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1568 Nobunaga entered Kyoto and named the new shogun. He encouraged free markets and abolished toll gates. He let Ieyasu govern eastern Japan. Nobunaga defeated the militarized Enryakuji monastery in 1571, and two years later he overcame rival armies. In 1574 his forces killed about 20,000 people while crushing the Ikko league of monks. The next year Nobunaga's men used muskets in helping Ieyasu defeat a larger force of Takeda warriors. In 1581 their massive army overcame the 20,000 in the Takeda army. The next year Nobunaga was killed fighting in the west.

Hideyoshi won over the army and soon took over thirty provinces. He ordered a land survey in 1583 and was able to tax most of Japan's farmers. Hideyoshi had an army of 200,000 and exchanged eight eastern provinces with Ieyasu. In 1588 Hideyoshi's officers began confiscating all weapons not held by his army. Hideyoshi tried to expel the Jesuits, but the number of their converts grew to 300,000. In 1592 he sent a force of 158,800 men to invade Korea. After taking the major cities, they were pushed back by a Chinese army. A second invasion by 100,000 men in 1597 withdrew the next year after Hideyoshi died. Wealthy Ieyasu won the struggle for power and was appointed shogun in 1603. Dutch ships began trading with Japan in 1609. Two years later the Tokugawa government prohibited Christianity. Ieyasu ended a civil war in 1614 when his forces defeated the army of Hideyoshi's son Hideyori. Ieyasu proclaimed a moral code before he died in 1616. His Tokugawa family would rule Japan for the next 250 years. Fujiwara Seika was influenced by a Korean war captive and promoted Neo-Confucian philosophy.

While Ieyasu's son Hidetada governed Japan, hundreds of Christians were executed. Shogun Iemitsu (r. 1632-51) required daimyos to live in Edo half the time and began the exclusion of all foreign contacts except at Nagasaki. After the shogunate defeated the Shimabara revolt in 1638, Japan did not have another major war for more than two centuries. Daimyos and their samurai retainers enforced the laws that even limited peasants from traveling. Unemployed samurai (ronin) were brought under control and gradually found other work. By the time Tsunayoshi (r. 1680-1709) became shogun, the government had a growing deficit. He confiscated daimyos' estates and imposed sumptuary laws. The government got temporary relief by debasing the currency in 1695. Tsunayoshi punished many for harming animals. Arai Hakuseki persuaded Shogun Ienobu (r. 1709-13) to implement reforms and stop debasing the currency. During the 17th century additional cultivated land and improved methods increased agricultural production, but it would be difficult for the population to grow after reaching about 25 million. Wisely the Japanese valued the sacredness of trees and managed to preserve most of their forests by using thin screens in their houses.

Hayashi Razan (1583-1657) advised Ieyasu and promoted education based on the Neo-Confucianism of Zhu Xi. Nakae Toju studied Wang Yangming and taught his idealist philosophy. Toju's student Banzan tried to introduce land reforms but had to resign. The Fuju Fuse faction of the Nichiren sect was persecuted. Takuan Soho applied Zen's mental discipline to the martial arts and tea ceremony. Suzuki Shosan did not follow a Zen master and suggested that work can be a religious experience. Shido Bunan, Bankei Eitaku, and Hakuin Ekaku helped the Rinzai sect of Zen become more popular, but Yamazaki Ansai turned from Zen to Confucianism and Shinto, initiating the national learning (kokugaku) movement. Yamaga Soko applied Confucian philosophy to develop the way of the warrior (samurai). Ito Jinsai studied and taught ancient Confucianism. Kaibara Ekken and his wife Token wrote a book on education for women. Arai Hakuseki (1657-1725) drew lessons from history, wrote an autobiography, and was tutor for Shogun Ienobu. Pure Land (Jodo) Buddhism was most popular with more than six thousand temples, and Shinto shrines represented the national religion. A young samurai wrote down the ideas of the hermit and Hagakure master Yamamoto Tsunetomo on the way of the warrior by 1716.

After composing haikai poetry, Ihara Saikaku wrote Life of an Amorous Man in 1682. His Five Women Who Loved Love (1686) is about women in the merchant class who gave their lives for love. In Saikaku's Life of an Amorous Woman a courtesan tells her life story of pleasure, adventures, and troubles. Saikaku published stories about samurai pederasty and vendettas. He wrote books about how some people became millionaires and others lost their fortunes or cheated and came to a bad end. Another of his books is about the problems of debtors in the growing commercial society. His realistic writing about real incidents revealed the changing morals in Japanese society during the decline of the samurai class and the rise of the merchants. Women were second-class citizens, and many are forced by poverty or enticed by greed into the sad profession of prostitution.

In the 17th century kabuki theater began with prostitutes and became more acceptable as women were barred from performing. The Joruri puppet theater also developed using reciters of scripts with literary quality about current events and history. Chikamatsu wrote an entertaining revenge play in 1683. After concentrating on kabuki theater for fifteen years, between 1703 and 1724 Chikamatsu wrote many excellent puppet plays about lovers' suicides and other current tragedies. His history plays include The Battles of Coxinga, Twins at the Sumida River, Lovers Pond in Settsu Province, Battles at Kawa-nakajima, and Tethered Steed and the Eight Provinces of Kanto. Chikamatsu is famous for dramatizing the conflicts between feelings (ninjo) and duty (giri), and he has been called the Japanese Shakespeare. Between 1746 and 1748 Takeda, Namiki, and Miyoshi worked together to produce three famous history plays that also depicted the conflicting loyalties of the samurai code. Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy is about Sugawara no Michizane and the three triplets he helped during the Fujiwara rule around 900. Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees dramatizes the final defeat of the Heike clan by the Minamoto brothers in the 1180s. Chushingura or The Treasury of Loyal Retainers is meant to commemorate the famous revenge and collective suicide by the 47 samurai who lost their master in 1702, though it is set in 1338.

Tokugawa Yoshimune (r. 1716-45) implemented financial and legal reforms, but fluctuating rice prices reflected problems in the second half of his shogunate. Land taxes increased government reserves, and Shogun Ieshige confiscated many estates. Under Shogun Ieharu (r. 1760-86) Tanuma rose to power with bribes and created monopolies. Floods and famines took many lives. Ienari was shogun for a half century until 1837. During the first six years Matsudaira Sadanobu revived Yoshimune's reforms. His strict censorship began in 1790, but foreign books were allowed after 1811.

Japan's Modernization 1800-1930
Japan's Imperial Wars 1931-1949

Evaluating China, Korea, and Japan to 1800

In China the word for civilization means literate rather than a city-dweller, and so the Chinese have a long and rich cultural tradition of learning and education. Their ancient concept of heaven and the divine was more natural than anthropomorphic, and yet the will of heaven is what they believed authorized a government to rule. Like the Greeks, the Chinese had an excellent tradition of philosophy during centuries of frequent wars. Clever men often used their oratory to persuade rulers to form alliances that often resulted in devastating battles. Yet the humane teaching of Confucius and his followers, the peaceful wisdom of Lao-zi, and the universal love of Mo-zi offered alternatives to this strife. Others believed that people could be manipulated by fear of severe punishments and strict enforcement of laws under a supreme authority. As the Period of Warring States culminated in Qin's conquest of the other states, this Legalistic philosophy was applied in the first Chinese empire since legendary times in 221 BC. Yet the Qin empire could only last a mere 15 years before it was completely overthrown by a popular revolution. About the same time that Rome overcame Carthage's Hannibal and the Macedonian-dominated Greeks, the Han dynasty established its empire and began applying Confucian and Daoist principles to government. Like the Roman empire, they would still have their problems, but the stability would support prosperity and population growth.

After the turmoil of Wang Mang's revolution, the Eastern Han dynasty stabilized China and increased Confucian education for two more centuries until government corruption under eunuchs at court led to revolts and the division of China into three kingdoms in 220 CE. By the 4th century Buddhism was spreading rapidly in China, and Wu Di of Liang patronized it in the 6th century. The Northern Qi used Confucianism to reunify northern China in 577; but when Sui Wen Di (r. 581-604) reunited all of China, he promoted reforms and Buddhism. Yet his son Yang Di in 606 instituted the examination system based on Confucian classics. Though rulers changed and vied for power, the Chinese tended to tolerate the co-existence of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. The mistake of invading Korea with a million men caused the Sui dynasty to be short-lived. The Tang dynasty (618-907) was probably the most sophisticated culture in the world at that time, though they dominated Korea, subjugated the Eastern Turks, and had conflicts with Tibet.

The Tang dynasty dissolved into regional kingdoms for about sixty years, as the Liao and the Xia formed smaller empires in the north while being strongly influenced by Chinese culture. The Song dynasty (960-1279) reunited China and governed with civilian control over the military, but tribute was paid to the Liao and the Xia. Increased prosperity allowed the empire to sustain military expenses. Advances in printing stimulated an intellectual renaissance before that occurred in Europe. They experimented with the social reforms of Wang Anshi while Neo-Confucians developed ethical philosophy. The patriarchal nature of Chinese society exploited women as prostitutes and limited their mobility with the painful vogue of foot-binding. Also population was often controlled by drowning female infants, causing an imbalance between the male (yang) and female (yin) principles. The Jurchens took over the Liao empire and conquered northern China in 1127. The Jurchens ruled these Chinese as an aristocratic class for a century until they too were overcome by the Mongols' invasion in the following century.

The Song dynasty continued in southern China as Zhu Xi completed the Neo-Confucian synthesis that became the basis for China's civil service examinations until 1911. The Mongols conquered Xia in 1227 and the expanded Jin empire of the Jurchens in 1234. The Mongols were the most aggressive conquerors of eastern Asia and slaughtered millions of people as they expanded their territory to an immense empire for a brief time; their descendants continued to dominate central Asia. Under Khubilai Khan the Mongols took control of southern China by 1279. The Mongols' conquests were stopped in the east by the storms that protected Japan and the tropical weather that discouraged them in southeast Asia. Chinese culture also civilized them during the century of their Yuan dynasty. Theater, which had been discriminated against socially, was utilized to express the feelings of the dominated Chinese. Educated Confucians were useful in administration, and the civil service examinations based on Zhu Xi's scholarship were established in 1313. Buddhists led rebellions in expectation of a better society, and in a war of liberation the Chinese eventually defeated the Mongols militarily in 1368.

Thus Hongwu's Ming dynasty began with an imperial military. He resumed the Confucian examinations and reformed Buddhism and Daoism by requiring exams for ordination and by banning the secret societies that led to the revolution. The army extended the Ming empire into Tibet and Mongolia; but trees were planted, and reservoirs were repaired. A liberal successor was overthrown by an ambitious prince who established a military aristocracy as Emperor Yongle. Campaigns against the Mongols were expensive, and the invasion of Annam (Vietnam) could not be sustained for long. The Yongle Encyclopedia compiled knowledge, but the maritime explorations led by Zheng He were not continued after him. Attempts were made to bring the military under civilian control. However, emperors often had large harems, and eunuchs pervaded the bureaucracy. Buddhist ordination certificates were sold, and rebellions were suppressed by the imperial army. The idealistic philosopher Wang Yangming worked in the government and suggested reforms to reduce the military and expand social services, but his ideas had little lasting effect. Taxes for imperial extravagance and the military aggravated poverty, and banning foreign trade led to piracy. Fighting the Japanese in Korea during the 1590s was also costly. Eunuchs collecting taxes in the countryside were unpopular. Scholars founded the Donglin Academy to make reforms, but they were repressed. Unhappy Manchus in the north turned from helping the fight against the Japanese in Korea to attacking the Ming army. Increasing poverty and imperial neglect led to banditry and rebellion in China itself. Beijing was taken over by rebels who yielded or joined the Manchus in 1644.

During the Qing dynasty era the Manchus ruled as an aristocratic class, but from the beginning they made use of the literate Chinese to help them administer the empire. They granted amnesty and reduced taxes to revive the economy after the devastating war. Emperor Kangxi promoted Confucian values and attempted to treat Manchus and Chinese equally. His envoys made a treaty with Russia in 1689, but his army captured Lhasa in 1720. His son Yongzheng increased salaries and limited the privileges of the gentry to reduce corruption. He subsidized land reclamation and withdrew the imperial troops from Tibet. The Qing empire nearly doubled in population and territory during the long reign of Qianlong, who expanded the empire to the west and wisely allowed free migration. Community cooperation was encouraged by the baojia system, and schools were provided for minorities such as the Miao; but imperial expansion was achieved by military violence. Collecting books for the Complete Works of the Four Treasuries coincided with an inquisition that eliminated thousands of books. China continued its haughty policy of accepting foreign tribute while declining to engage in trade. In the last years of the 18th century corruption increased in China under the administration of the avaricious Heshan. Chinese culture continued to flourish in art, poetry, plays, and novels. In the 18th century about half of all the books in the world were in Chinese.

With population growing beyond three hundred million, heavy taxes and corruption led to banditry and rebellions supported by secret societies, millenarian Buddhists, and Muslims in the western regions. As the English increased their sale of opium from India in order to balance their buying of tea and other products, more Chinese became addicted and corrupted. In the 1830s the loss of silver from buying opium led to higher taxes and worse poverty. The Qing government tried to stop the importation of opium, but the English merchants persuaded their government to send gunboats, resulting in the Opium Wars. The French, wanting to protect their missionaries, joined the English invasion, and in "unequal treaties" made between 1842 and 1860 the Chinese gave the westerners various concessions. Rebellions began breaking out in 1851, and the Taiping revolution, inspired by a peculiar form of Christianity, ruled a portion of China from Nanjing between 1853 and 1864 during a devastating civil war in which more than twenty million people died. This and the Nian rebellions started by bandits and the Muslim rebellions in the west were eventually put down by armies raised by leaders such Zeng Guofan, Li Hongzhang, and Zuo Zongtang. During the Tongzhi era the Chinese began to rebuild under the policy of self-strengthening, turning to western science and technology to make their education and military more practical and modern. Thus the traditional Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism of the Chinese began to merge with western advances into a modern culture.

China is the largest and one of the oldest continuous civilizations. Their Confucian emphasis on education enabled them to grow and prosper. However, their proud isolation in the 18th and 19th centuries during a period of rapid European progress put them behind the latest advances in science and technology. Although the English and others did not use their military power to conquer China, they did use it to open up trade for the harmful opium. These defeats taught the Chinese that they must use western methods and develop modern military power to defend themselves. Their patriarchal and traditional society still prevented the liberation of women and democracy.

Although people lived on the Korean peninsula for thousands of years, their cultural development lagged behind and was strongly influenced by Chinese civilization. The three independent kingdoms of Koguryo, Paekche, and Silla accepted Buddhism in the 4th century. A significant difference from China was the genealogical class system developed by Silla, which defeated the other two kingdoms with help from the Tang Chinese. Silla then expelled the Chinese a decade later in 677. Silla also encouraged scholarship by adopting the Chinese civil service examination system in 788. They called Chinese Chan Buddhism Son, which became Zen in Japan. The Koryo dynasty, founded in 936, promoted Buddhism but continued using Chinese administrative methods. Land was allotted according to government rank, which was determined by being in the yangban class, passing the exams, and experience in office. Koryo managed to survive invasions from the empires of the Khitans (Liao), Jurchens (Jin), and Mongols (Yuan). Son Buddhism flourished by encouraging both meditation and study.

The Neo-Confucian ethics of Zhu Xi strongly influenced Korean thought and became the orthodox philosophy when General Yi Song-gye founded the Choson dynasty in 1392. Yi promoted Confucian scholars, gave his yangban supporters land which became hereditary, and removed the privileges of Buddhists. King Sejong (r. 1418-50) has been called great for promoting learning and economic progress. Perhaps Korea's greatest contribution to civilization is the development of their phonetic Han'gul alphabet, which enables people to learn to read and write easily and quickly. However, the educated Confucian class continued to write mostly in Chinese. Korea suffered a devastating invasion by the Japanese in the 1590s, but they were defended by China and their own armored ships. Their envoys learned some western ideas from Jesuits in Beijing. Although conquered by the Manchus in 1637, Koreans were not required to adopt their hairstyles as in China.

Another difference from China was the development of factions or political parties in Seoul that tended to dominate the government when they were in power. Also eunuchs did not gain as much influence as in China, perhaps because Koreans resented having to send virgins and eunuchs as tribute to the Chinese court. As in China, scholars turned toward practical ideas, and much criticism in Korea focused on the injustice of social classes as well as land reform and bureaucratic corruption. The Catholic religion appealed to a few intellectuals and many of the poor who wanted social equality, but Confucian resentment caused persecutions. The serfdom of the slave class persisted even after the central government emancipated its slaves in 1801. Korea maintained its independence in isolation and resisted aggressive western efforts to trade, having learned vicariously from China's Opium Wars. Yet this isolation prevented Korea from keeping up with some western advances in science and technology. After 1875 Korea would have to face Japanese imperialism.

Japan held onto to its indigenous religion that worshipped its emperor but readily took to Buddhism. Japanese culture greatly advanced after the positive influence of Prince Shotoku (574-622). Buddhism flourished during the peace of Japan's Heian era (794-1192), though by the 12th century powerful monasteries had their own armies and sometimes fought each other. A militaristic feudal era was inaugurated when Yoritomi won a civil war between clans and became shogun in 1192. Mahayana Buddhist schools developed from their Chinese roots, and the Mongols' attempted attack on Japan failed. Civil wars between warlords plagued Japan during the 14th century. The No theater of Kannami and Zeami offered sophisticated entertainment with spiritual themes, but the decade-long Onin War between clans was followed by another century of violent conflict in the militaristic culture of the samurai. In the 16th century the Portuguese introduced fire-arms, and the Jesuits were soon expelled. As armies increased in size, Nobunaga unified Japan by force. He was succeeded by Hideyoshi, who launched an aggressive invasion of Korea in the 1590s that was eventually defeated by the Korean navy and a Chinese army. Tokugawa Ieyasu gained power as shogun and established a dynasty that would keep the peace for a quarter of a millennium.

The Tokugawa era was essentially a feudal system with a military aristocracy of self-disciplined samurai, but Japan's self-imposed isolation prevented foreign conflicts. European missionaries and merchants were excluded except for minimal contacts at Nagasaki. In the 17th century Confucian philosophy developed along with Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines that were used to register people. Kabuki and puppet theater developed popular entertainment as the merchant class rose in wealth and influence. In the patriarchal culture women had few rights and often sold their bodies in the urban quarters that catered to the wealthy and growing middle class. Conflicts turned inward, and the warrior code sometimes caused them to be resolved violently by suicide for samurai, disgraced lovers, and despairing debtors. The population growth allowed by increased cultivable land in the 17th century had to slow down, but the Japanese wisely managed to preserve their forests.

The danger of famines required improvements in economic management in order to prevent rebellions. Intellectuals had contact with Dutch ideas and began to look to western science and technology even though Japan was still closed to trade and open communication until 1854. Japan applied the lessons of the Opium Wars in China and managed to make a relatively peaceful transition into modernizing reforms as it was forced to open to western influences. Japanese intellectuals learned from Europe and the United States, adopting political and financial reforms. However, as the feudal system was abolished by the Meiji restoration, the dangers of growing nationalism and imitation of the aggressive west loomed in an already militaristic culture.

By 1875 eastern Asia in their long development from ancient times had expanded their populations and refined their cultures. With the major exception of the Mongols in the 13th century and Chinese adventures in Tibet and Vietnam, they did not usually try to colonize or dominate other parts of the world. Confucian and Buddhist values contributed enormously to the ethical and spiritual cultures of China, Korea, and Japan. In the 19th century all three countries discovered that western science and technology offered advances that could not be ignored as trade with western nations developed. This opening also meant that these three east Asian nations would be interrelating more with each other. The use of western military methods would bring great turmoil and challenges in the coming century as modernization overwhelmed ancient traditions. Yet let us hope that humanity will benefit from the wisdom and sensitivity that can also be learned from Asian cultures.

Evaluating East Asia 1800-1949

Copyright © 2005 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book CHINA, KOREA & JAPAN to 1800. For ordering information please click here.

EAST ASIA 1800-1949

Shang, Zhou and the Classics
Confucius, Mencius and Xun-zi
Daoism and Mo-zi
Legalism, Qin Empire and Han Dynasty
China 7 BC to 1279
Mongols and Yuan China
Ming Empire 1368-1644
Qing Empire 1644-1799
Qing Decline 1799-1875
Korea to 1800
Japan to 1615
Japan 1615-1800


World Chronological Index
Chronology of Asia & Africa to 1800
Chronology of Asia & Africa 1800-1950
Chronology of East Asia to 1950

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