Compare and contrast China’s relationship with two of the following societies during the period of 600 ce to 1450 ce

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Compare and contrast China’s relationship with TWO of the following societies during the period of 600 CE to 1450 CE:

  • Japan

  • Korea

  • Vietnam

Between 600 CE and 1450 CE, Japan and Korea both adopted Buddhism and Confucianism from China. At one time or another during this period, both were tributary states of China. However, while Korea adopted a centralized political structure based on China’s, Japan failed to do so and instead slipped into a decentralized, feudal system.

At one time or another during the period, both Japan and Korea both served as tributary states of China. Their tributary status reached their peak under China’s Tang dynasty. Japan and Korea’s kingdom of Silla sent imperial ambassadors to the Chinese capital. They brought gifts to China’s emperors and kowtowed before them in a sign of submission. As a result of their shared status as tributary states to China, Japan and Korea gained greater access to Chinese markets and trade goods like silks and porcelain. Also, wider access to ancient Chinese texts was earned – in particular Buddhist and Confucian philosophical works. These goods and ideas were diffused to the tributary states. Korea’s devotion to China as a tributary state to China was much stronger than Japan’s, however. By 900 CE, Japan had ceased providing tribute to China. Due in part to this access to China, Japan and Korea sinified by adopting the Buddhist faith and Confucian principles from China. In Korea, the educated elite studied Confucian classics, while Buddhist doctrine attracted the peasant masses – although Buddhism came to be embraced by all classes of the Korean social hierarchy. Though there was a Confucian civil service examination that tested understanding of Confucian philosophy, the test was never open to peasants. Thus, there was no truly merit-based system for entering the bureaucracy. Aristocratic Koreans used Confucianism to reinforce their high social standing due to its emphasis on respect for authority. The acceptance of Buddhism in Korea is revealed by their artistic and architectural devotion to these philosophical systems. Pagodas and statues of Buddha were erected throughout Korea. The same was true of Japan. In Japan during the period, Buddhist monastics were particularly powerful and repeatedly attempted to control the Japanese emperors. Buddhism also syncretized with the indigenous Japanese religion, Shintoism. Zen Buddhism, known as Chan Buddhism in China, was practiced in particular by Japan’s feudal elite such as daimyo and samurai. Although Japan never adopted a Chinese-style Confucian bureaucracy, Confucian values were used by the feudal elites of Japan to reinforce their social standing in the feudal hierarchy.

Whereas Korea adopted a centralized political structure based on that of China, Japan failed to do so and instead developed a decentralized feudal political structure that held their civilization together. The reasons for these differences included that Korea’s aristocracy saw political sinification as a way to increase their power although in Japan, aristocratic families resisted political sinification because they did not want to lose influence to a strong Japanese emperor. Korea emulated many aspects of China’s politics and culture. Although participation was limited to the aristocracy, Korea adopted a bureaucratic system that enforced political dominance by the aristocracy over commoners. With this, the Korean emperor used the bureaucracy to centralize his power. However, Japan never adopted any features of a Chinese bureaucracy. Though the Taika Reforms of 646 CE proposed political sinification in order to give the Japanese emperor full political power, these reforms were never implemented. The political reform proposals were resisted by aristocratic families such as the Fujiwara as well as by Buddhist monastic groups who feared a strong emperor. Because of the failed political reforms, Japan shifted into a decentralized political system where feudalism provided stability to an otherwise decentralized state.

The time period of 600 CE and 1450 CE was witness to considerable degrees of sinification in Japan and Korea including their adoption of Buddhist and Confucian thought from China. Likewise, they served as tributary states to Tang China. Sinification for Korea and Japan differed, however, in that Korea adopted features of Chinese political features such as bureaucracy that encouraged centralization, whereas Japan failed to sinify a Chinese-style bureaucracy, relying on feudalism to structure their politics and society instead.

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