Tradition and Change in East Asia



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Tradition and Change in East Asia

  1. The Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368-1644): The emperor Yongle ( reigned 1403– 1424) launched a series of naval expeditions that sailed throughout the Indian Ocean basin and showed Chinese colors as far away as Malindi in east Africa. Yongle’s successors discontinued the expensive maritime expeditions but maintained the tightly centralized state



  1. Zheng He: The Ming emperor Yongle sought to establish a Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean basin, and he sponsored a series of seven massive maritime expeditions ( 1405– 1433) led by the eunuch admiral Zheng He. The Chinese fleets included as many as 317 vessels and 28,000 men. Zheng He called at ports from Java to Malindi, suppressed pirates in southeast Asian waters, intervened in local conflicts in Sumatra and Ceylon, intimidated lo-cal authorities with shows of force in southern Arabia and Mogadishu, and made China’s presence felt throughout the Indian Ocean basin. After the reign of Yongle, however, the Ming government withdrew its support for expensive maritime expeditions and even tried to prevent Chinese subjects from dealing with foreign peoples. It soon became impossible to organize large trading firms like the English East India Company or the Dutch VOC.



  1. The Mongols: by the mid- fifteenth century they had lost their effectiveness. Mongol forces massacred several Chinese armies in the 1440s, and in 1449 they captured the Ming emperor himself.



  1. The Great Wall: The later Ming emperors sought to protect their realm by building new fortifications, including the Great Wall of China, along the northern border. The Great Wall had precedents dating back to the fourth century B. C. E., and the first emperor of the Qin dynasty had ordered construction of a long defensive wall during the third century B. C. E. Those early walls had all fallen into ruin, however, and the Great Wall was a Ming- dynasty project. Workers by the hundreds of thousands labored throughout the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to build a formidable stone and brick barrier that ran some 2,500 kilometers ( 1,550 miles). The Great Wall was 10 to 15 meters ( 33 to 49 feet) high, and it featured watch towers, signal towers, and accommodations for troops deployed on the border.



  1. Ming conservatism and the Mongol past: The government sponsored study of Chinese cultural traditions, especially Confucianism, and provided financial support for imperial academies and regional colleges. Most important, the Ming state restored the system of civil service examinations that Mongol rulers had neglected.



  1. Decline of the Ming: Ming emperors lived extravagantly in the Forbidden City, a vast imperial enclave in Beijing, and received news about the outside world from eunuch servants and administrators. The emperors sometimes ignored government affairs for decades on end while satisfying their various appetites . . . corruption and inefficiency spread through-out the government and weakened the Ming state.



  1. Collapse of the Ming and Mandate of Heaven: When a series of famines struck China during the early seventeenth century, the government was unable to organize effective relief efforts. Peasant revolts ensued. In 1644, rebel forces captured the Ming capital at Beijing. Manchu invaders allied with an army loyal to the Ming, crushed the rebels, and recovered Beijing. The Manchus portrayed themselves as avengers who saved the capital from dangerous rebels, but they neglected to restore Ming rule. Instead, they moved their own capital to Beijing and simply displaced the Ming dynasty.



  1. The Chinese Qing Dynasty: The Manchus When the Ming dynasty fell, Manchus poured into China from their homeland of Manchuria north of the Great Wall. The victors proclaimed a new dynasty, the Qing (“ pure”), which ruled China until the early twentieth century ( 1644– 1911). After their seizure of Beijing in 1644, the Manchus moved to extend their authority throughout China. For almost forty years they waged campaigns against Ming loyalists and other rebels in southern China until by the early 1680s the Manchus had consolidated the Qing dynasty’s hold throughout the land.



  1. Manchus emperors and establishment of Confucian principles: organized flood- control and irrigation projects in observance of the Confucian precept that rulers should look after the welfare of their subjects and promote agriculture. Training of bureaucrats through Confucian academy. Both the Ming and the Qing dynasties presided over a tightly centralized state, which they administered through a bureaucracy staffed by Confucian scholars. Day-to- day governance of the empire fell to scholar- bureaucrats appointed by the emperor. With few exceptions these officials came from the class of well-educated and highly literate men known as the scholar- gentry. These men had earned academic degrees by passing rigorous civil service examinations, and they dominated China’s political and social life.



  1. Confucianism and the Academy: Confucian curriculum, including the Analects of Confucius and other standard works. They followed those studies with instruction in calligraphy, poetry, and essay composition. Diligent students also acquainted themselves with a large corpus of commentaries, histories, and literary works in preparing for civil service examinations. Years of education and travel to examination sites were expensive, so candidates from wealthy families enjoyed advantages over others, but the exams themselves were open to all males regardless of age or social class. The basic idea was to train bureaucrats that could preserve the traditional hierarchical and patriarchal social order.



  1. The Son of Heaven: Chinese tradition held that he was the “Son of Heaven,” the human be-ing designated by heavenly powers to maintain order on the earth. He led a privileged life within the walls of the Forbidden City. Hundreds of concubines resided in his harem, and thousands of eunuchs looked after his desires.



  1. The Patriarchal Family and Filial Piety: Confucius saw five major human relationships that should be governed by li, or propriety.  Those relationships are: Confucius saw five major human relationships that should be governed by li, or propriety.  Those relationships are:

1.      Ruler and subject

2.      Father and son

3.      Husband and wife

4.      Oldest son and younger brothers

5.      Elders and juniors (friends)


  1. Kin and clan networks: The social assumptions of the Chinese family extended into patrilineal descent groups such as the clan. Sometimes numbering into the thousands, clan members came from all social classes, though members of the gentry usually dominated a given clan. Clans assumed responsibilities that exceeded the capacities of the nuclear family, such as the maintenance of local order, organization of local economies, and provision for welfare.



  1. Gender Relations: Within the family, Confucian principles subjected women to the authority of men. The subordination of females began at an early age. Chinese parents preferred boys over girls. Women could not divorce their husbands, but men could put aside their wives in cases where there was no offspring or where the wife was guilty of adultery, theft, disobedience to her husband’s family, or even being too talkative.



  1. China as an Agricultural Society: Beginning about the mid- seventeenth century, as peasants approached the upper limits of agricultural productivity, Spanish merchants coming by way of the Philippines introduced American food crops to China. American maize, sweet potatoes, and pea-nuts permitted Chinese farmers to take advantage of soils that previously had gone uncultivated. The introduction of new crops increased the food supply and supported further population growth.



  1. Foreign Trade: Global trade brought prosperity to China, especially during the early Qing dynasty. Chinese workers produced vast quantities of silk, porcelain, lacquerware, and tea for consumers in the Indian Ocean basin, central Asia, and Europe. The silk industry was especially well organized: weavers worked in workshops for regular wages producing fine satins and brocades for export. Chinese imports were relatively few.



  1. Government and Technology: by early Ming times, technological innovation had slowed. Imperial armed forces adopted European cannons and advanced firearms for their own uses— thus borrowing forms of gun-powder technology that had originated in China and that Europeans had refined and improved— but little innovation in agricultural and industrial technologies occurred during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Ming and Qing regimes favored political and social stability over technological innovation, which they feared would lead to unsettling change.



  1. Qing Social Class Structure:

By far the biggest class consisted of peasants, a designation that covered everyone from day laborers to tenant farmers to petty landlords. Confucian principles regarded peasants as the most honorable of the three classes, since they performed honest labor and provided the food that sup-ported the entire population. There artisans were below peasants and finally, merchants. Because moralists looked upon them as unscrupulous social parasites, merchants enjoyed little legal protection, and government policy was always critically important to their pursuits. This helps explain why Europe leap-frogged ahead of China -- the merchant class in Europe, the bourgeoisie, paved the capitalist road and led political revolutions that served their interests. Chinese merchants and artisans did not forge cooperative relationships with government authorities like the political-commercial alliances formed in the English and Dutch states in early modern times.



  1. Lower Classes: Lower classes beyond the Confucian social hierarchy were members of the military forces and the so- called mean people. Confucian moralists regarded armed forces as a wretched but necessary evil and attempted to avoid military dominance of society by placing civilian bureaucrats in the highest command positions, even at the expense of military effectiveness. The mean people included slaves, indentured servants, entertainers, prostitutes, and other marginal groups such as the “beggars of Jiangsu” and the “ boat people of Guangdong.”



  1. Matteo Ricci (1552–1610): Italian Jesuit missionary charged with spreading Christianity in China. Upon arrival at Macau in 1582, Ricci immersed himself in the study of the Chinese language and the Confucian classics. Ricci’s mastery of Chinese language and literature opened doors for the Jesuits, who then dazzled their hosts with European science, technology, and mechanical gadgetry. Ricci and his colleagues had an advanced education in mathematics and astronomy, and they were able to correct Chinese calendars that consistently miscalculated solar eclipses. The Jesuits also prepared maps of the world— with China placed diplomatically at the center— on the basis of geographic knowledge that Europeans had gained during their voyages. Ricci wrote a treatise entitled The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven in which he argued that the doctrines of Confucius and Jesus were very similar, if not identical. Over the years, according to Ricci, neo- Confucian scholars had altered Confucius’s own teachings, so adoption of Christianity by Chinese would represent a return to a more pure and original Confucianism. The Jesuits also held religious services in the Chinese language and allowed converts to continue the time- honored practice of venerating their ancestors. In spite of their tolerance, flexibility, and genuine respect for their hosts, the Jesuits attracted few converts in China. Like Islam, though, Christianity claimed to be the only true religion, so conversion implied that Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism were inferior or even fallacious creeds— a proposition most Chinese were unwilling to accept. The Roman Catholic mission to China did not attract large numbers of Chinese converts, but it nonetheless had important cultural effects. Besides making European science and technology known in China, the Jesuits made China known in Europe.



  1. The Unification of Japan: Like the Ming and Qing emperors in China, the Tokugawa shoguns sought to lay a foundation for long- term political and social stability, and they provided generous sup-port for neo- Confucian studies in an effort to promote traditional values.



  1. The Tokugawa Shogunate: Toward the end of the sixteenth century, powerful states emerged in several regions of Japan, and a series of military leaders brought about the unification of the land. In 1600 the last of these chieftains, Tokugawa Ieyasu ( reigned 1600– 1616), established a military government. Ieyasu and his descendants ruled as shoguns from 1600 until the end of the Tokugawa dynasty in 1867. The principal aim of the Tokugawa shoguns was to stabilize their realm and prevent the return of civil war.



  1. Japanese Feudalism: Because of Chinese cultural influence, the Japanese social hierarchy followed Confucian precepts in ranking the ruling elites— including the shogun, daimyo, and samurai warriors— as the most prominent and privileged class of society. Beneath them were peasants and artisans. Merchants ranked at the bottom, as they did in China.



  1. Foreign Contact: In an effort to prevent European influences from destabilizing the land, the Tokugawa shoguns closely controlled relations between Japan and the outside world. They knew that Spanish forces had conquered the Philippine Islands in the sixteenth century, and they feared that Europeans might jeopardize the security of the Tokugawa Dynasty itself. Even if Europeans did not conquer Japan, they could cause serious problems by making alliances with daimyo and supplying them with weapons.



  1. Confucianism in Japan: The common people embraced Buddhism, which had come to Japan from China, and Confucianism was the most influential philosophical system.



  1. Christianity in Japan: Although Christians were only a tiny minority of the Japanese population, the popularity of Christianity generated a backlash among government officials and moralists seeking to preserve Japanese religious and cultural traditions. The Tokugawa shoguns restricted European access to Japan largely because of concerns that Christianity might serve as a cultural bridge for alliances between daimyo and European adventurers, which in turn could lead to destabilization of Japanese society. Some Japanese converts to Christianity themselves eventually rejected their adopted faith out of frustration be-cause European missionaries refused to allow them to be-come priests or play leadership roles in the mission. Some Japanese converts to Christianity themselves eventually rejected their adopted faith out of frustration be-cause European missionaries refused to allow them to be-come priests or play leadership roles in the mission.



  1. Anti- Christian Campaign Between 1587 and 1639, shoguns promulgated several decrees ordering a halt to Christian missions and commanding Japanese Christians to renounce their faith.



  1. Dutch Learning: Tokugawa policies ensured that Christianity would not soon reappear in Japan, but they did not entirely prevent contacts between Europeans and Japanese. After 1639, Dutch merchants trading at Nagasaki became Japan’s principal source of information about Europe and the world beyond east Asia. A small number of Japanese scholars learned Dutch in order to communicate with the foreigners. Their studies, which they called “Dutch learning,” brought considerable knowledge of the outside world to Japan. After 1720, Tokugawa authorities lifted the ban on foreign books, and Dutch learning began to play a significant role in Japanese intellectual life.



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