Whap – Chapter 9 Big Picture & Margin Review

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WHAP – Chapter 9

Big Picture & Margin Review
Big Picture:


In what ways did Tang and Song dynasty China resemble the classical Han dynasty period, and in what ways had China changed?


Based on this chapter, how would you respond to the idea that China was a self-contained or isolated civilization?


In what different ways did nearby peoples experience their giant Chinese neighbor, and how did they respond to it?


How can you explain the changing fortunes of Buddhism in China?


How did China influence the world beyond East Asia? How was China itself transformed by its encounters with a wider world?

Margin Review:


Why are the centuries of the Tang and Song dynasties in China sometimes referred to as a “golden age”?


In what ways did women's lives change during the Tang and Song dynasties?


How did the Chinese and their nomadic neighbors to the north view each other?


What assumptions underlay the tribute system?


How did the tribute system in practice differ from the ideal Chinese understanding of its operation?


In what ways did China and the nomads influence each other?


In what different ways did Korea, Vietnam, and Japan experience and respond to Chinese influence?


In what different ways did Japanese and Korean women experience the pressures of Confucian orthodoxy?


In what ways did China participate in the world of Eurasian commerce and exchange, and with what outcomes?


What facilitated the rooting of Buddhism within China?


What were the major sources of opposition to Buddhism within China?

Answer Key


• Tang and Song dynasty China resembled the Han dynasty period in a number of ways, including the maintenance of the imperial political system;

• the importance of a professional bureaucracy formally trained and subject to competitive exams;

• a focus on establishing a dominant political position in East Asia that was recognized by China's neighbors;

• an interest in and support for long-distance trade;

• and the continued importance of the Confucian tradition in elite society.

• China also experienced important changes following the Han dynasty period, including tighter unification of northern and southern China through a vast waterway system;

• the long-term migration of Chinese populations south into the Yangzi River valley after 220 C.E.;

• an economic revolution that made it the richest empire on earth;

• and rapid population growth, from 50 million to 60 million people during the Tang dynasty to 120 million people by 1200, that was spurred in part by a remarkable growth in agricultural production.

• Also, the economy of China became the most highly commercialized in the world and became more active in long-distance trade than during the Han dynasty.


• There are many developments noted in this chapter that oppose this idea, including China's active participation in long-distance trade;

• the tribute system, which established ties with China's neighbors;

• the influence of Buddhism on Chinese society;

• the popularity for a time during the Tang dynasty of “western barbarian” music, dancing, clothing, foods, games, and artistic styles among the upper classes;

• the influence of pastoral and nomadic peoples on China;

• the spread of Chinese technological innovations to other parts of the world;

• China's adoption of outside crops and technology, including cotton, sugar, and the processing techniques for these crops from India, as well as fast-ripening rice from Vietnam;

• and the cosmopolitan nature of China's port cities.

• However, in defense of the idea, one could point to the perception of the educated Chinese elite that China was self-sufficient, requiring little from the outside world.


• China's neighbors did not experience China in one uniform way, but in general nearby peoples experienced their Chinese neighbor as a trade partner, cultural influence, and political influence. China could also be a military threat at times.

• Some neighbors, such as Korea and Vietnam, experienced China as a military conqueror; others, such as the pastoral peoples to the north of China, were at different times both the conquerors and rulers of parts of China and subject to attack by the Chinese. Japan had no military conflict with China.

As far as their responses, neighbors such as Korea and Vietnam, and sometimes the pastoral peoples and Japan as well, participated in the tribute system promoted by China.

• Some, such as Japan, voluntarily adopted Chinese intellectual, cultural, and religious traditions. Other neighbors, such as Vietnam, both willingly adopted some Chinese intellectual, cultural, and religious traditions and had others imposed upon them while under Chinese rule.

• Responses to Chinese influence varied from outright rebellion in Vietnam under the Trung sisters to the active embrace of Chinese influence by the Japanese under Shotoku Taishi.


• Buddhism first grew in influence in China during a period of disorder following the collapse of the Han dynasty, a time when many in China had lost faith in Chinese systems of thought.

• Buddhism also benefited from the support of foreign nomadic rulers who during this period governed portions of northern China.

Once established, Buddhism grew for a number of reasons: Buddhist monasteries provided an array of social services to ordinary people; Buddhism was associated with access to magical powers; there was a serious effort by Buddhist monks and scholars to present this Indian religion in terms that the Chinese could relate to; and under the Sui and Tang dynasties, Buddhism received growing state support.

• However, it declined during the ninth century because some perceived the Buddhist establishment as a challenge to imperial authority.

• There was also a deepening resentment of the enormous wealth of Buddhist monasteries.

• Buddhism was offensive to some Confucian and Daoist thinkers because Buddhism was clearly of foreign origin and because the practices of Buddhist monks undermined the ideal of the family.

• Imperial decrees in the 840s shut down Buddhist monasteries, and the state confiscated Buddhist resources.


• Chinese products, especially silk, were key to the Afro-Eurasian trade networks.

• Chinese technologies, including those related to shipbuilding, navigation, gunpowder, and printing, spread to other regions of Eurasia.

• Buddhism from South Asia had a profound impact on China.

• China's growing trade with the rest of the world made it the richest country in the world.

• It also became the most highly commercialized society in the world, with regions, especially in the south, producing for wider markets rather than for local consumption.

• China adopted cotton and sugar crops and the processes for refining them from South Asia.


During this period, China reached a cultural peak, setting standards of excellence in poetry, landscape painting, and ceramics.

• Particularly during the Song dynasty, there was an explosion of scholarship that gave rise to Neo-Confucianism.

• Politically, the Tang and Song dynasties built a state structure that endured for a thousand years.

• Tang and Song dynasty China experienced an economic revolution that made it the richest empire on earth.

• Population grew rapidly, from 50 million–60 million people during the Tang dynasty to 120 million by 1200, spurred in part by a remarkable growth in agricultural production.

• During this period, China possessed dozens of cities of over 100,000 people and a capital at Hangzhou with a population of over a million people.

• Industrial production soared during the period, and technological innovation flourished, including the invention of printing and gunpowder, along with innovations in navigation and shipbuilding that led the world.

• The economy of China became the most highly commercialized in the world, producing for the market rather than for local consumption.


• Chinese women in the Tang dynasty, at least in the north, had participated in social life with greater freedom than in classical times. This was because of the influence of steppe nomads, whose women led less restricted lives.

• But the revival of Confucianism and rapid economic growth during the Song dynasty resulted in the tightening of patriarchal restrictions on women. These new restrictions were perhaps most strikingly on display in the practice of foot binding.

• In the textile industry, urban workshops and state factories increasingly took over the skilled tasks of weaving textiles that had previously been the work of rural women.

• Growing wealth and urban environments offered women opportunities as restaurant operators, sellers of vegetables and fish, maids, cooks, or dressmakers.

• The growing prosperity of elite families funneled increased numbers of women into roles as concubines, entertainers, courtesans, and prostitutes. This trend reduced the ability of wives to negotiate as equals with their husbands, and it set women against one another.

• Some positive trends in the lives of women occurred during the Song dynasty. Women saw their property rights expanded, and in some quarters, the education of women was advocated as a way to better prepare their sons for civil service exams.


• The nomadic neighbors saw China as the source of grain, other agricultural products, and luxury goods.

• They also viewed China as a threat, because the Chinese periodically directed their military forces deep into the steppes, built the Great Wall to keep the nomads out, and often proved unwilling to allow pastoral peoples easy access to trading opportunities within China.

• The Chinese saw the nomads as a military threat.

• But they also needed the nomads, whose lands were the source of horses, which were essential to the Chinese military, and of other products, including skins, furs, hides, and amber.

• Also, the nomads controlled much of the Silk Road trading network, which funneled goods from the West into China.


• Several assumptions underlay the tribute system, such as that China was the “middle kingdom,” the center of the world, infinitely superior to the “barbarian” peoples beyond its borders;

• that China was self-sufficient, requiring little from the outside world, while barbarians sought access to China's wealth and wisdom;

• and that the Chinese might provide access to their wealth and wisdom under certain controlled conditions in the hope that it would help to civilize the barbarians.

• The tribute system was a set of practices designed to facilitate this civilizing contact. It required non-Chinese authorities to acknowledge Chinese superiority and their own subordinate place in a Chinese-centered world order. In exchange for expressions of submission, the Chinese emperor would grant foreigners permission to trade in China and provide them with gifts, which were often worth more than the tribute offered by the foreigners.

• The system was an effort to regulate relations with neighboring states and groups of nomads on the borders of the empire.


• Often, China was in reality confronting powerful nomadic empires that were able to deal with China on at least equal terms.

• At times, the Chinese emperors negotiated arrangements that recognized nomadic states as political equals.

• They promised Chinese princesses as wives,

• sanctioned exchanges of goods that favored the nomads,

• and agreed to supply the nomads annually with large quantities of grain, wine, and silk. While these goods were officially termed “gifts,” granted in accord with the tribute system, they were in fact tribute in reverse or even protection money.


• When nomadic peoples actually ruled over parts of China, some of them adopted Chinese ways. But on the whole, Chinese culture had only a modest impact on the nomadic peoples of the northern steppes. Few of these pastoral societies were incorporated into the Chinese state for any significant length of time, and most lived in areas where Chinese-style agriculture was simply impossible.

• On the Chinese side, elements of steppe culture had some influence on those parts of northern China that were periodically conquered and ruled by nomadic peoples; for example, some high-ranking members of the Chinese imperial family led their troops in battle in the style of Turkic warriors.


• Both Korea and Vietnam achieved political independence while participating fully in the tribute system as vassal states. Japan was never conquered by the Chinese but did participate for some of its history in the tribute system as a vassal state.

The cultural elite of Korea, Vietnam, and Japan borrowed heavily from China—Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, administrative techniques, the examination system, artistic and literary styles—even as their own cultures remained distinct.

• Both Korea and Vietnam experienced some colonization by ethnic Chinese settlers.

• Unlike Korea or Japan, the cultural heartland of Vietnam was fully incorporated into the Chinese state for over a thousand years, far longer than corresponding parts of Korea. This political dominance led to cultural changes in Vietnam such as the adoption of Chinese-style irrigated agriculture, the education of the Vietnamese elite in Confucian-based schools and their inclusion in the local bureaucracy, Chinese replacing the local language in official business, and the adoption of Chinese clothing and hairstyles.

Unlike Korea or Vietnam, Japan was physically separated from China, and thus its adoption of elements of Chinese civilization from the seventh to the ninth centuries was wholly voluntary. The high point of that cultural borrowing occurred when the first Japanese state emerged and deliberately sought to transform Japan into a centralized bureaucratic state on the Chinese model. In doing so, Japan voluntarily embraced, among other things, a Chinese-style emperor, Buddhism, Confucianism, Chinese court and governmental structures, and the Chinese calendar. But because the adoptions were voluntary, the Japanese could be selective. By the tenth century, Japan's tribute missions to China stopped. In the long run, Japanese political, religious, literary, and artistic cultures evolved in distinctive ways despite much borrowing from China.


• Elite Japanese women, unlike those in Korea, largely escaped the more oppressive features of Chinese Confucian culture, such as the prohibition of remarriage for widows,

• seclusion within the home,

• and foot binding.

• Moreover, elite Japanese women continued to inherit property,

• Japanese married couples often lived apart or with the wife's family,

• and marriages in Japan were made and broken easily.


• China actively participated in commerce, with its export products—silk, porcelain, lacquerware—in high demand.

• Several Chinese ports became cosmopolitan centers of commerce and trade and points of contact between Chinese and other Afro-Eurasian cultures.

• The size of the Chinese domestic economy provided a ready market for hundreds of commodities from afar.

• One key outcome was the diffusion of many Chinese technological innovations, including techniques for producing salt, papermaking, and printing.

• Chinese innovations in explosives, textiles, metallurgy, and naval technologies also often sparked further innovations. For instance, the arrival of gunpowder in Europe spurred the development of cannons.

• China learned about the cultivation and processing of both cotton and sugar from India and gained access to new, fast-ripening, and drought-resistant strains of rice from Vietnam. Outside influences also helped inspire Chinese innovation, such as Buddhism spurring the development of printing.


• The chaotic, violent, and politically fragmented centuries that followed the collapse of the Han dynasty discredited Confucianism and opened the door to alternative understandings of the world.

• Nomadic rulers who governed much of northern China after the fall of the Han dynasty found Buddhism useful in part because it was foreign. Their support led to the building of many Buddhist monasteries and works of art.

• In southern China, Buddhism provided some comfort to the elite in the face of a collapsing society.

• Once established, Buddhist monasteries provided an array of social services to ordinary people.

• Buddhism was associated with access to magical powers.

• There was a serious effort by Buddhist monks, scholars, and translators to present this Indian religion in terms that Chinese could relate to.

• Under the Sui and Tang dynasties, Buddhism received growing state support.


• Some perceived the Buddhist establishment as a challenge to imperial authority.

• There was a deepening resentment of the enormous wealth of the Buddhist establishment.

• Buddhism was clearly of foreign origin and therefore offensive to some Confucian and Daoist thinkers.

• For some Confucian thinkers, the celibacy of monks and their withdrawal from society undermined the Confucian-based family system of Chinese tradition.

• After 800 C.E., a growing resentment of foreign culture took hold, particularly among the literate classes. Ultimately, a series of imperial decrees between 841 and 845 C.E. ordered some 260,000 monks and nuns to return to secular life, and thousands of monasteries, temples, and shrines were destroyed or turned to public use.


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