Theme 1: Interaction Between Humans and the Environment Theme 2: Development and Interaction of Cultures Theme 3: State Building, Expansion and Conflict

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Spread of Chinese Civilization (Sinification): Japan, Korea, Vietnam

Theme 1: Interaction Between Humans and the Environment

Theme 2: Development and Interaction of Cultures

Theme 3: State Building, Expansion and Conflict

Theme 4: Creation, Expansion and Interaction of Economic Systems

Theme 5: Development and Transformation of Social Structures

  • During the Taika, Nara, and Heian periods, (600 – 800 CE)Japan’s borrowing of Chinese culture reached its highest point. Taika reforms in 646 CE tried to recreate the administration along Chinese lines. However the Taika reforms failed due to resistance from aristocratic families and Buddhist monks. The aristocracy returned to Japanese traditions; the peasantry reworked Buddhism into a Japanese creed. The emperor lost power to aristocrats and provincial lords. (Theme 3)

  • Although the imperial court lost power, court culture flourished during the Heian period. Aristocratic men and women lived based on strict behavioral codes and in a complex of palaces and gardens. Poetry was valued, and the Japanese simplified the script taken from the Chinese. In the court, it was expected that women be as cultured as men; they were involved in palace intrigues and power struggles. (Theme 2 and 5)

  • The provincial aristocracy had also gained estates. The warrior leaders of these estates (bushi) governed and taxed for themselves, not the court. The bushi established their own mounted and armed forces called samurai. The bushi and their samurai devoted their lives to their craft. Disgraced warriors committed ritual suicide (seppuku or hari-kari). The rise of the samurai stopped the development of a free peasantry; they became serfs bound to the land and were treated as property. (Theme 3)

  • Chinese influence declined alongside imperial power. Principles of centralized government were not effective when local military leaders were predominant. In addition, Chinese Buddhism was made into a Japanese religion. (Theme 5)


  • Due to its nearness to China, Korea was more profoundly influenced over a longer period than any other state. By 400 B.C.E., Korea gained farming and metalworking techniques from China. In 109 B.C.E., Choson, the earliest Korean kingdom, was conquered and settled by the Chinese. Korean resistance to the Chinese led to the founding in the north of an independent state by the Koguryo people. After the fall of the Han, an extensive adoption of Chinese culture—Sinification—occurred. (Theme 1)

  • Chinese influences reached a peak and Korean culture prospered. The Tang brought Chinese learning, art, and manufactured items to Korea. Some Korean people were educated in Chinese schools and took Confucian exams. Korean cultural creativity went into the decoration of the many Buddhist monasteries and temples. Koreans refined techniques of porcelain manufacture, first learned from the Chinese, to produce masterworks. (Theme 2)

  • Trade with China and Japan was intended to serve their desires. Aristocrats controlled manufacturing and commerce, with all groups beneath the aristocracy serving them. They included commoners who worked very similarly to slaves in a wide range of occupations. (Theme 4)


  • The Chinese moved south next, bringing them to the Red River valley. Their homeland was far from most Chinese settlements, and the Vietnamese had already created a culture of their own. They were wanted to retain elements of Chinese society but did not want to lose the elements of their own culture. The Vietnamese were part of Southeast Asian culture. Their spoken language was not related to Chinese. They had strong village autonomy and favored the nuclear family. Vietnamese women had more freedom and influence than Chinese women did. General customs and cultural forms were very different from those of China. (Theme 2)

  • The expanding Han Empire first secured tribute from Vietnam. Chinese administrators oversaw the integration of Chinese culture. The people of Vietnam attended Chinese schools, where they learned Chinese script and studied the Confucianism. The incorporation of Chinese techniques made Vietnamese agriculture the most productive in Southeast Asia and led to higher population density. (Theme 4)

  • Chinese expectations for integration of the Vietnamese were not met due to sporadic aristocratic revolts and the lack of peasant interest in Chinese culture. Vietnamese women participated in the revolts against the Chinese. The continuing revolutions were aided by Vietnam's great distance from China. When political weakness occurred in China, the Vietnamese took advantage of it and was independent by the year 939 C.E and remained completely independent until the 1800s. (Theme 3)

  • Even though the Vietnamese eventually gained independence from China, Chinese culture helped form their civilization and allowed the Vietnamese to stand up against other southern Asian rivals. (Theme 3)

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