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Dynasties, Empires and Ages of Commerce:

Pacific Asia to the Nineteenth Century







The early civilizations of East and Southeast Asia, widely separated from one another, developed in distinctive ways that reflected their ethnic origins and physical surroundings. Beginning with the state of Qin, which established key precedents for the first and all future dynasties in China, the geographical scope and military power of China expanded greatly. Its bureaucratic organization grew stronger; Chinese language spread in usage; and Confucianism, along with other philosophies, gained in prominence and influence. With the advent of the Tang Dynasty (618 CE), China came to exert a powerful influence, politically and culturally, throughout East Asia. Contact with the distant Mediterranean world was modest but influential over the following centuries, fluctuating according to the openness of the Silk Road and maritime routes.


Elsewhere in Pacific Asia, evidence about the patterns of commercial life, political development, and culture appears somewhat later, but the distinctiveness of the various traditions is clear at a very early stage. Koreans contended with one another and with invasions from China and the north. Japan, geographically less vulnerable, was influenced culturally from the mainland and soon developed in the direction of a competitive, feudalistic system. In Southeast Asia, the maritime trading empire of Srivijaya, built on the dynamics of intra-regional trade and the flow of goods between China and India, dominated the local seas from the eighth to the twelfth centuries CE. Great Kingdoms such a Angkor rose on the mainland and, like counterparts in the island regions, it battled with rival kingdoms for prominence and territory. Migratory movements and outside cultural influences combined with indigenous traditions to both alter and complicate the mosaic of peoples in Southeast Asia.


The impact of Indian and Moslem influences has been especially profound, but in the fifteenth century the arrival of an expeditionary fleet from China set the stage for a new period of international commercial expansion. This flourishing world of Southeast Asian commerce was to be supplanted by European intruders in the following centuries, but while it lasted it reflected a growing wealth and prosperity in an international community stretching from the Levant to the China coast. In other words, Pacific Asia was not a static and unchanging world when the Europeans began arriving in larger numbers in the sixteenth century. During Europe's medieval period. Pacific Asia could boast several cities of greater size and wealth. The average standard of living and scale of commerce in China was probably well above that in Europe at the time.




After reading Chapter 1, you should have a basic understanding of the following concepts:


1. China and Chinese culture had great influence on Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Confucianism and written Chinese were two important parts of this cultural influence.


2. Buddhism, albeit in different forms, spread into East and Southeast Asia. It remains a significant religious tradition in the Asia Pacific region.


3. Hinduism and Sanskrit were two important elements of Indian culture that were borrowed and adapted by the peoples of Southeast Asia.


4. Islam spread into much of Island Southeast Asia beginning in the sixteenth century, often displacing the religions that had been there before.


5. Regardless of the enormous impact of cultural borrowiings throughtout East and Southeast Asia, each region and each nation remained culturally distinct.


6. Southeast Asia and East Asia can be differentiated in terms of their location, physical environment, and cultural characteristics. This is true both historically and in the contemporary period, even if the juncture of the two regions presents some ambiguities, as exemplified by Vietnam.



KEY TERMS AND NAMES.   This is a list of important terms, people, and places that you should understand from reading the text. Try to think of a brief definition for each of these words:







Mandate of Heaven

Mongol Empire

Qin Shihuangdi




Silk Road



Tang Dynasty



Yi Dynasty



GLOSSARY                CHINA      JAPAN     KOREA      SOUTHEAST ASIA            GENERAL


Many Glossary entries have pronunciation guides. These appear, in parentheses, at the beginning of an entry. Whenever possible, English words have been used; they should be pronounced as they would in English. For details on the pronunciation of a given language, please see the textbook.



Questions for Review


1. Look at the list of Key Terms and Names for this chapter. Find all the place names, then locate each place on the maps in the text. Also, look for the following rivers: Mekong, Red, Yalu, Yangzi (Yangtze), Yellow (Huang).


2. What are unifying forces in East Asia? in Southeast Asia? Which forces go beyond state boundaries and serve to culturally unify vast areas? Why?


3. What effect did the intellectualism of Confucianism have on China? To what other countries did Confucianism spread? Did it have the same effect in these countries as it had in China?


4. Factionalism is an identifying feature of both Korean and Japanese political processes; indeed, factionalism remains important in modern Korean and Japanese politics. How much of a role has factionalism played in China?


5. What were some of the effects of Indianization on Southeast Asia? How did Indian cultural influences interact with indigenous traditions? How did India affect language, religion, and culture?


6. What features identify Vietnam with the rest of Southeast Asia? What features set it apart? Why?

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