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A History of World Societies, Sixth Edition
McKay/Hill/Buckler/Ebrey
Web Exercises
Chapter 7: East Asia and the Spread of Buddhism, ca 200 B.C.E.-C.E. 800

Between 200 B.C.E. and 800 C.E., East Asia saw a period of intense political and cultural development.  China passed through its first great imperial age, becoming the hub of a geographical, political, and cultural wheel, the spokes of which reached as far as Central Asia to the west, Viet Nam to the south, and Japan to the east.  Through forces ranging from Chinese militarism to the work of Buddhist missionaries, the lands surrounding China absorbed Chinese written language, administrative techniques, religious ideas, and artistic forms.  With these tools state builders in Korea, Viet Nam, and Japan turned loose tribal or clan-based societies into centralized states, which continued fruitful cultural exchange with China.  These exercises will help you to reinforce and build upon what you read in Chapter 7 of McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition).  Through them you will learn more about the East Asian societies of this period, their interactions with each other, and their contacts with the larger world.

Helpful Hints:
  • You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore different sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and questions detailed in each activity.
  • On many web sites you can increase the size of the images by clicking on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine fine details in photographs.
Activity One:

Let's begin by reviewing the physical and political geography of China through 800 C.E.
  • Take a look at the physical features of China.  What are the major features that shaped the development of Chinese civilization? What features encouraged development in some areas and not in others? Feel free to review Chapter 4 of McKay,  A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition).
  • Now examine the following maps of Neolithic China, Shang Dynasty China, Western Zhou (or Chou) China, Eastern Zhou China, Qin Dynasty (or Ch'in) China, Han Dynasty China, China during the Age of Division (a.k.a. The Six Dynasties), Sui Dynasty China, and Tang Dynasty China.  How did China grow from its cradle in the great river valleys of the region?  How did each of the dynasties expand and/or contract the political boundaries of China? Review chapters 4 and 7 of McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition) and list the factors that caused these expansions and contractions.
Activity Two:

Now consider some of the interactions between China and peoples beyond its borders.
  • As you know, the Han Empire was the first Chinese civilization to develop extensive international contacts.  These contacts ranged as far as the Roman Empire and were facilitated by the trade route known as the Silk Road.  Take a look at this map of the Silk Road.  What other civilizations did the Silk Road link? By what other trade routes did China extend its cultural reach? Review pp. 184-190 of McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition) and list the goods that passed along the Silk Road.  Finally, learn more about Bactrian Camels, the most important means of transportation along the Silk Road.  How did these animals facilitate travel along this overland trade route?
  • The nomadic peoples to the north of China posed a continuing threat to Chinese economic and political stability.  One of most formidable of these peoples were the Xiongu, known in the West as the Huns.  Take a look at this map depicting the Xiongu homeland in relation to the Han and Roman empires, and read more about the Huns.  Who were these people? Who was Mao-tun, and what did he accomplish?
  • The Chinese state tried to deal with the northern threat in several ways, ranging from military expeditions into the nomads' territory to the construction of fortifications.  The most notable of these fortifications was the so-called Great Wall.  Learn more about The Great Wall, giving special attention to the images of the wall (you can click to enlarge them).  When, and under what circumstances, was the wall begun? When did significant expansion and renovations take place? How effective do think the wall was as a defense against the nomadic tribes?
Activity Three:

During this period contact with China profoundly influenced the political and cultural development of Korea and Japan.  From China both Korea and Japan gained a common written language, the international religion of Buddhism and techniques for administering a centralized state.  China also deeply influenced the arts of these neighboring lands.  Visit the sites below to learn more about the interactions between the three cultures.
  • Read the following overviews of Korean history from 1–500 A.D. (C.E.) and 500–1000 A.D. (C.E.).  What were the key events in Korean history during these centuries? What role did China play in some or all of these events? How did the arts develop in Korea during this period? Now read about  Korean Buddhist Sculpture.  How did Buddhism influence the development of Korean sculpture? What was unique about this tradition?
  • Now read this overview of Japanese history from 500–1000 A.D.  What were the key events during these centuries, and what influence did China and Korea have on the development of Japanese sculpture?  Take a look this short discussion of the Asuka and Nara Periods.  What is notable about this period? Click on the images of artworks from this period: what is distinctive about Asuka and Nara period art?
Activity Four:

The period about which you read in Chapter 7 of McKay, A History of World Societies is full of colorful personalities.
  • For example, read this short biography of Du Fu, a Tang Dynasty poet.  Take a look at some translations of a few of his poems.  Compare them to these poems by his contemporary and friend Li Po, about whom you read in Chapter 7.  What is notable about Du Fu's life? How would you characterize the mood and concerns of his poems? How do his poem resemble and differ from Li Po's.
  • No turn to Korea and read about Queen Sondok of Silla.  Who was Sondok, and what role did she play in the politics of her time? What she unusual among Korean women of her day?


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