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A History of World Societies, Sixth Edition
McKay/Hill/Buckler/Ebrey
Web Exercises
Chapter 21: Continuity and Change in East Asia, ca 1400-1800

The four centuries covered in this chapter mark a transitory phase in the history of East Asia. During this time, the threat of conquest from Mongol tribes dissipated. On the other hand, western European merchants and governments encroached upon the kingdoms of Japan, Korea, and China. More and more, East Asia was connected to the broader global trading patterns that western Europeans established during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Unlike in native civilizations and kingdoms in the Americas, European encroachment in East Asia did not result in the collapse of local political and cultural traditions. Indeed, cultural and political traditions continued to evolve along historical patterns. In 1800, East Asian societies were still remarkably cohesive despite the dramatic changes in global economic and political patterns occurring all around them.

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:
  • Broadly speaking, both Japan and China experienced similar political developments between 1400 and 1800. After periods of disruption, each civilization returned to traditional patterns of government and political philosophy. As each political structure faced new challenges, it utilized strategies that had been forged in its past.
  • To better understand these trends, complete the following exercises. Go to Ming China. According to this site, what disruption in Chinese history was the Ming Dynasty hoping to overcome? What does Tien Ming, or the Mandate of Heaven, mean? For more information, see Tien Ming: The Mandate of Heaven. How did the Ming Dynasty represent "a return to traditional patterns of government and political philosophy"?
  • The Ming Dynasty collapsed in 1644 and was replaced by the Qing Dynasty, which was not Chinese but rather a Manchu dynasty. To understand the difference between the Manchus and the Chinese, go to Ch'in China: The Manchus. The Manchus were a different ethnic group which for centuries had lived a pastoral existence north of China. To locate the Manchu homeland, see Map 1. How did the Ming Dynasty influence Manchu society? What major transition did these people undergo during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries? The Qing Dynasty that the Manchus created marked the second time that a foreign dynasty had ruled China; the first was the Yuan, a Mongol dynasty that ruled China between 1280 and 1368 (see Yuan Dynasty). Unlike the Mongols, the Manchus governed China using native traditions and institutions. Go to Imperial Era: III.  Scroll down and read the section entitled "Rise of the Manchus." According to this site, how did the Manchus attempt to rule China? What political philosophies and traditions did they use?
  • Go to Warring States Japan, 1467-1573. Who were the daimyo? How did they weaken the authority of the Shoguns during this time period? Why is this period known as the warring states period? Finally, read Tokugawa shogunate: how did the Tokugawas rise to power, and how did they bring lasting order to Japan?
Activity Two:
  • The Ming Dynasty, Qing Dynasty, and Tokugawa Shogunate all tried to restore unity, order, and stability to their kingdoms using traditional political philosophies and strategies. How successful were they in accomplishing this goal?
  • To analyze the successes and failures of the Ming Dynasty, study the images and read the essays at Construction of the Forbidden City Begins, The Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty, and Ming China: The Commercial Revolution. Make a list of major accomplishments during the Ming Dynasty, considering construction projects, agricultural innovations, commercial developments, exploration, and other possibilities.
  • These accomplishments were relatively short-lived (see Chinese history timeline). The essay Decline of the Ming explores some reasons for this rapid descent. What three major sources does this author identify as reasons for the collapse of Ming authority? One key component was corruption within the Ming court. In particular, the author mentions conflict between scholars and eunuchs. To learn more about eunuchs and their role in Chinese history, read the essay at Chinese Cultural Studies: Mary M. Anderson: Hidden Power: The Palace Eunuchs of Imperial China. Who were the eunuchs, and what role did they play in the Chinese court? How did they accumulate so much power despite their officially low status? Why were so many men willing to submit to mutilation in order to serve in the palace? Considering what you learned in the essay Decline of the Ming, how do you think the eunuch system contributed to the collapse of the Ming Dynasty? Now write a short summary (1-3 paragraphs) that analyzes the successes and failures of the Ming.
  • To analyze the successes and failures of the Qing Dynasty up to 1800, read the essay at Ch'ing China: Ch'ing State, paying close attention to the reigns of Emperors K'ang-hsi and Ch'ien-lung (or Kanxi and Qianlong, as McKay, A History of World Societies (Fifth Edition) spells them). Also compare a map of the Ming Dynasty to a map of the Qing Dynasty. (Be sure to scroll down for the right map.) Why did the Qing Dynasty expand the empire's territory? What impact did this have on the dynasty? Now analyze how successful the Qing were at promoting unity, order, and stability. Do you believe the Qing Dynasty was more successful in pursuing these goals by 1800 than the Ming had been? Why or why not?
  • To understand the domestic policies of the Tokugawa Shogunate, read the article Kawasaki: A Military Checkpoint, which is part of a large and complex web site that offers a virtual tour of Edo, the capital of the Tokugawa Shogunate and now the modern city of Tokyo. Be sure to click on the hypertext links in the essay and view the images that appear on the left side of the page. After perusing this page define daimyo and samurai. What were the traditional roles of these classes in Japanese history? How did the Shoguns alter these roles? What restrictions did they place on the daimyo and samurai? How did these policies promote unity, order, and stability?
Activity Three:
  • The following activity demonstrates that the Ming Dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, and the Tokugawa Shogunate were all successful in promoting unity, order, and stability. During each period, the economy grew, commerce expanded, the central government established strong authority, and for the most part each kingdom avoided civil or foreign wars. In this era of peace and prosperity, both China and Japan experienced a cultural flowering. To explore some examples of this development, complete the following exercises.
  • Read the essay Ming Literature. How did the ability of the Ming Dynasty to promote unity, order, and stability also promote the development of new literature? What new literary forms appeared in this time period? How did they reflect Chinese traditions?
  • Now read the essay and examine the images at China-on-site: Paintings, Ming Dynasty. How did the Ming Dynasty promote the visual arts? What characteristics would best describe this artwork? In other words, is it simple or bombastic? Is the style realistic or abstract? What moods and emotions does the artwork invoke? How does the artwork reflect Chinese traditions?
  • Learn about Kabuki at KABUKI: Traditional Theatrical Arts. How did the domestic policies of the Tokugawa Shogunate encourage the development of this form of drama? Who patronized this form of art?
  • Another art form that developed in the urban areas of Tokugawa Japan was the Tea Ceremony. To learn about the complexity and history of this ceremony, go to Cha No Yu. Click on the gate and follow the instructions inside. Be sure to read all the brief essays by clicking on the titles at the left-hand side of this page. How does the Tea Ceremony reflect traditional Japanese customs and beliefs? Why do you think this form of entertainment was so popular in urban areas of Tokugawa Japan?
Activity Four:
  • One challenge that the Ming Dynasty, Qing Dynasty, and Tokugawa Shogunate all faced during this era was increased contact with Europeans. You probably should complete Activity Six in the web activities for Chapter 16, to understand the nature of this contact. This activity reveals that the Chinese and Japanese were largely dealing with European Joint Stock Companies and Jesuit missionaries during this era. European governments did not have the power to pose a military threat before 1800. Nevertheless, Joint Stock Companies and missionaries posed serious hazards to each regime. To explore this dilemma and examine how each regime responded, complete the following exercises.
  • When Europeans arrived, how do you think they were treated by the Japanese and Chinese? For Chinese treatment, go to Ch'ing China: The Ocean Devils. Under what conditions did the Qing Dynasty allow European merchants to trade with their Chinese counterparts? Why did the Chinese call Europeans "Ocean Devils"? For a visual image of this stereotype, see Chinese View of an 18th Century English Sailor. Why do you think this artist made his character so hairy? What do you think the smoke coming out of his mouth symbolizes? Now go to SEIC - The Swedish East India Company (1731-1813). Why, according to this site, were European merchants willing to trade under the conditions imposed by the Chinese? What goods did Europeans desire?
  • The Tokugawa Shogunate reached a similar accommodation with European merchants in the seventeenth century by limiting their presence to the city of Nagasaki. For further information, see Japan Seclusion and Social Control.  In addition go to Places: Nagasaki and read about how the city was built and organized.  What threat did the European presence in Japan pose to the Tokugawa regime? How were its policies toward Europeans similar to the policies of the Ming and Qing Dynasties? Write a brief summary (1-3 paragraphs) that explains the structure through which Europeans and the Japanese and Chinese had contact with each other during this period.
  • Although the Chinese and Japanese carefully regulated European missionaries and merchants, contact between East Asia and Europe was vibrant. Both the Chinese and Japanese absorbed many aspects of European culture. For example, go to Missionaries and mandarins: The Jesuits in China. Be sure to study the images as well as read the text. According to this site, what aspects of European culture did the Chinese embrace? What characteristics of the Jesuits did the Chinese admire?
Activity Five:
  • Upon completing Activities One through Four, ask yourself the following question: Why were the Japanese and Chinese able to meet the challenge of European intrusion during this time period? Consider political and economic developments, as well as the importance of tradition and history. Collect your thoughts and write a brief essay that summarizes your conclusions.


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