Bruce Morrison » Empires in East Asia, 600–1350

Empires in East Asia, 600–1350

Several kingdoms and empires arise in East Asia, helping to spread Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as trade, technology, and culture.


Section 1: Tang and Song China

Section 2: The Mongol Conquests

Section 3: The Mongol Empire

Section 4: Feudal Powers in Japan

Section 5: Kingdoms of Southeast Asia and Korea


Section 1: Tang and Song China

During the Tang and Song dynasties, China experiences an era of prosperity and technological innovation.


The Tang Dynasty Expands China


Brief Reign of the Sui Dynasty

  • Sui Dynasty, established by Wendi, lasts from 581 to 618
  • Main accomplishment: completingGrand Canal, which expands trade
  • Forced labor, high taxes lead to revolt; Sui emperor assassinated, 618


Tang Rulers Create a Powerful Empire

  • Tang Dynasty(618 to 907) begun by brilliant emperor Tang Taizong
  • Wu Zhao—only woman in China to assume title of emperor
  • Tang rulers expand and unify empire, strengthen government



  • Tang rulers revive civil service examination system
  • Theoretically, exams open to all men, even commoners
  • Practically, only rich can afford necessary education to take exam
  • Growth of bureaucracy cuts power of nobles


The Tang Lose Power

  • Tang rulers increase taxes in mid-700s, causing hardship
  • Attacks on empire increase; in 907, last Tang emperor killed


The Song Dynasty Restores China


Turmoil Followed by Strong Rule

  • In 960, Taizu reunites China, proclaims Song Dynasty (960–1279)
  • Song rulers unable to recapture lands lost in west and north
  • In 1100s, Jurchen people arise in Manchuria, set up own empire
  • In 1127, Song rulers forced south; build new capital at Hangzhou
  • Southern Song empire lasts from 1127 to 1279


An Era of Prosperity and Innovation



  • Population doubles during Tang and Song Dynasties to 100 million
  • China becomes most populous country in the world

Science and Technology

  • Chinese invent gunpowder, porcelain, mechanical clock, paper money
  • Movable type—blocks of individual characters—makes printing easier
  • In mathematics, Chinese develop use of negative numbers



  • Advances in farming contribute to population growth
  • Main advance: new strain of rice that produces two crops a year


Trade and Foreign Contacts

  • In early Tang, trade with west overSilk Road
  • During Tang decline, Chinese depend more on ocean trade routes
  • Trade stretches from Japan to Southeast Asia, India, Africa
  • Trade helps Buddhism spread


A Golden Age of Poetry and Art

  • Tang period produces great poetry, including works of Li Bo and Tu Fu
  • Song period known for brilliant painting


Changes in Chinese Society


Levels of Society

  • Power of noble families fades
  • Wealthy scholar-officials form new upper class, called the gentry
  • Urban middle class below gentry in social structure
  • Laborers, soldiers, peasants at bottom of social structure


The Status of Women

  • Status of women always lower than men in China
  • That status falls even lower during Tang and Song periods
  • Foot binding of upper-class girls becomes new custom


Section 2: The Mongol Conquests

The Mongols, a nomadic people from the steppe, conquer settled societies across much of Asia.


Nomads of the Asian Steppe


Geography of the Steppe

  • Steppe—dry grassland of Eurasia—provides home for nomads
  • Two main expanses: Central Asia to eastern Europe, and Mongolia
  • Steppe has little rain, dramatic seasonal temperature differences


The Nomadic Way of Life

  • Steppe nomads arepastoralists—herd domesticated animals
  • Way of life teaches Asian nomads to be skilled horse riders
  • Nomads travel inclans—kin groups linked by common ancestor





Steppe Nomads and Settled Societies

  • Nomads and people living in settled communities often interact
  • Some interactions peaceful, as in trade
  • Sometimes nomads raid towns and cities to seize wealth, goods
  • Strong state or empire could protect its lands from these invasions


The Rise of the Mongols


Genghis Khan Unites the Mongols

  • About 1200,Genghis Khan—“universal ruler”—unites Mongols
  • In early 1200s, begins campaign of conquest
  • By 1225, controls Central Asia


Genghis the Conqueror

  • A brilliant organizer, strategist
  • Uses brutality to terrorize enemies, force surrenders


The Mongol Empire


Death and Succession

  • Genghis Khan dies in 1227
  • Successors continue conquests for 50 years
  • Conquer territory from China to Poland


The Khanates

  • In east, Mongols conquer northern China and invade Korea
  • In west, Mongols take Kiev and threaten Vienna and Venice
  • In 1250s, Mongols turn their attention to Persia
  • By 1260, Mongol Empire split into khanates, four regions


The Mongols as Rulers

  • Mongol rulers are tolerant of other peoples, cultures
  • Some Mongols adopt local ways, leading to split among khanates


The Mongol Peace

  • Peaceful period from mid-1200s to mid-1300s calledPax Mongolica
  • Much east-west trade, exchange of ideas during this period


Section 3: The Mongol Empire

As Emperor of China, Kublai Khan encourages foreign trade.


Kublai Khan Becomes Emperor


A New Emperor

  • Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis, becomes great khan in 1260
  • Kublai conquers China by 1279


Beginning a New Dynasty

  • EstablishesYuan Dynasty(1279–1368), period of peace, prosperity
  • Kublai adopts Chinese ways, builds capital atBeijing

Failure to Conquer Japan

  • In 1274 and 1281, Kublai tries but fails to conquer Japan
  • Massive second invasion destroyed by typhoon


Mongol Rule in China


The Mongols and the Chinese

  • Mongols live separately from Chinese, follow own laws
  • Mongols keep top government posts, put Chinese in local positions
  • Kublai extends Grand Canal to Beijing, builds highway


Foreign Trade

  • Trade increases under Kublai, sending Chinese products to other lands
  • Kublai invites merchants from other lands to China


Marco Polo at the Mongol Court

  • Venetian traderMarco Polovisits China in 1275
  • Polo returns to Venice in 1292; tells stories of what he saw in China

-fabulous cities, fantastic wealth

-burning “black stones” (coal) to heat Chinese homes

-Kublai Khan’s government and trade in Beijing

  • These stories gathered into a book; most readers doubt its truth


The End of Mongol Rule


Declining Power

  • Failed expeditions to Southeast Asia show weakness of Yuan Dynasty
  • High taxes cause resentment


Yuan Dynasty Overthrown

  • Kublai dies in 1294; successors are weak
  • In 1300s, rebellions break out, leading to formation of Ming Dynasty


Decline of the Mongol Empire

  • Mongol rule collapses in Persia in 1330s; in Central Asia in 1370s
  • By end of 1300s, only Mongol rule in Russia remains, the Golden Horde


Section 4: Feudal Powers in Japan

Japanese civilization is shaped by cultural borrowing from China and the rise of feudalism and military rulers.


The Growth of Japanese Civilization


Japan’s Location

  • Japan lies east of China; name means “land of the rising sun”
  • Closest neighbor is 120 miles over water, Korea
  • 500 miles of water separate it from China




The Geography of Japan

  • Consists of about 4,000 islands in a 12,000-mile archipelago
  • Varied climate, but little land for farming


Early Japan

  • Many different clans worshipped own gods
  • This early religion later calledShinto—“the way of the gods”
  • Shinto worshipers respect forces of nature, ancestors, and kami
  • Kami—divine spirits dwelling in nature: tree, rock, waterfall


The Yamato Emperors

  • By 400s, Yamato clan takes control, names emperor
  • For many centuries, Yamato emperors rule; sometimes in name only


Japanese Culture


Buddhism in Japan

  • Japanese learn Chinese ideas, customs from contact with Korea
  • Buddhism spreads widely in Japan, mixes with Shinto practices


Cultural Borrowing from China

  • Prince Shotoku rules as regent; sponsors missions to Tang China
  • Chinese ideas, practices gain wide currency in Japan as result
  • Japanese adopt Chinese writing, art, and ways of everyday living
  • Japan does not copy China’s civil-service system


Life in the Heian Period


The Heian Court

  • In late 700s, Japanese move capital from Nara to Heian (modern Kyoto)
  • Heian’s upper class creates a highly refined court society
  • Rules, rituals, and artistic pursuits structure court life
  • The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki Shikibu illustrates Heian society
  • This 11th-century masterpiece is considered the world’s first novel


Feudalism Erodes Imperial Authority


Decline of Central Power

  • During most of Heian period (794–1185) rich Fujiwara family rules
  • In mid-1000s, large landowners build private armies, become warlords
  • Small landowners trade land to warlords in exchange for protection
  • Feudal system of local rule develops; Fujiwara family loses power


Samurai Warriors

  • Landowners takesamurai—warriors—as bodyguards
  • Samurai live according toBushido—demanding code of behavior





The Kamakura Shogunate

  • In late 1100s, Minamoto family wins in struggle for power
  • In 1192, Yoritomo becomesshogun—military dictator running Japan
  • Shogun rules from Kamakura, while emperor stays in Kyoto
  • Kamakura shoguns use samurai to repel Mongol invasions (1274, 1281)


Section 5: Kingdoms of Southeast Asia and Korea

Several smaller kingdoms prosper in East and Southeast Asia, a region culturally influenced by China and India.


Kingdoms of Southeast Asia


Geography of Southeast Asia

  • Area between Indian and Pacific Ocean, includes mainland and islands
  • Five major rivers on mainland, but mountains make travel difficult
  • Key to power in region is control of trade routes and harbors


Influence of India and China

  • Indian traders arrive in first century A.D.; bring Buddhism, Hinduism
  • Indian influence remains today
  • Chinese migrants and traders bring Chinese influence


The Khmer Empire

  • By 800s the Khmer conquers kingdoms, creates an empire
  • Khmer Empire(now Cambodia) controls Southeast Asian mainland
  • Rulers build temple complexes in capital, Angkor
  • Angkor Wat—square mile complex dedicated to Hindu god Vishnu


Island Trading Kingdoms

  • Sailendra dynasty rules on Java; its culture shows Indian influence
  • Island empire Srivijaya dominated area from 600s to 1200s


Dai Viet

  • During Han Dynasty, China controls Southeast Asia
  • Vietnam becomes an independent kingdom, Dai Viet, in 939
  • Influenced by Chinese culture: Buddhism, government
  • Keep own cultural identity; women have some independence
  • Ly Dynasty (1009–1225) establishes capital at Hanoi


Korean Dynasties


Korean Culture

  • Combines Chinese culture with native traditions


Geography of Korea

  • Peninsula with little arable land; mountains and seas isolate it





Early History

  • Different clans control areas; in108 B.C., Han China conquers Korea
  • Chinese introduce governing method, religions, system of writing
  • Regional powers arise; theSilladefeats others, drives out Chinese
  • Silla rule: Buddhist monasteries, bronze sculptures, writing system


The Koryu Dynasty

  • In 935, Wang Kon takes control, formsKoryu Dynasty, rules to 1392
  • Models government on China’s civil service system, with differences
  • Mongols dominate Korea from 1231 to 1360s
  • In 1392, scholar-officials overthrow Koryu Dynasty


Koryu Culture

  • Inspired by Song artists; Korean artists produce celadon pottery
  • Korean artisans produce wood blocks for printing Buddhist scriptures