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Stayer: Chapter 8: MQs and BPQs
Terms in this set (17)
Chinese history has often been viewed in the West as impressive perhaps, but largely static or changeless and self-contained or isolated. In what ways might the material in this chapter counteract such impressions?
• Many developments noted in this chapter
oppose this impression, including China's active
participation in long-distance trade; the tribute
system, which established ties with China's
neighbors; and the influence of Buddhism on
• Also contradicting this idea are the popularity
for a time during the Tang dynasty of "western
barbarian" music, dancing, clothing, foods, games,
and artistic styles among the upper classes; the
influence of pastoral and nomadic peoples on China;
and the spread of Chinese technological innovations
to other parts of the world.
• China's adoption of outside crops and
technology, including cotton, sugar, and the
processing techniques for these crops from India, as
well as fast-ripening rice from Vietnam, and the
cosmopolitan nature of China's port cities contradict
the notion that China was isolated.
• However, in defense of the idea, one could
point to the perception of the educated Chinese elite
that China was self-sufficient, requiring little from
the outside world.
MQ1: Why are the centuries of the Tang and Song dynasties in China sometimes referred to as a "golden age?
-The Tang and Song dynasties saw the thriving of arts and literature, as well as the rise of Neo-Confucianism in combination with Buddhism and Daoism.
-These dynasties also fostered a long lasting state structure consisting of six ministries, a Censorate (surveillance system), and a renewed and less corrupt examination system.
-They experienced an "economic revolution" that left China the wealthiest country on earth as many highly urbanized cities sprung up.
-As agricultural production increased due to new technologies (including a hardy strain of rice from Vietnam), Tang/Son China experienced rapid population growth.
-A network of canals boosted trade and unified China, and industrial production likewise soared (esp. iron).
-These dynasties also witnessed much technological innovation (ex: printing, gunpowder, ship-building/navigational).
-Lastly, the Tang and Song dynasties witnessed China's transformation into a highly commercialized society as subsistence farming was traded for large-scale farming for market.
MQ2: In what ways did women's lives change during the Tang and Song dynasties?
• Chinese women of the Tang dynasty era, at
least in the north, had participated in social life with
greater freedom than during the Han dynasty. This
was because of the influence of steppe nomads,
whose women led less restricted lives.
• But the revival of Confucianism and rapid
economic growth during the Song dynasty resulted in
the tightening of patriarchal restrictions on women.
These new restrictions were perhaps most strikingly
on display in the practice of foot binding.
• In the textile industry, urban workshops and
state factories increasingly took over the skilled tasks
of weaving textiles that had previously been the
work of rural women.
• Growing wealth and urban environments
offered women opportunities as restaurant operators,
sellers of vegetables and fish, maids, cooks, or
• The growing prosperity of elite families
funneled increasing numbers of women into roles as
concubines, entertainers, courtesans, and prostitutes.
This trend reduced the ability of wives to negotiate
as equals with their husbands, and it set women
against one another.
• Some positive trends in the lives of women
occurred during the Song dynasty. Women saw their
property rights expanded, and in some quarters, the
education of women was advocated as a way to
better prepare their sons for civil service exams.
MQ3: How did the Chinese and their nomadic neighbors to the north view each other?
• The nomadic neighbors saw China as the
source of grain, other agricultural products, and
• They also viewed China as a threat, because
the Chinese periodically directed their military forces
deep into the steppes, built the Great Wall to keep
the nomads out, and often proved unwilling to allow
pastoral peoples easy access to trading opportunities
• The Chinese saw the nomads as a military
• But they also needed the nomads, whose lands
were the source of horses, which were essential to
the Chinese military, and of other products, including
skins, furs, hides, and amber.
• Also, the nomads controlled much of the Silk
Road trading network, which funneled goods from
the West into China.
• Several assumptions underlay the tribute
system, such as that China was the "middle
kingdom," the center of the world, infinitely superior
to the "barbarian" peoples beyond its borders; that
China was self-sufficient, requiring little from the
outside world, while barbarians sought access to
China's wealth and wisdom; and that the Chinese might provide access to their wealth and wisdom
under certain controlled conditions in the hope that it
would help to civilize the barbarians.
• The tribute system was a set of practices
designed to facilitate this civilizing contact. It
required non-Chinese authorities to acknowledge
Chinese superiority and their own subordinate place
in a Chinese-centered world order. In exchange for
expressions of submission, the Chinese emperor
would grant foreigners permission to trade in China
and provide them with gifts, which were often worth
more than the tribute offered by the foreigners.
• The system was an effort to regulate relations
with neighboring states and groups of nomads on the
borders of the empire.
MQ 5: How did the tribute system in practice differ
from the ideal Chinese understanding of its
• Often, China was in reality confronting
powerful nomadic empires that were able to deal
with China on at least equal terms.
• At times, the Chinese emperors negotiated
arrangements that recognized nomadic states as
• They promised Chinese princesses as wives,
sanctioned exchanges of goods that favored the
nomads, and agreed to supply the nomads annually
with large quantities of grain, wine, and silk. While
these goods were officially termed "gifts," granted in
accord with the tribute system, they were in fact
tribute in reverse or even protection money.
MQ 6: In what ways did China and the nomads
influence each other?
• When nomadic peoples actually ruled over
parts of China, some of them adopted Chinese ways.
But on the whole, Chinese culture had only a modest
impact on the nomadic people of the northern
steppes. Few of these pastoral societies were
incorporated into the Chinese state for any
significant length of time, and most lived in areas
where Chinese-style agriculture was simply
• On the Chinese side, elements of steppe
culture had some influence on those parts of northern
China that were periodically conquered and ruled by
nomadic peoples; for example, some high-ranking
members of the Chinese imperial family led their
troops in battle in the style of Turkic warriors.
MQ 7: In what ways did China have an influence in
Korea, Vietnam, and Japan? In what ways was that
• Both Korea and Vietnam achieved political
independence while participating fully in the tribute
system as vassal states. Japan was never conquered
by the Chinese but did participate for some of its
history in the tribute system as a vassal state.
• The cultural elite of Korea, Vietnam, and
Japan borrowed heavily from China—Confucianism,
Daoism, Buddhism, administrative techniques, the
examination system, artistic and literary styles—
even as their own cultures remained distinct.
• Both Korea and Vietnam experienced some
colonization by ethnic Chinese settlers.
• Unlike Korea or Japan, the cultural heartland
of Vietnam was fully incorporated into the Chinese
state for over a thousand years, far longer than
corresponding parts of Korea. This political
dominance led to cultural changes in Vietnam, such
as the adoption of Chinese-style irrigated agriculture,
the education of the Vietnamese elite in Confucian based
schools and their inclusion in the local
bureaucracy, Chinese replacing the local language in
official business, and the adoption of Chinese
clothing and hairstyles.
• Unlike Korea or Vietnam, Japan was
physically separated from China, and thus its
adoption of elements of Chinese civilization from the
seventh to the ninth centuries was wholly voluntary.
The high point of that cultural borrowing occurred
when the first Japanese state emerged and
deliberately sought to transform Japan into a
centralized bureaucratic state on the Chinese model.
In doing so, Japan voluntarily embraced, among
other things, a Chinese-style emperor, Buddhism,
Confucianism, Chinese court and governmental
structures, and the Chinese calendar. But because the
adoptions were voluntary, the Japanese could be
selective. By the tenth century, Japan's tribute
missions to China stopped. In the long run, Japanese
political, religious, literary, and artistic cultures
evolved in distinctive ways despite much borrowing
from China. Korea, Vietnam, and Japan resisted
some Chinese cultural influences. Korea and
Vietnam resisted militarily Chinese political
MQ 8: In what different ways did Japanese and
Korean women experience the pressures of
• Elite Japanese women, unlike those in Korea,
largely escaped the more oppressive features of
Chinese Confucian culture, such as the prohibition of
remarriage for widows, seclusion within the home,
and foot binding.
• Moreover, elite Japanese women continued to
inherit property, Japanese married couples often
lived apart or with the wife's family, and m
MQ 9: In what different ways
did Korea, Vietnam, Japan, and northern nomads
experience and respond to Chinese influence?
• China's neighbors did not experience China in
one uniform way, but in general, nearby peoples
experienced their Chinese neighbor as a trade
partner, cultural influence, and political influence.
China could also be a military threat at times.
• Some neighbors, such as Korea and Vietnam,
experienced China as a military conqueror; others,
such as the pastoral peoples to the north of China,
were at different times both the conquerors and
rulers of parts of China and subject to attack by the
Chinese. Japan had no military conflict with China.
• In their response to China, neighbors such as
Korea and Vietnam, and sometimes the pastoral
peoples and Japan as well, participated in the tribute
system promoted by China.
• Some, such as Japan, voluntarily adopted
Chinese intellectual, cultural, and religious
traditions. Other neighbors, such as Vietnam,
willingly adopted some Chinese intellectual, cultural,
and religious traditions and had others imposed upon
them while under Chinese rule.
• Responses to Chinese influence varied from
outright rebellion in Vietnam under the Trung sisters
to the active embrace of Chinese influence by the
Japanese under Shotoku Taishi.
MQ 10: In what ways did China participate in the
world of Eurasian commerce and exchange, and with
• China actively participated in commerce, with
its export products—silk, porcelain, lacquerware—in
• Several Chinese ports became cosmopolitan
centers of commerce and trade, and points of contact
between Chinese and other Afro-Eurasian cultures.
• The size of the Chinese domestic economy
provided a ready market for hundreds of
commodities from afar.
• One key outcome was the diffusion of many
Chinese technological innovations, including
techniques for producing salt, papermaking, and
• Chinese innovations in explosives, textiles,
metallurgy, and naval technologies also often
sparked further innovations. For instance, the arrival
of gunpowder in Europe spurred the development of
• China learned about the cultivation and
processing of both cotton and sugar from India and
gained access to new, fast-ripening, and droughtresistant
strains of rice from Vietnam. Outside
influences also helped inspire Chinese innovation,
such as Buddhism spurring the development of
MQ 11: What facilitated the rooting of Buddhism
• The chaotic, violent, and politically
fragmented centuries that followed the collapse of
the Han dynasty discredited Confucianism and
opened the door to alternative understandings of the
• Nomadic rulers who governed much of
northern China after the fall of the Han dynasty
found Buddhism useful in part because it was
foreign. Their support led to the building of many
Buddhist monasteries and works of art.
• In southern China, Buddhism provided some
comfort to the elite in the face of a collapsing
• Once established, Buddhist monasteries
provided an array of social services to ordinary
• Buddhism was associated with access to
• There was a serious effort by Buddhist monks,
scholars, and translators to present this Indian
religion in terms that Chinese could relate to.
• Under the Sui and Tang dynasties, Buddhism
received growing state support.
MQ 12: What were the major sources of opposition to
Buddhism within China?
• Some perceived the Buddhist establishment as
a challenge to imperial authority, and there was a
deepening resentment of its enormous wealth.
• Buddhism was clearly of foreign origin and
therefore offensive to some Confucian and Daoist
• For some Confucian thinkers, the celibacy of
monks and their withdrawal from society undermined the Confucian-based family system of
• After 800 C.E., a growing resentment of
foreign culture took hold, particularly among the
literate classes. Ultimately, a series of imperial
decrees between 841 and 845 C.E. ordered some
260,000 monks and nuns to return to secular life, and
thousands of monasteries, temples, and shrines were
destroyed or turned to public use.
BPQ4: In what ways did Tang and Song dynasty China resemble the classical Han dynasty period, and in what ways had China changed?
Tang and Song dynasty China resembled the Han dynasty period in a number of ways, including the maintenance of the imperial political system, and the importance of a professional bureaucracy formally trained and subject to competitive exams.
Also similar was a focus on establishing a dominant political position in East Asia that was recognized by China's neighbors; an interest in and support for long-distance trade; and the continued importance of the Confucian tradition in elite society.
China also experienced important changes following the Han dynasty period, including tighter unification of northern and southern China through a vast waterway system; the long-term migration of Chinese populations south into the Yangzi River valley after 220 C.E.; and an economic revolution that made it the richest empire on earth.
There was rapid population growth, from 50 million to 60 million people during the Tang dynasty to 120 million people by 1200, which was spurred in part by a remarkable growth in agricultural production.
Also, the economy of China became the most highly commercialized in the world and became more active in long-distance trade than during the Han dynasty.
BPQ 1: How can you explain the changing fortunes of Buddhism in China?
- Grew in influence during an era of disorder following the collapse of the Han dynasty, when many in China had lost faith in older traditions (Confucianism, Doaism)
- Buddhism was supported by foreign nomadic rulers who governed portions of China during this epoch.
- Buddhism monasteries provided a number of social services
- Associated with magical powers
- Push by monks and scholars to present the religion in terms that would resonate with the Chinese (borrowed Confucian and Daoist principles)
- Under Sui and Tang dynasties it received state support
- In the 9th century it experienced a decline as the Buddhist establishment was perceived as a rival of the state
- Deepening resentment during this period with the apparent wealth of Buddhist monasteries
- Perceived as a continuing threat to Daoism and Confucianism and painted as foreign
- Imperial decrees in the 9th century shut down monasteries and liquidated their resources
BPQ 2: How did China influence the world of the third-wave era? How was China itself transformed by its encounters with a wider world?
- Chinese products (especially silk) were vital to the Afro-Eurasian trade networks
- Chinese technologies (shipbuilding, navigation, gunpowder, printing) spread to other regions of Eurasia
- Buddhism greatly affected China
- China's trade with the rest of the world made it the richest country in the world
- Most highly commercialized society in the world too, with regions (especially in the south) producing for the market as opposed to for local consumption
- China adopted cotton and sugar crops and how to refine them from India
BPQ 3: How might China's posture in the world during the Tang and Song dynasty era compare to its emerging role in global affairs in the 21st century?
- The recent growth of China's economy parallels its important role in world trade during the Tang and Song dynasties.
- The modern Chinese economy produces sought-after manufactured goods for export, similar to the Tang and Song dynasties
- China continues to view itself, rightfully so, as an important/powerful state and to embrace products and technologies from the outside
- Modern China differs in that the official elite ideology embraces world trade whereas Chinese elites during the Tang and Song dynasties believed China possessed all that it needed within its own borders and did not require trade (a belief in autarky, though not played out in reality).
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