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History of Asia

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History of Asia

Detail of Chinese silk from the 4th century BCE. The characteristic trade of silk through the Silk Road connected various regions from China, India, Central Asia, and the Middle East to Europe and Africa.

The history of Asia can be seen as the collective history of several distinct peripheral coastal regions such as, East Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East linked by the interior mass of the Eurasian steppe.

The coastal periphery was the home to some of the world's earliest known civilizations, with each of the three regions developing early civilizations around fertile river valleys. These valleys were fertile because the soil there was rich and could bear many root crops. The civilizations in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and China shared many similarities and likely exchanged technologies and ideas such as mathematics and the wheel. Other notions such as that of writing likely developed individually in each area. Cities, states and then empires developed in these lowlands.

The steppe region had long been inhabited by mounted nomads, and from the central steppes they could reach all areas of the Asian continent. The northern part of the continent, covering much of Siberia was also inaccessible to the steppe nomads due to the dense forests and the tundra. These areas in Siberia were very sparsely populated.

The centre and periphery were kept separate by mountains and deserts. The Caucasus, Himalaya, Karakum Desert, and Gobi Desert formed barriers that the steppe horsemen could only cross with difficulty. While technologically and culturally the city dwellers were more advanced, they could do little militarily to defend against the mounted hordes of the steppe. However, the lowlands did not have enough open grasslands to support a large horsebound force. Thus the nomads who conquered states in the Middle East were soon forced to adapt to the local societies.

Asia's history would feature major developments seen in other parts of the world, as well as events that would affect those other regions. These include the trade of the Silk Road, which spread cultures, languages, religion, and disease throughout Afro-Eurasian trade. Another major advancement was the innovation of gunpowder in medieval China, which led to advanced warfare through the use of guns.


  • Prehistory 1
  • Bronze Age 2
  • Iron Age 3
    • Middle East 3.1
    • India 3.2
    • Classical China 3.3
      • Zhou Dynasty 3.3.1
      • Qin Dynasty 3.3.2
      • Han Dynasty 3.3.3
  • Medieval history 4
    • Islamic Middle East 4.1
      • Early Islamic Empire 4.1.1
      • Abbasid Empire 4.1.2
    • India 4.2
    • Medieval China 4.3
      • Sui Dynasty 4.3.1
      • Tang dynasty 4.3.2
      • Song dynasty 4.3.3
      • Yuan Dynasty 4.3.4
    • Japan 4.4
    • Mongol Empire 4.5
  • Early modern period 5
    • Ming China 5.1
      • Society and economy 5.1.1
      • Foreign interests 5.1.2
      • Decline 5.1.3
  • Late modern period 6
    • Qing China 6.1
      • Opium War 6.1.1
  • Contemporary history 7
    • China 7.1
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Bibliography 10


A temple area in southeastern Turkey at Göbekli Tepe dated to 10000 BCE has been seen as the beginning of the "Neolithic 1" culture. This site was developed by nomadic hunter-gatherers since there is no permanent housing in the vicinity. This temple site is the oldest known man-made place of worship. By 8500–8000 BCE farming communities began to spread to Anatolia, Northern Africa and north Mesopotamia.

A report by archaeologist Rakesh Tewari on Lahuradewa, India shows new C14 datings that range between 8000 BCE and 9000 BCE associated with rice, making Lahuradewa the earliest Neolithic site in entire South Asia.[1]

The prehistoric Beifudi site near Yixian in Hebei Province, China, contains relics of a culture contemporaneous with the Cishan and Xinglongwa cultures of about 7000–8000 BCE, neolithic cultures east of the Taihang Mountains, filling in an archaeological gap between the two Northern Chinese cultures. The total excavated area is more than 1,200 square meters and the collection of neolithic findings at the site consists of two phases.[2]

Around 5500 BCE the Halafian culture appeared in the Levant, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia, based upon dryland agriculture.

In southern Mesopotamia were the alluvial plains of Sumer and Elam. Since there was little rainfall, irrigation systems were necessary. The Ubaid culture flourished from 5500 BCE.

Bronze Age

The Chalcolithic period (or Copper Age) began about 4500 BCE, then the Bronze Age began about 3500 BCE, replacing the Neolithic cultures.

The Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) was a Bronze Age civilization (3300–1300 BCE; mature period 2600–1900 BCE) which was centered mostly in the western part of the Indian Subcontinent; it is considered that an early form of Hinduism was performed during this civilization. Some of the great cities of this civilization include Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, which had a high level of town planning and arts.[3][4] The cause of the destruction of these regions around 1700 BCE is debatable, although evidence suggests it was caused by natural disasters (especially flooding) and Indo-European invaders.[5] These invaders are commonly referred to as the Aryan and their dominance created the Vedic period, which lasted from roughly 1500 BCE to 500 BCE. During this period, the Sanskrit language developed and the Vedas were written, epic hymns that told tales of Aryan gods and wars. This was the basis for the Aryan religion, which would eventually sophisticate and develop into Hindusim, a religion based on the caste system of class (which consisted of the four varnas), the brahman priesthood, and the developing semi-monotheism.[6]

China and Vietnam were also centres of metalworking. Dating back to the Neolithic Age, the first bronze drums, called the Dong Son drums have been uncovered in and around the Red River Delta regions of Vietnam and Southern China. These relate to the prehistoric Dong Son Culture of Vietnam. Song Da bronze drum's surface, Dong Son culture, Vietnam

In Ban Chiang, Thailand (Southeast Asia), bronze artifacts have been discovered dating to 2100 BCE.

In Nyaunggan, Burma bronze tools have been excavated along with ceramics and stone artifacts. Dating is still currently broad (3500–500 BCE).

Iron Age

The Iron Age saw the widespread use of iron tools, weaponry, and armor throughout the major civilizations of Asia.

Middle East

The Zoroastrianism, developed by the philosopher Zoroaster. It introduced an early form of monotheism to the area. The religion banned animal sacrifice and the use of intoxicants in rituals; and introduced the concept of spiritual salvation through personal moral action, an end time, and both general and Particular judgment with a heaven or hell. These concepts would heavily influence later emperors and the masses. More importantly, Zoroastrianism would be an important precursor for the Abrahamic religions such as Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. The Persian Empire was successful in establishing peace and stability throughout the Middle East and were a major influence in art, politics (affecting Hellenistic leaders), and religion.

Alexander the Great conquered this dynasty in the 4th century BCE, creating the brief Hellenistic period. He was unable to establish stability and after his death, Persia broke into small, weak dynasties including the Seleucid Empire, followed by the Parthian Empire. By the end of the Classical age, Persia had been reconsolidated into the Sassanid Empire, also known as the second Persian Empire.

The Roman Empire would later control parts of Western Asia. The Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanid dynasties of Persia dominated Western Asia for centuries.


The Maurya and Gupta empires are called the Golden Age of India and were marked by extensive inventions and discoveries in science, technology, art, religion, and philosophy that crystallized the elements of what is generally known as Indian culture. The religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, which began in Indian sub-continent, were an important influence on South, East and Southeast Asia.

By 600 BCE, India had been divided into sixteen regional states that would occasionally feud amongst themselves. In 327 BCE, Alexander the Great came to India with a vision of conquering the whole world. He crossed northwestern India and created the province Bactria but could not move further because his army was afraid of the foot soldiers of India. Shortly prior, the soldier Chandragupta Maurya began to take control of the Ganges river and soon established the Maurya Empire. The Maurya Empire (Sanskrit: मौर्य राजवंश, Maurya Rājavanśha) was the geographically extensive and powerful empire in ancient India, ruled by the Mauryan dynasty from 321 to 185 BCE. It was one of the world's largest empires in its time, stretching to the Himalayas in the north, what is now Assam in the east, probably beyond modern Pakistan in the west, and annexing Balochistan and much of what is now Afghanistan, at its greatest extent. India was united for the first time in the Maurya empire. The government established by Chandragupta was led by an autocratic king, who primarily relied on the military to assert his power.[7] It also applied the use of a bureaucracy and even sponsored a postal service.[7] Chandragupta's grandson, Ashoka, greatly extended the empire by conquering most of modern-day India (save for the southern tip). He eventually converted to Buddhism, though, and began a peaceful life where he promoted the religion as well as humane methods throughout India. The Maurya Empire would disintegrate soon after Ashoka's death and was conquered by the Kushan invaders from the northwest, establishing the Kushan Empire. Their conversion to Buddhism caused the religion to be associated with foreigners and therefore a decline in its popularity occurred.[7]

The Kushan Empire would fall apart by 220 CE, creating more political turmoil in India. Then in 320, the Gupta Empire (Sanskrit: गुप्त राजवंश, Gupta Rājavanśha) was established and covered much of the Indian Subcontinent. Founded by Maharaja Sri-Gupta, the dynasty was the model of a classical civilization. Gupta kings united the area primarily through negotiation of local leaders and families as well as strategical intermarriage.[8] Their rule covered less land than the Maurya Empire, but established the greatest stability.[8] In 535, the empire ended when India was overrun by the Huns.

Classical China

Zhou Dynasty

Since 1029 BCE, the Zhou Dynasty (Chinese: 周朝; pinyin: Zhōu Cháo; Wade–Giles: Chou Ch'ao ), had existed in China and it would continue to until 258 BCE.[9] The Zhou dynasty had been using a feudal system by giving power to local nobility and relying on their loyalty in order to control its large territory.[9] As a result, the Chinese government at this time tended to be very decentralized and weak, and there was often little the emperor could do to resolve national issues. Nonetheless, the government was able to retain its position with the creation of the Mandate of Heaven, which could establish an emperor as divinely chosen to rule. The Zhou additionally discouraged the human sacrifice of the preceding eras and unified the Chinese language. Finally, the Zhou government encouraged settlers to move into the Yangtze River valley, thus creating the Chinese Middle Kingdom.

But by 500 BCE, its political stability began to decline due to repeated nomadic incursions[9] and internal conflict derived from the fighting princes and families. This was lessened by the many philosophical movements, starting with the life of Confucius. His philosophical writings (called Confucianism) concerning the respect of elders and of the state would later be popularly used in the Han Dynasty. Additionally, Laozi's concepts of Taoism, including yin and yang and the innate duality and balance of nature and the universe, became popular throughout this period. Nevertheless, the Zhou Dynasty eventually disintegrated as the local nobles began to gain more power and their conflict devolved into the Warring States period, from 402 BCE to 201 BCE.[10]

Qin Dynasty

One leader eventually came on top,

  • Bowman, John S. (2000), Columbia Chronologies of Asian History and Culture, New York City:  


  1. ^ "Second preliminary report of the excavations at Lahuradewa district" (PDF). Directorate of Archaeology (U.P,India). 
  2. ^ "New Archaeological Discoveries and Researches in 2004 — The Fourth Archaeology Forum of CASS". Institute of Archaeology — Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Retrieved 2007-09-18. 
  3. ^ Mughal, Muhammad Aurang Zeb (2011). Mohenjo-daro’s Sewers. World History Encyclopedia, Vol. 3. Ed: Kevin Murray McGeough. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, pp. 121-122.
  4. ^ Mughal, Muhammad Aurang Zeb (2011). Harappan Seals. In World History Encyclopedia, Era 2: Early Civilizations, 4000-1000 BCE. Edited by Kevin Murray McGeough. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, pp. 706-707.
  5. ^ "The Indus Valley Civilisation". ThinkQuest. Retrieved 9 February 2013. 
  6. ^ Stearns 2011, p. 68.
  7. ^ a b c Stearns 2011, p. 65.
  8. ^ a b Stearns 2011, p. 66.
  9. ^ a b c d Stearns 2011, p. 43.
  10. ^ Stearns 2011, p. 44.
  11. ^ Stearns 2011, p. 42.
  12. ^ a b c Stearns 2011, p. 45.
  13. ^ Stearns 2011, p. 138.
  14. ^ Stearns 2011, p. 148=149.
  15. ^ a b Stearns 2011, p. 148-149.
  16. ^ a b Stearns 2011, p. 151.
  17. ^ Stearns 2011, p. 154.
  18. ^ a b c Stearns 2011, p. 167.
  19. ^ a b Stearns 2011, p. 172.
  20. ^  
  21. ^ Stearns 2011, p. 270.
  22. ^ Stearns 2011, pp. 271–272.
  23. ^ Stearns 2011, p. 273.
  24. ^ a b Stearns 2011, p. 274.
  25. ^ Stearns 2011, p. 327.
  26. ^ Bowman 2000.
  27. ^ a b Stearns 2011, p. 503.
  28. ^ a b Stearns 2011, p. 504.
  29. ^ Stearns 2011, p. 505.
  30. ^ a b Stearns 2011, p. 507.
  31. ^ Stearns 2011, p. 339.
  32. ^ a b Stearns 2011, p. 508.
  33. ^ Stearns 2011, p. 509.
  34. ^ a b Stearns 2011, p. 510.


See also

Today China, India, South Korea, Japan and Russia play important roles in world economics and politics. China today is the world's second largest economy and the second fastest growing economy. Indian economy is the seventh-largest in the world by nominal GDP and the third-largest by purchasing power parity and is the fastest growing economy.

The communist government in China was defined by the party cadres. These hard-line officers controlled the People's Liberation Army, which itself controlled large amounts of the bureaucracy. This system was further controlled by the Central Committee, which additionally supported the state chairman who was considered the head of the government. The People's Republic's foreign policies included the repressing of secession attempts in Mongolia and Tibet and supporting of North Korea and North Vietnam in the Korean War and Vietnam War, respectively. Additionally, by 1960 China began to cut off its connections with the Soviet Union due to border disputes and an increasing Chinese sense of superiority, especially the personal feeling of Mao over the Russian premier, Nikita Khrushchev.

Prior to World War II, China faced a civil war between Mao Zedong's Communist party and Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist party; the nationalists appeared to be in the lead. However, once the Japanese invaded in 1937, the two parties were forced to form a temporary cease-fire in order to defend China. The nationalists faced many military failures that caused them to lose territory and subsequently, respect from the Chinese masses. In contrast, the communists' use of guerilla warfare (led by Lin Biao) proved effective against the Japanese's conventional methods and put the Communist Party on top by 1945. They also gained popularity for the reforms they were already applying in controlled areas, including land redistribution, education reforms, and widespread health care. For the next four years, the nationalists would be forced to retreat to the small island east of China, known as Taiwan (formerly known as Formosa), where they remain today. In mainland China, the People's Republic of China was established by the Communist Party, with Mao Zedong as its state chairman.


The European powers had control of other parts of Asia by the early 20th century, such as British India, French Indochina, Spanish East Indies, and Portuguese Macau and Goa. The Great Game between Russia and Britain was the struggle for power in the Central Asian region in the nineteenth century. The Trans-Siberian Railway, crossing Asia by train, was complete by 1916. Parts of Asia remained free from European control, although not influence, such as Persia, Thailand and most of China. In the twentieth century, Imperial Japan expanded into China and Southeast Asia during the Second World War. After the war, many Asian countries became independent from European powers. During the Cold War, the northern parts of Asia were communist controlled with the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China, while western allies formed pacts such as CENTO and SEATO. Conflicts such as the Korean War, Vietnam War and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan were fought between communists and anti-communists. In the decades after the Second World War, a massive restructuring plan drove Japan to become the world's second-largest economy, a phenomenon known as the Japanese post-war economic miracle. The Arab-Israeli conflict has dominated much of the recent history of the Middle East. After the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, there were many new independent nations in Central Asia.

Contemporary history

After Lin destroyed more than 20,000 chests of opium in the summer of 1839, Europeans demanded compensation for what they saw as unwarranted Chinese interference in their affairs. When it was not paid, the British declared war later the same year, starting what became known as the First Opium War. The outdated Chinese junks were no match for the advanced British gunboats, and soon the Yangzi River region came under threat of British bombardment and invasion. The emperor had no choice but to sue for peace, resulting in the exile of Lin and the Treaty of Nanking, which ceded the British control of Hong Kong and opened up trade and diplomacy with other European countries, including Germany, France, and the USA.

China saw its status reduced by what it perceived as parasitic trade with Westerners. Originally, European traders were at a disadvantage because the Chinese cared little for their goods, while European demand for Chinese commodities such as tea and porcelain only grew. In order to tip the trade imbalance in their favor, British merchants began to sell Indian opium to the Chinese. Not only did this sap Chinese bullion reserves, it also led to widespread drug addiction amongst the bureaucracy and society in general. A ban was placed on opium as early as 1729 by the Yongzheng Emperor, but little was done to enforce it. By the early 19th century, under the new Daoguang Emperor, the government began serious efforts to eradicate opium from Chinese society. Leading this endeavour were respected scholar-officials including Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu.

Opium War

By the late 18th century, both internal and external issues began to arise in Qing China's politics, society, and economy. The exam system with which scholars were assigned into the bureaucracy became increasingly corrupt; bribes and other forms of cheating allowed for inexperienced and inept scholars to enter the bureaucracy and this eventually caused rampant neglect of the peasantry, military, and the previously mentioned infrastructure projects. Poverty and banditry steadily rose, especially in rural areas, and mass migrations looking for work throughout China occurred. The perpetually conservative government refused to make reforms that could resolve these issues.

By 1644, the northern Manchu people had conquered China and established a foreign dynasty—the Qing Dynasty—once more. The Manchu Qing emperors, especially Confucian scholar Kangxi, remained largely conservative—retaining the bureaucracy and the scholars within it, as well as the Confucian ideals present in Chinese society. However, changes in the economy and new attempts at resolving certain issues occurred too. These included increased trade with Western countries that brought large amounts of silver into the Chinese economy in exchange for tea, porcelain, and silk textiles. This allowed for a new merchant-class, the compradors, to develop. In addition, repairs were done on existing dikes, canals, roadways, and irrigation works. This, combined with the lowering of taxes and government-assigned labor, was supposed to calm peasant unrest. However, the Qing failed to control the growing landlord class which had begun to exploit the peasantry and abuse their position.

Qing China

Late modern period

All of this corresponded with the usual dynastic decline of China seen before, as well as the growing foreign threats. In the mid-16th century, Japanese and ethnic Chinese pirates began to raid the southern coast, and neither the bureaucracy nor the military were able to stop them.[34] The threat of the northern vassal. In 1644 Chinese administration became so weak, the 16th and last emperor, the Chongzhen Emperor, did not respond to the severity of an ensuing rebellion by local dissenters until the enemy had invaded the Forbidden City (his personal estate). He soon hanged himself in the imperial gardens.[34] For a brief amount of time, the Shun Dynasty was claimed, until a loyalist Ming official called support from the Manchus to put down the new dynasty. The Shun Dynasty ended within a year and the Manchu were now within the Great Wall. Taking advantage of the situation, the Manchus marched on the Chinese capital of Beijing. Within two decades all of China belonged to the Manchu and the Qing Dynasty was established.

Dutch Batavia in the 17th century, built in what is now North Jakarta

Near the end of the 1500s, the extremely centralized government that gave so much power to the emperor had begun to fail as more incompetent rulers took the mantle. Along with these weak rulers came increasingly corrupt officials who took advantage of the decline. Once more the public projects fell into disrepair due to neglect by the bureaucracy and resulted in floods, drought, and famine that rocked the peasantry. The famine soon became so terrible that some peasants resorted to selling their children to slavery to save them from starvation, or to eating bark, the feces of geese, or other people.[33] Many landlords abused the situation by building large estates where desperate farmers would work and be exploited. In turn, many of these farmers resorted to flight, banditry, and open rebellion.


As was inevitable, Westerners arrived on the Chinese east coast, primarily Jesuit missionaries which reached the mainland in 1582. They attempted to convert the Chinese people to Christianity by first converting the top of the social hierarchy and allowing the lower classes to subsequently convert. To further gain support, many Jesuits adopted Chinese dress, customs, and language.[32] Some Chinese scholars were interested in certain Western teachings and especially in Western technology. By the 1580s, Jesuit scholars like Matteo Ricci and Adam Schall amazed the Chinese elite with technological advances such as European clocks, improved calendars and cannons, and the accurate prediction of eclipses.[32] Although some the scholar-gentry converted, many were suspicious of the Westerners whom they called "barbarians" and even resented them for the embarrassment they received at the hand of Western correction. Nevertheless, a small group of Jesuit scholars remained at the court to impress the emperor and his advisors.

Here a Jesuit, Adam Schall von Bell (1592–1666), is dressed as an official of the Chinese Department of Astronomy.

In the interest of national glory, the Chinese began sending impressive junk ships across the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. From 1403 to 1433, the Yongle Emperor commissioned expeditions led by the admiral Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch from China. Chinese junks carrying hundreds of soldiers, goods, and animals for zoos, traveled to Southeast Asia, Persia, southern Arabia, and east Africa to show off Chinese power. Their prowess exceeded that of current Europeans at the time, and had these expeditions not ended, the world economy may be different from today.[31] In 1433, the Chinese government decided that the cost of a navy was an unnecessary expense. The Chinese navy was slowly dismantled and focus on interior reform and military defense began. It was China's longstanding priority that they protect themselves from nomads and they have accordingly returned to it. The growing limits on the Chinese navy would leave them vulnerable to foreign invasion by sea later on.

Foreign interests

Economics grew rapidly in the Ming Dynasty as well. The introduction of American crops such as maize, sweet potatoes, and peanuts allowed for cultivation of crops in infertile land and helped prevent famine. The population boom that began in the Song dynasty accelerated until China's population went from 80 or 90 million to 150 million in three centuries, culminating in 1600.[30] This paralleled the market economy that was growing both internally and externally. Silk, tea, ceramics, and lacquer-ware were produced by artisans that traded them in Asia and to Europeans. Westerners began to trade (with some Chinese-assigned limits), primarily in the port-towns of Macau and Canton. Although merchants benefited greatly from this, land remained the primary symbol of wealth in China and traders' riches were often put into acquiring more land.[30] Therefore, little of these riches were used in private enterprises that could've allowed for China to develop the market economy that often accompanied the highly-successful Western countries.

The Hongwu emperor, perhaps for his sympathy of the common-folk, had built many irrigation systems and other public projects that provided help for the peasant farmers.[28] They were also allowed to cultivate and claim unoccupied land without having to pay any taxes and labor demands were lowered.[28] However, none of this was able to stop the rising landlord class that gained many privileges from the government and slowly gained control of the peasantry. Moneylenders foreclosed on peasant debt in exchange for mortgages and bought up farmer land, forcing them to become the landlords' tenants or to wander elsewhere for work.[29] Also during this time, Neo-Confucianism intensified even more than the previous two dynasties (the Song and Yuan). Focus on the superiority of elders over youth, men over women, and teachers over students resulted in minor discrimination of the "inferior" classes. The fine arts grew in the Ming era, with improved techniques in brush painting that depicted scenes of court, city or country life; people such as scholars or travelers; or the beauty of mountains, lakes, or marshes. The Chinese novel fully developed in this era, with such classics written such as Water Margin, Journey to the West, and Jin Ping Mei.

Society and economy

By 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang had claimed himself Hongwu Emperor and established the Ming Dynasty of China. Immediately, the new emperor and his followers drove the Mongols and their culture out of China and beyond the Great Wall.[27] The new emperor was somewhat suspicious of the scholars that dominated China's bureaucracy, for he had been born a peasant and was uneducated.[27] Nevertheless, Confucian scholars were necessary to China's bureaucracy and were reestablished as well as reforms that would improve the exam systems and make them more important in entering the bureaucracy than ever before. The exams became more rigorous, cut down harshly on cheating, and those who excelled were more highly appraised. Finally, Hongwu also directed more power towards the role of emperor so as to end the corrupt influences of the bureaucrats.

Ming China

The Russian Empire began to expand into Asia from the 17th century, and would eventually take control of all of Siberia and most of Central Asia by the end of the 19th century. The Ottoman Empire controlled Anatolia, the Middle East, North Africa and the Balkans from the 16th century onwards. In the 17th century, the Manchu conquered China and established the Qing Dynasty. In the 16th century, the Mughal Empire controlled much of India and initiated the second golden age for India. China was the largest economy in the world for much of the time, followed by India until the 18th century.

A view of the Madras.

Early modern period

The Mongol Empire conquered a large part of Asia in the 13th century, an area extending from China to Europe. Medieval Asia was the kingdom of the Khans. Never before had any person controlled as much land as Genghis Khan. He built his power unifying separate Mongol tribes before expanding his kingdom south and west. He and his grandson, Kublai Khan, controlled lands in China, Burma, Central Asia, Russia, Iran, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. Estimates are that the Mongol armies reduced the population of China by nearly a third. Genghis Khan was a pagan who tolerated nearly every religion, and their culture often suffered the harshest treatment from Mongol armies. The Khan armies pushed as far west as Jerusalem before being defeated in 1260.

Mongol Empire

Medieval Japan is marked by the beginning of the Asuka period. During this time, Yamato dynasty is established, along with the beginning of recorded Japanese history and a capital in the southern Nara region. In 600, the Japanese send their first diplomatic mission to China, catalyzing the process of adoption of Chinese culture. The Yamato establish their power with a Chinese-based bureaucracy and encourage the spread of Buddhism, discovered through China. The latter was achieved particularly through the construction of Buddhist temples in cities and the countryside.[26]

During this time period Japan went under the process of sinicization, or the impression of Chinese cultural and political ideas. Japan sinicized mostly because the emperor and other leaders at the time were largely impressed by China's bureaucracy. The major influences China had on this region were the spread of Confucianism, the spread of Buddhism, and the establishment of a bureaucracy (although it was vulnerable to favoritism towards the wealthy). In Japan, these later medieval centuries saw a return to the traditional Shinto faith and the continuing popularity of Zen Buddhism.


The Black Death, which would later ravage Western Europe, had its beginnings in Asia, where it wiped out large populations in China in 1331.

Mongol women displayed a contrasting independent nature compared to the Chinese women who continued to be suppressed. Mongol women often rode out on hunts or even to war. Kublai's wife, Chabi, was a perfect example of this; Chabi advised her husband on several political and diplomatic matters; she convinced him that the Chinese were to be respected and well-treated in order to make them easier to rule.[25] However this was not enough to affect Chinese women's position, and the increasingly Neo-Confucian successors of Kublai further repressed Chinese and even Mongol women.

By 1227, the Mongols had conquered the Western Xia kingdom northwest of China. Soon the Mongols incurred upon the Jin empire of the Jurchens. Chinese cities were soon besieged by the Mongol hordes that showed little mercy for those who resisted and the Southern Song Chinese were quickly losing territory. In 1271 the current great khan, Kublai Khan, claimed himself Emperor of China and officially established the Yuan Dynasty. By 1290, all of China was under control of the Mongols, marking the first time they were ever completely conquered by a foreign invader; the new capital was established at Khanbaliq (modern-day Beijing). Kublai Khan segregated Mongol culture from Chinese culture by discouraging interactions between the two peoples, separating living spaces and places of worship, and reserving top administrative positions to Mongols, thus preventing Confucian scholars to continue the bureaucratic system. Nevertheless, Kublai remained fascinated with Chinese thinking, surrounding himself with Chinese Buddhist, Taoist, or Confucian advisors.

Yuan Dynasty

By 960, most of China had been reunited under the Song dynasty, although it lost territories in the north and could not defeat one of the nomadic tribes there—the Liao dynasty of the highly sinicized Khitan people. From then on, the Song would have to pay tribute to avoid invasion and thus set the precedent for other nomadic kingdoms to oppress them. The Song also saw the revival of Confucianism in the form of Neo-Confucianism. This had the effect of putting the Confucian scholars at a higher status than aristocrats or Buddhists and also intensified the reduction of power in women. The infamous practice of foot binding developed in this period as a result. Eventually the Liao dynasty in the north was overthrown by the Jin dynasty of the Manchu-related Jurchen people. The new Jin kingdom invaded northern China, leaving the Song to flee farther south and creating the Southern Song dynasty in 1126. There, cultural life flourished.

Song dynasty

The Tang dynasty began to decline under the rule of Emperor Xuanzong, who began to neglect the economy and military and caused unrest amongst the court officials due to the excessive influence of his concubine, Yang Guifei, and her family.[24] This eventually sparked a revolt in 755.[24] Although the revolt failed, subduing it required involvement with the unruly nomadic tribes outside of China and distributing more power to local leaders—leaving the government and economy in a degraded state. The Tang dynasty officially ended in 907 and various factions led by the aforementioned nomadic tribes and local leaders would fight for control of China in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period.

Fortunately, one of Yang's most respectable advisors, Li Yuan, was able to claim the throne quickly, preventing a chaotic collapse. He proclaimed himself Emperor Gaozu, and established the Tang dynasty in 623. The Tang saw expansion of China through conquest to Tibet in the west, Vietnam in the south, and Manchuria in the north. Tang emperors also improved the education of scholars in the Chinese bureaucracy. A Ministry of Rites was established and the examination system was improved to better qualify scholars for their jobs.[21] In addition, Buddhism became popular in China with two different strains between the peasantry and the elite, the Pure Land and Zen strains, respectively.[22] Greatly supporting the spread of Buddhism was Empress Wu, who additionally claimed an unofficial "Zhou Dynasty" and displayed China's tolerance of a woman ruler, which was rare at the time. However, Buddhism would also experience some backlash, especially from Confucianists and Taoists. This would usually involve criticism about how it was costing the state money, since the government was unable to tax Buddhist monasteries, and additionally sent many grants and gifts to them.[23]

Tang dynasty

Miniature statue of Buddha from the Tang dynasty

A new powerful dynasty began to rise in the 580s, amongst the divided factions of China. This was started when an aristocrat named Yang Jian married his daughter into the Northern Zhou Dynasty. He proclaimed himself Emperor Wen of Sui and appeased the nomadic military by abandoning the Confucian scholar-gentry. Emperor Wen soon led the conquest of the southern Chen Dynasty and united China once more under the Sui Dynasty. The emperor lowered taxes and constructed granaries that he used to prevent famine and control the market. Later Wen's son would murder him for the throne and declare himself Emperor Yang of Sui. Emperor Yang revived the Confucian scholars and the bureaucracy, much to anger of the aristocrats and nomadic military leaders. Yang became an excessive leader who overused China's resources for personal luxury and perpetuated exhaustive attempts to reconquer Korea. His military failures and neglect of the empire forced his own ministers to assassinate him in 618, ending the Sui Dynasty.

Sui Dynasty

Tang dynasty circa 700

Postclassical China saw the rise and fall of the Sui, Tang, Song, and Yuan dynasties and therefore improvements in its bureaucracy, the spread of Buddhism, and the advent of Neo-Confucianism. The Middle Ages were an unsurpassed era for Chinese ceramics and painting. Medieval architectural masterpieces the Great South Gate in Todaiji, Japan, and the Tien-ning Temple in Peking, China are some of the surviving constructs from this era.

Medieval China

The Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent mainly took place from the 12th century onwards, though earlier Muslim conquests made limited inroads into the region, beginning during the period of the ascendancy of the Rajput Kingdoms in North India, although Sindh and Multan were captured in 8th century.

The Indian early medieval age, 600 CE to 1200 CE, is defined by regional kingdoms and cultural diversity. When Harsha of Kannauj, who ruled much of the Indo-Gangetic Plain from 606 to 647 CE, attempted to expand southwards, he was defeated by the Chalukya ruler of the Deccan. When his successor attempted to expand eastwards, he was defeated by the Pala king of Bengal. When the Chalukyas attempted to expand southwards, they were defeated by the Pallavas from farther south, who in turn were opposed by the Pandyas and the Cholas from still farther south. No ruler of this period was able to create an empire and consistently control lands much beyond his core region. During this time, pastoral peoples whose land had been cleared to make way for the growing agricultural economy were accommodated within caste society, as were new non-traditional ruling classes.[20]


The increasingly divided regions of the Abbasid caliphate would face new challenges in the early 13th century, during the invasion of the central Asian nomadic peoples, the Mongols; led by the infamous Genghis Khan, the Mongols raided much of the eastern empire.[19] In 1258, Genghis Khan's grandson Hulegu Khan would finish his grandfather's work with the sacking of Baghdad and the death of the caliph.[19] The Mongols eventually retreated, but the chaos that ensued throughout the empire deposed the Seljuq Turks. In 1401, the weak and limping caliphate was further plagued by the Turko-Mongol, Timur, and his ferocious raids. By then, another group of Turks had arisen as well, the Ottomans. Based in Anatolia, by 1566 they would conquer the Mesopotamia region, the Balkans, Greece, Byzantium, most of Egypt, most of north Africa, and parts of Arabia, unifying them under the Ottoman Empire. The rule of the Ottoman sultans marked the end of the Postclassical Era in the Middle East, and of the caliphate.

However, the Abbasid government soon fell to the same vices as the Umayyad. Different factions in the royal court would fight for power, especially various groups of the Turkic peoples. The caliph began to rely on advisors from wealthy families, which would sometimes render him a mere puppet. This happened when the Persian Buyid dynasty was established in 934. The Shia government lasted only a little over a century. They were quickly overpowered by the Turkish people who would create the Seljuq dynasty by 1051, reestablishing the Sunni government. Nevertheless, succession issues and the squabbling factions would continue through the First Crusade, launched by Christian western Europeans in 1095, which was largely ignored by the more powerful Muslim princes[18] despite its success at capturing Jerusalem. The next eight Crusades would succeed to varying degrees, and the Christians would lose considerable ground when the Muslims were united under Saladin in the late 12th century.[18] By 1291, after the final crusade and the fall of Acre, the Christians had lost all of the territory they originally gained.[18]

Christian Crusaders before Saladin in Jerusalem

The Umayyad Empire began to decline in the early 8th century when its leaders became more and more detached from their people, especially the warriors who had fought for their conquest.[16] A new political group, the Abbasids, joined the upset warriors, Shia, and mawali, and overthrew the Umayyad in 750 during the Battle of the Zab. The remaining Umayyads fled to Iberia, and established the independent, Muslim Caliphate of Córdoba. The establishment of the Abbasid Caliphate started with moving the capital to Baghdad in Persia (now Iraq) in 762 and with this came the application of certain Persian political institutions. This included the creation of an absolute monarchy, which ruled without question, as well as an improved bureaucracy, led by the wazir who took most of the political and administrative responsibilities the caliph previously had.[17] The Abbasid also experienced a boom in trade, specifically that at sea, sending dhows that continued expansion, first by sending merchants and missionaries to India and Southeast Asia. Eventually conflict would arise due to a piracy issue in India, and the Abbasid would begin to conquer the western area of India which they traded with. The first expedition was led by Turkish general Qutb-ud-din Aybak and established the Mamluk Sultanate in 1206, ruled by the sultan (Arabic: سلطان) which means "authority."

The Abbasid Empire at its greatest extent

Abbasid Empire

The Umayyad were centered at their capital, Damascus in what's now Syria. With the Umayyad came more conquest, giving them rule over central Asia, most of northern Africa, and from there, the Iberian Peninsula (modern-day Spain and Portugal). Little conversion occurred at this time due to the disrespect non-Arab Muslims, or mawali (Arabic: موالي), received from the Umayyad. Christians and Jews were treated with more respect as dhimmi (Arabic: ذمي), specifically the Ahl al-Kitab (Arabic: أهل الكتاب) or "people of the book," referring to the Holy Bible which they all shared. During the Umayyad age, women's position also improved from that of pre-Islamic Arabia; Muhammad's teachings banned adultery, encouraged marriage and kindness to wives and daughters, and proclaimed equality of women and men "in the eyes of God."[16]

From 613 to 630, Muhammad spread the faith of Islam in the Arabian desert, culminating in his victory at Mecca. He then unified the tribes into an Islamic Empire, ruled by a religious and political leader, the caliph. They would proceed to conquer the Sassanids, and modern-day Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Libya.[14] An Arabic navy was created that soon dominated the Mediterranean, crippled the Byzantine Empire, and put it under siege for centuries to come.[15] Issues in deciding the caliphs to succeed Muhammad led to the Ridda wars and eventually the Sunni-Shia split, two different sects of Islam; the Sunni eventually became dominant and established the Umayyad Caliphate.[15]

Early Islamic Empire

Muhammad is shown here in a mosque and without exposing any part of his body.

At the beginning of the Medieval Age in 500, the Middle East was separated into small, weak states; the two most prominent were the Sassanid Empire in Persia (modern-day Iran), and the Byzantine Empire in Turkey. In the Arabian peninsula (now Saudi Arabia), the nomadic Bedouin tribes dominated the desert, where they worshipped idols and remained in small clans tied together by kinship.[13] Urbanization and agriculture was very limited, save for a few regions near the coast. Mecca and Medina were two of these cites that were important hubs for trade between Africa and Eurasia. This commerce was central to city-life, where most inhabitants were merchants.

The Islamic Caliphate and other Islamic states took over the Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia during the Muslim conquests of the 7th century, and later expanded into the Indian subcontinent and Malay archipelago.

Islamic Middle East

During this period, the Eastern world empires continued to expand through trade, migration and conquests of neighboring areas. Gunpowder was widely used as early as the 11th century and they were using moveable type printing five hundred years before Gutenberg created his press. Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism were the dominant philosophies of the Far East during the Middle Ages. Marco Polo was not the first Westerner to travel to the Orient and return with amazing stories of this different culture, but his accounts published in the late 13th and early 14th centuries were the first to be widely read throughout Europe.

Medieval history

However, despite all of this impressive stability, central power began to lose control by the turn of the Common Era. As the Han Dynasty declined, many factors continued to pummel it into submission until China was left in a state of chaos. By 100 CE, philosophical activity slowed, and corruption ran rampant in the bureaucracy. Local landlords began to take control as the scholars neglected their duties, and this resulted in heavy taxation of the peasantry. Taoists began to gain significant ground and protested the decline. They started to proclaim magical powers and promised to save China with them; the Taoist Yellow Turban Rebellion in 184 (led by rebels in yellow scarves) failed but was able to weaken the government. The aforementioned Huns combined with diseases killed up to half of the population and officially ended the Han Dynasty by 220. The ensuing period of chaos was so terrible it lasted for three centuries, where many weak regional rulers and dynasties failed to establish order in China. This period of chaos and attempts at order is commonly known as that of the Six Dynasties. The first part of this included the Three Kingdoms which started in 220 and describes the brief and weak successor "dynasties" that followed the Han. In 265, the Jin dynasty of China was started and this soon split into two different empires in control of northwestern and southeastern China. In 420, the conquest and abdication of those two dynasties resulted in the first of the Southern and Northern Dynasties. The Northern and Southern Dynasties passed through until finally, by 557, the Northern Zhou Dynasty ruled the north and the Chen Dynasty ruled the south.

The Han developed contacts with the Persian Empire in the Middle East and the Romans, through the Silk Road, with which they were able to trade many commodities—primarily silk. Many ancient civilizations were influenced by the Silk Road, which connected China, India, the Middle East and Europe. Han emperors like Wu also promoted Confucianism as the national "religion" (although it is debated by theologians as to whether it is defined as such or as a philosophy). Shrines devoted to Confucius were built and Confucian philosophy was taught to all scholars who entered the Chinese bureaucracy. The bureaucracy was further improved with the introduction of an examination system that selected scholars of high merit. These bureaucrats were often upper-class people educated in special schools, but whose power was often checked by the lower-class brought into the bureaucracy through their skill. The Chinese imperial bureaucracy was very effective and highly respected by all in the realm and would last over 2,000 years. The Han government was highly organized and it commanded the military, judicial law (which used a system of courts and strict laws), agricultural production, the economy, and the general lives of its people. The government also promoted intellectual philosophy, scientific research, and detailed historical records.

The Han Dynasty (simplified Chinese: 汉朝; traditional Chinese: 漢朝; pinyin: Hàn Cháo ;206 BCE – 220 CE) was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms (220–265 CE). Spanning over four centuries, the period of the Han Dynasty is considered a golden age in Chinese history. One of the Han Dynasty's greatest emperors, Emperor Wu of Han, established a peace throughout China comparable to the Pax Romana seen in the Mediterranean a hundred years later.[12] To this day, China's majority ethnic group refers to itself as the "Han people". The Han Dynasty was established when two peasants succeeded in rising up against Shi Huang's significantly weaker successor-son. The new Han government retained the centralization and bureaucracy of the Qin, but greatly reduced the repression seen before. They expanded their territory into Korea, Vietnam, and Central Asia, creating an even larger empire than the Qin.

Han Dynasty

, the idea that people were inherently evil, and that a strong, forceful government was needed to control them. Legalism was infused with realistic, logical views and rejected the pleasures of educated conversation as frivolous. All of this made Shi Huang extremely unpopular with the people. As the Qin began to weaken, various factions began to fight for control of China. Legalism and (most famously) the beginning of the construction of the Great Wall of China—designed to keep out the nomadic raiders who'd constantly badger the Chinese people. However, Shi Huang was infamous for his tyranny, forcing laborers to build the Wall, ordering heavy taxes, and severely punishing all who opposed him. He oppressed Confucians and promoted [12] manufacturing,silk Further reforms included new irrigation projects, the encouragement of [12]

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