World History: Journey Across Time
China in the Middle Ages
After the Han dynasty ended, China went 300 years without a central government. Chinese warlords battled for control of kingdoms, and people turned to Buddhism for peace and comfort. During this time of trouble, the Koreans broke away from Chinese rule and began their own civilization. The Sui dynasty reunited and rebuilt China after years of war. Construction of the Grand Canal boosted China's economy but caused tension between the people who built it and the emperor, leading to a revolt that ended the Sui dynasty.
The Tang dynasty took its place. Tang leaders introduced reforms that improved the government and life in the countryside. Rulers saw Buddhism as an enemy of China's traditions and returned to the ideas of Confucius in a religion called neo-Confucianism. They began using the civil service exam, hiring people based on merit. Eventually, the exam led to the creation of a new class of scholar-officials. Tang leaders gave farmers more land. Farmers improved irrigation and produced a new type of rice. China's population and its economy grew in response to these discoveries. China also enjoyed a golden age of art and literature during the Tang and Song dynasties.
The Mongol tribes lived north of China in Mongolia. Their ability to ride horses and wage war made the Mongols fierce warriors who were known for their terror and cruelty. Genghis Khan united the Mongols and established the Mongol Empire. The Mongol ruler Kublai Khan conquered China and tried to conquer Japan. Under the Mongols, China began trading with the rest of Asia.
After a series of rebellions drove the Mongols from China, a cruel rebel leader reunited the country. He and other Ming emperors restored the civil service exam, took a census, and rebuilt much of what the Mongols had destroyed. Through these efforts, the Ming rulers strengthened China's government and brought back peace and prosperity. This atmosphere allowed Chinese culture to advance. The Ming dynasty built a large fleet and used it to explore Asia and East Africa, expanding trade and spreading Chinese culture. When the Portuguese arrived on the shores of China, it marked the first contact between the Europeans and Chinese.