Traditions and Encounters, AP Edition (Bentley), 5th Edition

Chapter 26: Tradition and Change in East Asia


In the early modern age, powerful dynasties emerged in both China and Japan, featuring centralized, autocratic governments and efficient bureaucracies. In China, the Ming dynasty drove out the Mongols in 1368 and rebuilt the infrastructure of the empire, including the Great Wall, the Grand Canal, and irrigation systems. Ming emperor Hongwu built a large navy and sponsored expeditions to southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. However, later Ming rulers reversed this policy, destroyed the fleet, and restricted foreign contact.

In the mid-seventeenth century, Manchurian tribesmen invaded China, overthrew a corrupt Ming state, and established the Qing dynasty with a Manchu ruling class. Also in the seventeenth century, the Tokugawa shoguns of Japan broke the power of the provincial lords (the daimyo ) and created a centralized military government. Although Chinese and Japanese traditions are very different, there are some common elements in this period, including the following:

  • Centralized bureaucracy. A hierarchy of Confucian-trained administrators ran the Qing empire from the new capital at Nanjing. The Tokugawa shogunate required regular attendance by the daimyo at the capital city, Edo.
  • Neo-Confucian values. Confucian teachings were appropriated by the state, stressing duty, order, and submission to authority. The patriarchal family was the basic social unit. Patriarchal values were grotesquely expressed in China in the practice of binding girls' feet.
  • Agricultural economies with limited trade. Peasant farming fed the state, and crafts and luxury goods provided additional wealth. Both states severely restricted foreign trade to a few, carefully controlled port cities.
  • Cultural insularity. For nearly two hundred years, Chinese and Japanese citizens did not travel abroad and had little knowledge of the outside world. By the eighteenth century, both dynasties had fallen behind the west in science and technology.
Traditions & Encounters, 5e
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