Home / East in the Middle Ages 214 B.C. – 1644 A.D.

East in the Middle Ages 214 B.C. – 1644 A.D.

Important Events of the East in the Middle Ages 214 B. C. – A. D. 1071

214 B.C. The Ch’in emperors build the Great Wall of China.

206 B.C.-A.D. 220 Trade and the arts flourish in China under the Han dynasty, in the east.

A.D. 220-589 China is torn by invasions and civil war in the period of the Six Dynasties

552 Buddhism is officially introduced into Japan and China.

571 The birth of Mohammed happened in the east.

604 Prince Shotoku gives Japan a constitution.

607 Shotoku sends missions to study Chinese culture.

618-907 The T’ang dynasty, one of the “golden ages” of China.

622 Mohammed and his followers are forced to flee from Mecca to Medina in the Hegira.

630 Mohammed’s followers capture Mecca.

632 Death of Mohammed.

642 With the defeat of the Persian Empire, the world of Islam extends from Africa to the Indus.

710-784 The Nara Period in Japan is marked by semi-Chinese culture.

711 Moslem Arabs and Berbers invade Spain and defeat the Goths.

712-756 Hsuan Tsung reigns over China; art, literature and philosophy flourish.

720 The Nihon Shoki, legends of the history of Japan, is written.

750 Rise of the Abbasid caliphs.

751 China loses Turkestan to the Arabs after the battle of Talas.

756 Rise of the Omayyad dynasty in Spain.

762 Al-Mansur founds a new capital for the caliphs at Baghdad.

778 Charlemagne and the Frankish army invade Spain but are defeated by the Moslems at Roncesvalles.

786-809 Harun al-Raschid encourages learning and makes war on the Byzantine Empire.

794 Kammu moves the Japanese capital to the new city of Heian, the present-day Kyoto.

813-833 Reign of al-Mamun, under whom Baghdad becomes a center of knowledge and the arts.

960-1279 Painting and printing flourish in China under the Sung dynasty.

1071 Alp Arslan defeats the Byzantine army and destroys the empire in Asia Minor.

Important Events in the East in the Middle Ages, 1099 – 1644

1099 Crusaders invade Palestine and capture Jerusalem.

1185-1333 Japan becomes feudal during the Kamakura period, with effective rule by the warlords.

1187 Moslems led by Saladin recapture Jerusalem.

1189-1192 The “Crusade of Kings” reaches Palestine but fails to conquer Jerusalem.

1206 Temujin is proclaimed Genghis Khan and leads his armies to conquests in Asia and Eastern Europe; a Moslem is made Sultan of Delhi and begins to unite India.

1227 Death of Genghis Khan.

1258 Mongols under Hulagu capture Baghdad and execute the last of the Abbasid caliphs.

1260 Mamelukes under Baybars defeat the Mongols at Ain Jalut, saving Egypt as a refuge of Moslem culture.

1267 Kublai Khan builds Peking.

1274 Kublai tries to invade Japan but is defeated.

1275 Marco Polo arrives in China.

1281 A second invasion of Japan is completely wiped out.

1294 Death of Kublai Khan.

1336-1573 Japan under the Ashikaga shoguns is torn by civil wars.

1368-1644 The Ming dynasty gives China three centuries of order.

1398 Timur captures and sacks Delhi, killing many thousands.

1421 Yung-lo moves the Chinese capital to Peking.

1453 Mohammed II and the Ottoman Turks capture Constantinople, ending the Byzantine Empire.

1498 Vasco da Gama reaches India.

1520-1566 Suleiman, greatest of the Ottoman rulers, expands the empire and organizes its legal system.

1526 Babur defeats the Delhi sultan at Panipat and founds the Mogul Empire.

1543 Portuguese traders and missionaries arrive in Japan.

1556 Akbar becomes Mogul emperor and consolidates India.

1557 Portuguese build a settlement at Macao on the coast of China.

1632 Shah Jahan begins construction of the Taj Mahal.

1641 European merchants are expelled from Japan.

1644 Beginning of the Manchu dynasty in China.

Two and a Half Centuries of Unrest in Japan A.D. 1336-1573


Go-Daigo had found refuge in a place in the mountains called Yoshino. Japan now had two emperors, one in Kyoto and the other in Yoshino. Takauji set out to simplify matters. As a first step, he had his puppet, the Kyoto emperor, appoint him shogun. In this way, Takauji became the founder of a new line of shoguns who were called, after their family name, the Ashikaga shoguns. Their shogunate lasted from 1336 to 1573, nearly twice as long as the Kamakura shogunate. Takauji and his successors did not rule anywhere near as firmly as Yorimoto and the Hojo family. They never controlled all of Japan or even much of it. Most of the time, they could not even keep order in the areas they supposedly did control. The Ashikaga shogunate went through three stages. The first stage, from 1136 to 1392, was marked by constant fighting between supporters of the rival emperors. It ended when the shogun lured the Yoshino emperor to Kyoto by promising to let his branch of the imperial family take turns with the other branch on the throne. The Ashikagas broke their promise, for no descendant of Go-Daigo ever became emperor. At least Japan had only one emperor. The middle stage of the shogunate, from 1392 to 1467, was the only time when the Ashikagas really seemed to rule. The last stage, from 1467 to 1573, was disastrous for the family. It began with a ruinous war between two groups of power-hungry warlords. In the fighting, Kyoto was devastated and the shogunate was finished as a force in government. The shoguns hung on to their post for another century, mainly because no one bothered to take it from them. When the last Ashikaga shogun was stripped of his title in 1573, the shogun had become …

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The Warrior’s Take Over A. D. 1150 – 1336


BY THE middle of the twelfth century, Kyoto was no longer the real center of power in Japan. The old forms of government were kept unchanged. The emperor was still, supposedly, the source of all authority. The aristocrats wanted to enjoy the excitement of the Fujiwara court and they left their poorer relatives at home to manage their estates. The young men who were given this responsibility did not mind. Indeed, they welcomed it, for it was their only chance to get rich. So the Japanese aristocracy was divided between great nobles at the court and lesser nobles in the country. While the great nobles led lives of pleasure, the lesser nobles led a more useful existence. At the court, what mattered was to wear the right clothes, to talk wittily and to invent clever verses. In the country, the main thing was to get as much rice as possible out of the land. To do this, the estate managers had to win the loyalty of their farmers. Thus loyalty came to be the most honored of all virtues in rural Japan. Next to loyalty came bravery, for the estate managers often tried to add to their holdings by making war on their neighbours and their success depended on how bravely their men fought. The most important fighters wore armour and rode on horseback. They were much like the knights who were fighting in far-off Europe at that time. Japanese knights used bows and arrows  and swords. Each knight was attended by a few followers on foot. He was called a samurai. To the refined ladies and gentlemen of the court, the battles which raged in the countryside throughout the Fujiwara Period seemed too brutal and too far away for them to take any notice. They were in for a …

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Japan’s Change and Slow Growth A.D. 838-1150


BETWEEN THE ninth and twelfth centuries, Japan developed at a slower pace. It was as if the people knew that they needed time to digest what they had learned. After 838, the government sent no more official missions to China. The Japanese continued to value Chinese civilization as highly as ever, but they went about things in their own way. Slowly, Japan became thoroughly Japanese. Prince Shotoku’s dream of a strong central government had come true. In time, however, the same evils that plagued Chinese dynasties in their later stages began to plague Japan. Thanks to their high positions at court, the noble landowners did not have to pay taxes. As a result, they grew richer and were able to buy more land. Although more Japanese land was being farmed all the time, less and less of it could be taxed. The government’s income fell while its expenses rose. Naturally, the government tried to make the landowners pay taxes. This move was bound to fail, for the officials who were supposed to carry out the order were the very men who profited most from not having to pay taxes. It was like asking them to pick their own pockets. Failing in this attempt, the government raised the taxes of landowning peasants instead. To escape paying these taxes, some peasants put themselves under the protection of the nearest great landowners, while the more adventurous headed north for the thinly settled Ainu country of North Honshu. Either way, their taxes were lost to the government, which became weaker and weaker. In China, a foreign invader or a rebel leader would have overthrown the sickly government and made himself ruler. In Japan, nothing of the sort happened. For one thing, there was no enemy at Japan’s borders, only miles and miles of empty …

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Borrowing From China A. D. 587 – 838


PRINCE SHOTOKU was pleased to see his fellow aristocrats take to his chosen faith so enthusiastically. He wanted them to adopt other ways of living from China, too. Having seen how the Sui emperors had reunified China after three and a half centuries of disorder, he was particularly eager for Japan to copy their strong central government. In 603 and 604, Shotoku adopted the Chinese calendar, issued a constitution and set up a new civil service system. In the constitution, he left no room for doubt as to the emperor’s supreme position. “A country does not have two lords,” he wrote, “and the people do not have two masters.” His civil service plan, or “court rank system,” was revolutionary. It did away with the government posts held by noblemen who had inherited them from their fathers. In their place it set up twelve ranks of officials to be appointed by the emperor from among the most worthy noblemen he could find. Each rank was named after one of the virtues which Confucius had praised: harmony, sincerity, diligence, and so on. To make his countrymen thoroughly familiar with Chinese ways, the prince sent missions to the Sui court in 607, 608 and 614. The first group carried a message from “the Son of Heaven in the the land where the sun rises” to “the Son of Heaven in the land where the sun sets.” The next group bore greetings from “the Emperor of the East” to “the Emperor of the West.” Such language struck the Sui emperors as highly impudent, coming from a race of “dwarfs.” Their successors, the T’ang emperors, felt the same way, but the Japanese kept sending missions. Although Prince Shotoku died in 622, thirteen more missions went to China between 630 and 838. Most of the missions …

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Becoming a Nation 660 B. C.-A. D. 587


DRAWING ON nature for inspiration, the Japanese invented a number of gods and goddesses. They took it for granted that their islands and their ancestors had been created by gods. Many different stories were told about how these things had happened. The official account of how Japan got started was finally laid down in 720, in a book called Nikon Shoki, or The History of Japan. This book, written on the orders of the emperor, was a hodge-podge of myths and family trees, with a little recent history thrown in. Its authors were trying to please their imperial master. T o give Japan a long, respectable past like China’s, they claimed that it had been founded nearly fourteen hundred years before, by a god named Jimmu. They traced the descent of the emperor all the way back to this god. Nihon Shoki was not a very reliable source of facts. Almost to the present, most Japanese people have believed everything it said. For this reason it is the most important book in their history. According to its authors, everything began with the god Izanagi and the goddess Izanami, who lived in heaven. They came down to the earth, where Izanami gave birth to the Japanese islands. Then the couple had other children, all gods and goddesses. Izanami died while bearing the fire god and sank down to the lower world. There, Izanagi visited her. Izanami’s flesh had begun to rot; rather than let Izanagi see her in such a state, she sent him away. In his grief, Izanagi shed his garments, each of which turned into a god or goddess. Then, to purify himself after his meeting with Izanami, he washed. As he did, every part of his body became a god or a goddess. MIRROR, SWORD AND JEWEL Among …

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Japan, the “Source of the Sun” 3000 B.C.-A.D. 400


THE Japanese islands — four large ones and many smaller ones — rise out of the Pacific Ocean to the east of China and Korea. They form a bow that bends from southwest to north for eleven hundred miles. The northern tip is at the same latitude as Montreal and the southern tip at that of Florida. Long ago, the people of the islands noticed that the sun always seemed to rise out of the ocean. They named their land Nihon or Nippon, “the source of the sun.” To the Chinese, on the mainland of Asia, the sun often appeared to rise from the direction of the islands. So they, too, called the islands “the source of the sun.” In their language, this was jih-pen. While the islanders continued to call their country Nippon, people in other parts of the world borrowed the Chinese name and called it Japan. Altogether, Japan is no bigger in area than Montana. It is so mountainous that only about a fifth of it can be farmed. Where the land is not too steep or rocky for farming, the soil is poor. Japan is fortunate in its climate. The southwestern part of the country has such a long growing season that farmers can raise two crops a year. Their main crop is rice, which yields more food per acre than almost any other food crop. The waters around Japan are full of fish. This is why Japan has been able to support a large number of people, even though it has so few natural advantages. The Japanese belong to the same Mongoloid race as the Koreans, Manchurians, Mongolians and Chinese. They are shorter and often darker-skinned than their neighbors and their men grow beards more easily. Because of their smaller bodies, some scientists believe that …

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The Ming Dynasty Restores the Old Order A.D. 1368-1644


THE MEN who took over from the Mongols came to be known as Hung-wu, or “Vast Military Power.” Hung-wu named his dynasty ming, or “brilliant.” As things turned out, however, the Ming dynasty was not particularly brilliant. It was, in fact, humdrum compared to the Han, the T’ang, or even the Sung. Nevertheless, it gave China nearly three centuries of order, from 1368 to 1644. Hung-wu was born in a hut near Nanking in 1328. His parents soon died and the boy entered a Buddhist monastery, where he learned to read and write. His studies completed, he went out into the streets and begged for a living. Then, at twenty-five, he joined a band of rebels. Through character, intelligence and energy, he became its leader. In 1356, he captured Nanking from the Mongols and then, little by little, occupied the entire Yangtze Valley. In 1368 at the age of forty, he seized Peking and proclaimed himself emperor. THE TRIBUTE SYSTEM Hung-wu chose Nanking as his capital. At first he ruled through government departrnents, but as time went on he treated his ministers more and more contemptuously. In 1 375, he had one of them publicly beaten to death with bamboo sticks. Five years later, suspecting his prime minister of plotting against him, he abolished the office and took all state business into his own hands. The older he grew, the more distrustful he became. Fat and pig-like, with tufts of hair growing out of his ears and nostrils, Hung-wu was a sad and lonely man all his life. His personality was so commanding and his achievements so vast that after he died in 1398 nobody could forget him. His successors tried to copy his one-man government. Like him, they had officials who displeased them beaten, tortured and killed. Next to …

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The Coming of the Mongols A.D.1135-1368


IN 1135, Hangchow became the capital of the Southern Sung. Thereafter, the Sung kept an uneasy peace with their unwelcome northern neighbours, the Chin. Then, out of Mongolia came the mighty Genghis Khan, whose warriors and their descendants were to spread terror across Asia into Christian Europe and the lands of Islam. Before he died in 1227, Genghis had crushed the Hsi Hsia and all but crushed the Chin. His son, Ogodai, made a treaty with the Sung emperor, and the Sung and Mongol armies together put an end to the Chin. This alliance with a barbarian power turned out just as disastrously for the Chinese as Hui Tsung’s alliance with the Chin. The Mongols moved south against the Sung. When Ogodai died in 1241, his son Mangu took command. When Mangu died in 1259, a year after his cousin Hulagu destroyed the Abbasid caliphate in faraway Baghdad, his brother Kublai carried on. The Sung army resisted bravely. Both sides used cannon and catapults — huge engines which hurled rocks and bombs in the same way a crossbow hurled arrows. Some catapults were so big it took a hundred men to operate them. If the Mongols had not had such weapons, they might have been stopped. Much of South China consisted of flooded rice fields and canals and cavalry warfare would have been difficult if not impossible. In 1276, Kublai took Hangchow. Next he took Canton. In 1279 his men destroyed the last ships of the Sung fleet. Soon after this, the despairing Sung emperor flung himself from a high Cliff into the sea. Long before his victory was complete, Kublai had picked a name for his dynasty. Earlier barbarian conquerors had taken the name of a region or of a famous Chinese dynasty of the past. Kublai did not …

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The Sung Dynasty: Barbarians Threaten the Empire A. D. 960 – 1279


DURING THE turbulent Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms era, the main outside threat to China came, as usual, from the north. A tough Mongol people from Manchuria helped one of the Chinese Warlords conquer North China. In return, he let them settle around Peking. Some of them became farmers, but their nomadic habits of roving and fighting remained strong. From time to time they raided the North China Plain, striking terror into the hearts of the peasants. These troublesome people were called the Khitan. Another form of their name, Khitai, sounded like “Cathay” to European travelers who later came to China. Throughout the Middle Ages, China was known in Europe as Cathay. In 960, the ruler of north China sent his best general after the Khitan to teach them a lesson. Instead, the general seized power and proclaimed himself emperor. As founder of the Sung dynasty, he was later called T’ai Tsu, or “Great Beginner.” Before he died in 976, he conquered most of China. His brother T’ai Tsung — “Great Ancestor”– conquered the rest, except for the Khitan kingdom in the northeast. The Sung dynasty was to reign until 1279. A1though it started out boldly, it never became as powerful as the Han and T’ang dynasties. One reason was that the emperors deliberately kept their army commanders short of men and money to make sure they did not revolt. As a result, the empire was constantly menaced by barbarians. In the end, it was destroyed by them. For generations, the Sung emperors bought peace by bribing the Khitan and a northwestern barbarian nation called the Hsi Hsia. Then a third barbarian nation entered the picture. In 1114, Manchurian nomads who called themselves the Chin, meaning “Golden,” attacked the Khitan. Seeing a chance to recover the long-lost northeast territory, Emperor …

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The Sui and T’ang Restore the Empire A.D. 589-979


IN 589, a warlord named Sui Wen Ti conquered the last dynasty in the south and so became emperor of all China. He put his subjects to work repairing the Great Wall, building palaces and digging long canals to carry water out to the fields and grain back to the cities. He sent his armies south into Vietnam and west into central Asia. In 604, he died. No one knew how he died, but many people suspected that he had been murdered by his son Yang Ti. As emperor, Yang Ti drove the people even harder than his father had. He did not care how many died of cold, hunger, or exhaustion, or in fighting his enemies. There were always plenty of other peasants who could be drafted as labourers and soldiers. At last the people grew tired of being treated like animals and rose against Yang Ti. In 618 he was assassinated and the Sui dynasty came to an end. That same year, an energetic official named Li Yuan was enthroned at the capital, Ch’ang-an, as the first emperor of the T’ang dynasty. The T’ang family was to reign until 907. Just as the brief Ch’in and Sui dynasties stood for cruelty in the minds of the Chinese, so the long-lasting Han and T’ang dynasties came to be thought of as the “golden ages” of their history. T’ANG DYNASTY’S “MYSTERIOUS ANCESTOR” The first T’ang emperors carried on the public works program of the Sui, but with less haste. Their armies triumphed everywhere. Within three quarters of a century, they had added Tibet, the Tarim Basin, Mongolia, southern Manchuria, and Korea to the empire. The greatest of the T’ang emperors was Hsüan Tsung, or “Mysterious Ancestor.” His long reign from 712 to 756, was one of the most glorious in …

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