THE CULTURAL HISTORY OF PRE MODERN EAST ASIA by The Cultural History of Pre-Modern East Asia
Buddhism is the religion derived from the teachings of Buddha whose traditions are different from the former Chinese teachings, for example, Confucianism. The difference is that Buddhism advocates the elimination of desire in order to achieve happiness, as desire is the source of suffering (Ebrey, Wathall, and Palais, 2009). Other Chinese mentalities were humanistic in that they regarded the secular as sacred. The introduction of Buddhism in China greatly stimulated the development if Chinese religion… acting as a catalyst for the development of Daoism (Jie, 1991). It influenced cultural elements such as the religious canon, spiritual community, and organization of religious institutions.
Neo-Confucianism was a more secular and rationalistic form of Confucianism that used metaphysics as a guide for developing a rationalistic and ethical philosophy by rejecting the superstitions and mystic qualities of Buddhism and Taoism (Chan 1963). Its influence in Chinese culture can be traced to the Ming Dynasty through to the Qing Dynasty. It influenced the Chinese culture including music, theatre, art, Chinese traditional medicine, martial arts etcetera (Ebrey, Wathall, and Palais, 2009).
The rise of the Yuan Dynasty was influenced by the unification of China by Kublai Chan and the control imposed by the Mongols across all of Asia, which opened up China to foreign trade contracts. The fall of the Yuan
Dynasty was caused by two major factors: one was the class conflict caused by heavy taxation and the other was the contradiction resulting from the Four Class System (Ebrey, Wathall, and Palais, 2009). There were peasant uprisings that emerged in Southern China, but despite these, there continued to be a corruption propagated by the officials in the court systems. The fall of the Yuan Dynasty was effected by the peasant uprising in 1351 led by a man named Liu Futong. In 1367, another man Zhu Yuanhang, defeated the separatist military forces in Northern China thus launching a deadly attack on the regime and causing its fall.
Zheng He was a Chinese sailor, previously a court eunuch in the Ming Dynasty. He was handpicked to lead seven ocean expeditions to South East Asia, India and then all the way to Africa. The main aim of these expeditions was to show the great wealth of China to the whole world (Ebrey, Wathall, and Palais, 2009). The voyages had over three hundred massive ships and he took with him Chinese silk and porcelain, which he traded in Africa and Asia and brought back black pearls and animals that no one had seen before like ostriches and zebras. The Ming China attitude towards naval expansion was daring and phenomenal in that he risked his whole fleet of sailors and ships to carry out expeditions.
The main characteristics of the Chinese civilization during the Ming Dynasty were the international trade activities that were influenced by the seven voyages. There was also the blurring of the distinction between the four classes. The classes were the merchants, the farmers, artisans and the gentry. The blurring of the classes and the development of the city life led to great economic and urban development (Ebrey, Wathall, and Palais, 2009). These changes brought changes in architecture. During this dynasty, the construction of tall pagodas and arched bridges flourished.
Ebrey, P; Wathall, B; Palais, J. 2009. Pre-Modern East Asia to 1800 – A Cultural, Social and Political History. Boston Houghton, Mifflin.
Jei, Tang Yi. 1991. Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, Christianity and Chinese Culture. Cultural heritage and contemporary life series III. Washington, DC: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy.
Chan, Wing-tsit, 1963. A Sourcebook of Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, Princeton University Press.