Chapter 13: The Spread of Chinese Civilization: Japan, Korea, and Vietnam

Chinese civilization had influenced its neighboring countries: Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Japan had integrated the bureaucratic system of the Chinese civilization into its own imperial government during its formative years of development, while Korea and Vietnam had become a part of the Chinese sphere. These influences from China blended with the indigenous cultures and agrarian societies of Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, which helped produce distinctive patterns of civilized development. In the mean time, Buddhism played a key role in transmitting the Chinese influence, which also filtered some aspects of the Indian culture. 


China's influences reached Japan in the 7th and 8th century. Unlike Vietnam or Korea, Japan was willing to emulate China's cultural and political ideas. Japan saw that China was a world power with many philosophical ideas which led them to where they are. The Taika Reforms, during the Taika era, were known as Japan's change in cultural and political ideas in order to conform to China's traditions. During the Reforms, Japan adopted the Chinese language, Confucianism, and other influences that came with them. During the time, the imperial court was located at the Nara. However, the Buddhist monks opposed the Taika reforms and were influencing the public about the reforms through street demonstrations and came close to destroying to emperors thrown in 760 when a Buddhist monk came close to marrying the daughter of the emperor and becoming the . This created fear within the aristocracy and and court which then caused a move of the capital to Heian. In Heian the imperial court members' families lived in palaces and garden. A famous work was The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki which talked about the life in the imperial court. The imperial court started to decline when a family known as the Fujiwara started to fill the offices of the court.  When the imperial court had become so weak, provincial warrior elites started to rise and this created many different small households owned by a single head with landlordsand warriors to take care and keep peace within their communities. 


Korea is most profoundly influenced by the Chinese formula for civilized development. Koreans developed a different style of dress, cuisine, and a unique social class from the Chinese. The Korean peninsula, dwarfed by neighbor, is an extension of the Chinese mainland ruled by indigenous dynasties. Chinese influences began to filter into Korean culture when the Han conquered the Choson Kingdom when Wui was Emperor. Sinification first came along after the fall od the Han and the Koguryo kingdom. Buddhism was the key link between Korea and the successors of the Han dynast in the northeast China. Chinese writing was adopted, but the Koguryo ruler failed to form a Chinese- style state. Under the Silla and Koryo the Korean culture brought Chinese learning, art, and manufactured items allowing Korea to run their own affairs. Kumsong was constructed by the Silla where there were markets, parks, lakes, and separate district for the imperial family. Most government positions were determined by birth and family connections. Buddhism was favorited by the elites, and korean cultural creativity went into the decoration of many Buddhist monasteries and temples. The dynasty lasted until 1910, when the Mogols invaded in 123, and the Yi dynasty restored aristocratic dominance and tributary links to China. 


Vietnam was independent, and  it remained until the 19th century. The Viets had their own discrete culture. The Viet rulers in this era conquered the Red River feudal lords and incorporated the territory into their kingdom. Vietnamese woman had more freedom than Chinese woman did. They had strong village autonomy and favored the nuclear family. General customs and cultural forms were very different from those of China. Vietnamese kids attended Chinese school and learned about the Chinese script and studied the Confucian classics, and also took exams for administrative posts. The Chinese technique of agriculture lead to a significant increase on the Vietnamese population density. The Chinese political and military organization gave the Vietnamese an advantage over the Indianized people to the west and south. The Chinese legacy helped the  Viets in their own stuggles with local rivals. 


Development and Interactions between Culture:

              When China spread to control and occupy Japan, Vietnam, and Korea, they brought cultural influences to each country involving religion, philosophies and belief systems, technology, and arts.  Japan cultural conversion involved changing their dominate religion at the time (Kami) and combining it with China's religion of Daoism to create Shinto. Japan's belief system and philosophies were influenced by China's Confucianism and Buddhism. The city organization of Kyoto and Nara in Japan were based on a system of rectangular fields (idea originated from China) along lines to create irrigation and to support farming. The Japanese were also adopted the Chinese's idea of road building which increased communication. China's influence on Japan's art was mostly based off Buddhism where they created statues and pictures of Buddha, other great divinities and saints. Korea's were also influenced by the China's belief system of Confucianism and Buddhism, however Confucianism dominated Buddhism in the 14th century during the Choson dynasty. Korean art was also influenced by the Chinese calligraphy, pottery, and paintings. Vietnam adopted Buddhism as their religion and the Chinese belief of Confucianism (where as education was greatly emphasized); scholar-gentry lead to create the type of bureaucratic government Vietnam adopted. China also influenced the techniques in rice-planting which increased the rice production of Vietnam. Vietnam's art was based on Chinese calligraphy and painting held strong similarities to Chinese Buddhist paintings.

Development and Transformation of Social Structures:

              China strongly influenced the development of social structures in Japan, Vietnam, and Korea during the sinification. Many of these types of developments involved gender roles of society, family and kinship, racial and ethnic constructions, and social and economical classes. The court of Japan established a heiarchy of social conduct and status in order to define social relationships. The elite in Heian were known to live in palaces while imperial court often gave ranks and titles to office holders. When the government became weak, the elite families were known to possess local armed warriors such as the bushi (the leader warrior) and trained soldiers known as the samurais to keep order within its community. The lowest social class of course were the peasants. Women were mainly known to take care of the children and to create paintings or pottery. Vietnam opposed China's beliefs of women and kinship. The status of women in Vietnam was vital and it held importance because women were treasured for their nurturing skills of the child; women were also known to have led most of the rebellions against the sinification of China. Vietnam also supported the nucleus family (which includes the parents and the children basically), but China's traditions were based on the extended family (uncles and aunts). Korea's social system held elites at the top. The elites of Korea dominated social life and lived in luxury. Lower ranks were known to work as servants for the elites. 

Key Terms

 Taika Reforms:

Launched by Emperor Kotoku in 646, the Taika reforms were created in attempts to integrate Chinese standards within the Japanese imperial administration as well as among the aristocracy and peasantry. This reform was based on Confucian ideals and philosophies from China, and it's goal was to increase the power of the imperial court and bring greater centralization. The reform involved the memorization of thousands of Chinese characters as well as the practice of Chinese court etiquette. The transmission of Buddhism greatly influenced the induction of Chinese culture as all classes worshiped Buddhist beliefs and art. 


Heian was a new capitol established by Emperor Kammu in 794. The Heian period was the duration in which the capitol city Heian retained the imperial court. Lasting from the 794 to 857, it preceded the medieval eras of shoguns and samurais. This era was considered the high point in Japanese culture, in which the arts flourished and was also characterized by Buddhism, Taoism, and other Chinese influences at their height. It was also during this era that the emperor had disrupted the continuation of the Taika reforms, as the Buddhist monks and opposing aristocratic forces were becoming out of control. 

 Tale of Genji:

Written by Lady Murasaki, the Tale of Genji was considered to be the world's first novel. Relating to the life history of a prominent and amorous son of the Japanese emperor, the Tale of Genji captured the charm and complex social aspects of court life in the pursuit of aesthetic enjoyment. It is written in highly complex Heian-era language, which makes it difficult to comprehend.


Japanese aristocratic family in mid-9th century. They exercised exceptional influence over imperial affairs by packing the upper administration with family members. The Fujiwara dominated the politics of the Heian period. It was families such as the Fujiwara that contributed to the decline of the imperial power by harnessing political power for their own benefit.


The Bushi were regional warrior leaders in Japan. They ruled small kingdoms from fortresses, administered the law, supervised public works projects, collected revenues, and were responsible for raising small militias. They gained more power as a direct result of the imperial courts failure to build peasant conscript armies.


The samurai made up the warrior class, and gained respect for their exceptional fighting abilities. They were the mounted troops of the Japanese warrior leaders (bushi). The samurai, although loyal to their local lords rather than the emperor himself, were often called upon to protect the imperial court against bandits that increasingly roamed the streets of the capitol. This practice led to the rise of the warrior class. 


Also known as hara-kiri (belly splitting), this was ritual suicide or disembowelment in Japan. Many Japanese, especially the samurai, perform seppuku to prevent dishonor to their family name, hoping to demonstrate courage and  restore their family honor.

 Gempei Wars:

The Gempei wars was a conflict between the Taira and Minamoto clans, in which they struggled with different nominations for the throne. The Minamotos took victory after a 5 year war, and the Taira clan fell. The victory of the Minamoto signaled that the political power now rested within the Minamoto's hands in contrast to the emperor. The Kamakura shogunate was established as a result.


The Minamoto claimed to be triumphant over the Taira during the Gempei wars. They established the bafuku and Kamakura shogunate and claimed to have control over the emperor. 


The Taira, although dominated over the Minamoto during the beginning of the Gempei wars, were defeated in the end by the Minamoto, who gathered up a powerful network of alliances and won the favorable position. By 1185, the Taira faction of the imperial court was completely destroyed. 


System of a feudal military dictatorship, exercised into the name of a shogun. This was the military government that was established by the Minamoto following the Gempei Wars which was centered at Kamakura.


Nominally appointed by the emperor, the shogun was one of the hereditary military dictators of Japan, as well as military leaders of the bakufu. In some ways, the shogun had much more political power than the emperor himself.


The Hojo were a warrior family that was closely allied with the Minamoto clan. The Hojo dominated the Kamakura regime and manipulated Minamoto rulers who claimed to rule. Soon, the Minamoto and even the Imperial princes merely became puppets under the Hojo.

 Ashikaga Takuaji:

Founder and first shogun of the Ashikage Shogunate from 1338-1573. He was a member of the Minamoto family, then later overthrew the Kamakura regime by leading a revolt of the bushi. It was this transition of power that led to the exile of the emperor, who refused to acknowledge the usurper and fled to the mountain town of Yoshino.

 Onin War:

The Onin War was a civil war between Ashikaga shogunate and a number of daimyo. This was called the "warring states period". This was a mass power struggle between the various houses by different daimyo to dominate the whole of Japan. The war lasted for 10 years during the Muromachi period in Japan.


As Japan's political system became increasingly complex, so did the territorial claims. The daimyo were territorial warlords who each ruled one of the 300 little kingdoms that separated Japan after the fall of the Ashikaga shogunate. Later in the period, the more able daimyos began to slowly restore order by collecting regular taxes, supporting the construction of an irrigation system, and building strong rural communities. The interaction between some daimyos led to the promotion of commerce and handicraft industries.


Chosun, the earliest Korean kingdom, was conquered by the Han emperor Wudi in 109 B.C.E. It was then that Korea
became colonized by Chinese settlers who then became channels for Chinese influence.


Tribal people of northern Korea, the Koguryo established an independent kingdom in the northern half of the peninsula, resisting Chinese rule. They were soon at war with their southern rivals the Silla and the Paekche. The establishment of the Koguryo kingdom in part led to sinification. 


Sinification was the extensive adoption of Chinese culture. As in Japan, many of the Chinese values came from the spread of Buddhism. Sinification led to the integration of Chinese characters with the spoken Korean language, the adoption of Chinese history, and the endorsement of Confucian classics.


Allied with the Chinese Tang empire, the Silla defeated the Koguryo kingdom. The Silla retained its independence from the Tang by agreeing to pay tribute. This allowed them to become the sole rulers of united Korea. It was also through this agreements that allowed new openings for sinification. 

Trung Sisters:

Daughters of a deposed local leader, the Trung sisters were key figures in one of the frequent peasant rebellions against Chinese rule. The uprisings led by the sisters demonstrated the difference in position between Chinese and Vietnamese women. This difference mainly revolved around the hostile view Vietnamese women held against Confucian codes of a male-dominant family system. 


Indianized rivals of the Vietnamese (present day Cambodians) who inhabited the lowland areas of the south. Moved into the Mekong River delta region during the Vietnamese drive to the south. 


Indianized rivals of the Vietnamese who inhabited the lowland areas of the south. Moved to the highlands during the Vietnamese drive to the south.


Vietnamese dynasty that arose in the south to challenge the traditional dynasty of Trinh in the north. The Nguyen kingdom centered on the Red and Mekong rivers and had its capitol at Hue. 

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