Post Classical China:  Changes and Continuities on Religion, Politics/Government, and Commerce/Trade



  • Originally the dominating religion of the time, Confucianism was first challenged by Mahayana Buddhism during this era. Zen Buddhism, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism, specifically spread among the elite classes of Post Classical China. 
  • Although Empress Wu, the only female empress in Chinese history, attempted to gain national attention and acceptance for Buddhism, her efforts were quickly thwarted by Emperor Wu Zong who destroyed many Buddhist art/portraits and persecuted Buddhists. This was due to the fact that Buddhism was seen as a threat to the Chinese government and prevented it from gaining revenue through taxes on Buddhist monasteries. 


  • Even though it was heavily repressed, Buddhism survived through Emperor Wu Zong's attempts to rid of the new religion. Buddhism altered Chinese language, art, concepts of heaven/law/charity.
  • Although not a dominant force, Buddhism continued to spread throughout all of China and even in neighboring countries such as Korea, Japan, and some parts of Vietnam.
  • Later in history, a full fledged sinification of Chinese culture occured in Korea and Japan (less typical of Vietnam) which included the extensive adaptation of the two major Chinese religions: Confucianism and Buddhism. 
  • Because the two religions also dictated lifestyle, the Japanese and Korean (again, only some parts of Vietnam) naturally adopted the Chinese way of living.

 "As the ancient chronicles of Japan report, it was in the year 552, during the reign of Emperor Kinmei, that the first image of Buddha reached the imperial court of the tenno ("emperor") from Kudara in Korea. After a brief period of intense conflict the new religion took root... From the middle of the twelfth century, a regular exchange of Japanese and Chinese monks had come about, giving a flourishing Zen of the Sung period an entry into Japan." 

- Henrich Dumoulin (Zen Buddhism: A History 

Buddhism is a pan-Asian religion and philosophy that has played a central role in the spiritual, cultural, and social life of the East… Since Buddhism’s introduction into Korea from China in the 4th century, it has woven its way into Korean culture in the face of adversity. Confucian rulers banned it in the 14th century, and Buddhist monks took refuge in high montains where they built picturesque temples and developed a unique vegetarian cuisine of roots, fungus, and hearty greens that is still followed today. 

– Michael Baker (The Origins of Buddhism and its spread to Korea). 



  • During the time of the Song Dynasty, many invasions from the Khitan peoples prevented the Chinese government as well as military from growing. Paying heavy taxes as an expense for retaining sovereignty, the Chinese suffered under the constant invasion from the north. However, the Khitans were soon defeated by the Jurchens, who later established their own Jin Dynasty in China.


  • Through the Tang and Song Dynasties, the government went to work on rebuilding the bureaucracy on Confucian ideologies which lasted until the end of the Chinese empire. 
  • The civil service examination system as well as the Ministry of Rites were also strongly enforced. 
  • Although the Khitans were defeated, Chinese history continued to be plagued with constant invasion from nomads in the northern boarders, including the Huns (previously in history), Jurchens, and Mongols. 

"The city of Beijing would remain in the hands of the Khitans (AD 907-1125), and then passed into the Jurchens (AD 115-1234) after a short interim under Song administration, Mongol Yuan (AD 1279-1368) till Ming Dynasty overthrew the Mongolian yoke in A.D. 1368. For hundreds of years, the Song Dynasty, built on top of Northern Zhou (AD 951-960) of the Cai(1) family, would be engaged in the games of ‘three kingdom’ kind of warfares."

- Ah Xiang (The Khitans)

In addition to their governmental role, imperial Chinese civil service examinations played a central role in Chinese social and intellectual life from 650 to 1905. Beginning in 14400 imperial examiners were committed to the “Learning of the Way” (new-Confucianism) as the state orthodoxy in official life and in literati culture."

-Benjamin A. Elman (Civil Service Examination)



  • Fiercely an independent nation, the Chinese were at first one of the most isolated and less engaged countries within the slowly emerging global trade market. 
  • As more and more foreign nations forced China's interaction with outsiders, particularly the Mongols, China began to open up to the trading market, including trade within the silk road and overseas trade within the Indian Ocean.
  • Land trade with Persia through small silk routes expanded as China opened up trade to other neighboring regions. The development of the Silk Road also marked China's rowing interest in global trade. 
  • New innovations such as the wheelbarrow, banks, junks, and flying money expanded China's agricultural production and overseas trade. 


  • First started during the Sui Dynasty, the Grand canal is marked one of the most powerful internal Chinese commercial innovations in history. Connecting the northern and southern regions of China, the Grand Canal became a major commercial expansion and survived most of Chinese history.
  • With all the new technological inventions, China's involvement in the global market continued to serve as a major advancement for China's commercial industry (until much later in history when the Opium Wars triggered an adverse effect).

 "The Grand Canal system (or Da Yun He) represents a remarkable achievement of imperial Chinese hydraulic engineering. It thus connected the political center of the empire in the north (especially from the Song dynasty; 960 AD), with the economic and agricultural centers of central and southern China. Under such circumstances, the control of an unified China became a possibility and the Grand Canal is acknowledged to be a significant element in the economic and political stability of imperial China, mainly through grain distribution."

- Anonymous

When Marco Polo passed through Afghanistan en route to China in the 13th century, he did so with a single “patent,” or visa. To the extent that cross-cultural contact was an essential ingredient of intellectual vitality, it flourished under the Mongols… The opening of routes between Europe and China and across Afghanistan toward the Arabian Sea, India, and Southeast Asia and linking the Middle East, China, and India will, in the coming decade, transform the entire Eurasian landmass. Little that is emerging is absolutely new. Indeed, anyone interested in knowing what the new transport configuration will look like might start by examining the trade routes of the golden era. 

- S. Frederick Starr

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