A Short History of Asia, Second Edition


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An embryonic sense of shared interests transcending ethnic or national groups emerged in colonial times between independence movements, student movements and other groups, including notably the various Marxist-inspired or communist movements in the region. But until after the Pacific War there was little connection across the region. The colonial empires were very separate and governed on different principles.

It is a common observation nowadays that Australia, on the fringe of the region, only recently and belatedly become aware of and involved with its Southeast Asian neighbours. That is true, though with some qualifications. There was peripheral contact in the north even before the Europeans colonised Australia. But in the colonial era there was no steady development of contact or interest. The shifting patterns of alliance politics in Europe affected such contacts as there were between the colonial administrations in Southeast Asia and Australia, and indeed between the Southeast Asian colonial administrations themselves.

Australia was not unique, or even unusual, in having little contact with its neighbours and in having its external links directed principally along the lines laid down by the metropolitan power. What are now the independent nations of Southeast Asia also had little contact with each other during the European colonial period. Just as the lines of communication and trade ran from Melbourne and Sydney to London, so did those between the French, Dutch, and other British colonies and the respective metropolitan powers in Europe.

Right up to the Pacific War there was little or no communication between, for example, what are now Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines. It was the remarkable Japanese campaign which began at the end of which precipitated or accelerated the radical changes which took place between and the end of the Vietnam war. The sheer speed and success of the Japanese successes against numerically superior defending forces in Southeast Asia made a strong impression on opinion in the erstwhile colonies. The Japanese failed to capitalise on that in the sense that after early political successes in encouraging nationalist and pro-Japanese movements the appeal to shared Asian interests lost plausibility in the face of Japanese policies and actions which were exploitative or worse.

Although Japan lost the war and left wounds in the region which are still not healed, the war precipitated the end of the moribund European colonial era, and accelerated the creation of independent states largely within borders established by the colonial empires.

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For some years trade and other economic links remained predominantly in the old colonial grooves but with the economic supremacy of the United States and then with Japan embarked on decades of the highest rates of economic growth the world had yet seen, those patterns diversified. In the region the United States and Japan became the two most important outside powers and that was reflected inter alia by their leading roles in the setting up of the Asian Development Bank in By that time Australia too had perforce diversified its trade away from Britain which had made it clear that it would seek its future economic arrangements in Europe and the Commonwealth arrangements which had supported much of Australia's traditional export industry were phased out.


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Australia turned to Japan and others for new markets a trade agreement with Japan had already been made in Australia's development assistance programme had from the beginning concentrated on Southeast Asia and become and increasingly important instrument for involving this country with the region, especially as significant numbers of students from the region came to our universities and other institutions under the Colombo Plan and successor programmes. The Song also saw the revival of Confucianism in the form of Neo-Confucianism. This had the effect of putting the Confucian scholars at a higher status than aristocrats or Buddhists and also intensified the reduction of power in women.

The infamous practice of foot binding developed in this period as a result. Eventually the Liao dynasty in the north was overthrown by the Jin dynasty of the Manchu-related Jurchen people. The new Jin kingdom invaded northern China , leaving the Song to flee farther south and creating the Southern Song dynasty in There, cultural life flourished. By , the Mongols had conquered the Western Xia kingdom northwest of China.

Soon the Mongols incurred upon the Jin empire of the Jurchens.

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Chinese cities were soon besieged by the Mongol hordes that showed little mercy for those who resisted and the Southern Song Chinese were quickly losing territory. In the current great khan, Kublai Khan , claimed himself Emperor of China and officially established the Yuan Dynasty. By , all of China was under control of the Mongols, marking the first time they were ever completely conquered by a foreign invader; the new capital was established at Khanbaliq modern-day Beijing. Kublai Khan segregated Mongol culture from Chinese culture by discouraging interactions between the two peoples, separating living spaces and places of worship, and reserving top administrative positions to Mongols, thus preventing Confucian scholars to continue the bureaucratic system.

Nevertheless, Kublai remained fascinated with Chinese thinking, surrounding himself with Chinese Buddhist, Taoist, or Confucian advisors. Mongol women displayed a contrasting independent nature compared to the Chinese women who continued to be suppressed. Mongol women often rode out on hunts or even to war.

Kublai's wife, Chabi , was a perfect example of this; Chabi advised her husband on several political and diplomatic matters; she convinced him that the Chinese were to be respected and well-treated in order to make them easier to rule. The Black Death, which would later ravage Western Europe, had its beginnings in Asia, where it wiped out large populations in China in Japan's medieval history began with the Asuka period , from around to The time was characterized by the Taika Reform and imperial centralization, both of which were a direct result of growing Chinese contact and influences.

He issued the Seventeen-article constitution in , centralizing power towards the emperor under the title tenno , or heavenly sovereign and removing the power to levy taxes from provincial lords. This period saw the culmination of Chinese-style writing, etiquette, and architecture in Japan along with Confucian ideals [20] to supplement the already present Buddhism. Peasants revered both Confucian scholars and Buddhist monks.

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However, in the wake of the — Japanese smallpox epidemic , Buddhism gained the status of state religion and the government ordered the construction of numerous Buddhist temples, monasteries, and statues. With the Heian period from to came a decline of imperial power. Chinese influence also declined, as a result of its correlation with imperial centralization and the heavenly mandate , which came to be regarded as ineffective. By , the Japanese court discontinued its embassies in China; only traders and Buddhist monks continued to travel to China. Buddhism itself came to be considered more Japanese than Chinese, and persisted to be popular in Japan.

Buddhists monks and monasteries continued their attempts to gather personal power in courts, along with aristocrats. One particular noble family that dominated influence in the imperial bureaucracy was the Fujiwara clan. During this time cultural life in the imperial court flourished. There was a focus on beauty and social interaction and writing and literature was considered refined. Noblewomen were cultured the same as noblemen, dabbling in creative works and politics.

A prime example of both Japanese literature and women's role in high-class culture at this time was The Tale of Genji , written by the lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu. Loss of imperial power also led to the rise of provincial warrior elites. Small lords began to function independently. They administered laws, supervised public works projects, and collected revenue for themselves instead of the imperial court. Regional lords also began to build their own armies. These warriors were loyal only their local lords and not the emperor, although the imperial government increasingly called them in to protect the capital.

The regional warrior class developed into the samurai , which created its own culture: including specialized weapons such as the katana and a form of chivalry, bushido. The imperial government's loss of control in the second half of the Heian period allowed banditry to grow, requiring both feudal lords and Buddhist monasteries to procure warriors for protection. As imperial control over Japan declined, feudal lords also became more independent and seceded from the empire. These feudal states squandered the peasants living in them, reducing the farmers to an almost serfdom status.

Peasants were also rigidly restricted from rising to the samurai class, being physically set off by dress and weapon restrictions. As a result of their oppression, many peasants turned to Buddhism as a hope for reward in the afterlife for upright behavior. With the increase of feudalism, families in the imperial court began to depend on alliances with regional lords.

The Fujiwara clan declined from power, replaced by a rivalry between the Taira clan and the Minamoto clan. This rivalry grew into the Genpei War in the early s. This war saw the use of both samurai and peasant soldiers. For the samurai, battle was ritual and they often easily cut down the poorly trained peasantry. The Minamoto clan proved successful due to their rural alliances.

Once the Taira was destroyed, the Minamoto established a military government called the shogunate or bakufu , centered in Kamakura. The end of the Genpei War and the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate marked the end of the Heian period and the beginning of the Kamakura period in , solidifying feudal Japan. Korea was fought between the three local kingdoms: Silla , Baekje , and Goguryeo. This continued until the Silla allied with Tang China to conquer all of Korea. Attempts at sinicization occurred. The Russian Empire began to expand into Asia from the 17th century, and would eventually take control of all of Siberia and most of Central Asia by the end of the 19th century.

In the 17th century, the Manchu conquered China and established the Qing Dynasty.

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In the 16th century, the Mughal Empire controlled much of India and initiated the second golden age for India. China was the largest economy in the world for much of the time, followed by India until the 18th century. Immediately, the new emperor and his followers drove the Mongols and their culture out of China and beyond the Great Wall. The exams became more rigorous, cut down harshly on cheating, and those who excelled were more highly appraised. Finally, Hongwu also directed more power towards the role of emperor so as to end the corrupt influences of the bureaucrats.


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The Hongwu emperor, perhaps for his sympathy of the common-folk, had built many irrigation systems and other public projects that provided help for the peasant farmers. Moneylenders foreclosed on peasant debt in exchange for mortgages and bought up farmer land, forcing them to become the landlords' tenants or to wander elsewhere for work. Focus on the superiority of elders over youth, men over women, and teachers over students resulted in minor discrimination of the "inferior" classes.

The fine arts grew in the Ming era, with improved techniques in brush painting that depicted scenes of court, city or country life; people such as scholars or travelers; or the beauty of mountains, lakes, or marshes.

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Economics grew rapidly in the Ming Dynasty as well. The introduction of American crops such as maize , sweet potatoes , and peanuts allowed for cultivation of crops in infertile land and helped prevent famine. The population boom that began in the Song dynasty accelerated until China's population went from 80 or 90 million to million in three centuries, culminating in Silk, tea, ceramics, and lacquer-ware were produced by artisans that traded them in Asia and to Europeans. Westerners began to trade with some Chinese-assigned limits , primarily in the port-towns of Macau and Canton.

Although merchants benefited greatly from this, land remained the primary symbol of wealth in China and traders' riches were often put into acquiring more land. In the interest of national glory, the Chinese began sending impressive junk ships across the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. From to , the Yongle Emperor commissioned expeditions led by the admiral Zheng He , a Muslim eunuch from China.

Chinese junks carrying hundreds of soldiers, goods, and animals for zoos, traveled to Southeast Asia, Persia, southern Arabia, and east Africa to show off Chinese power.

A Short History of Asia, Second Edition A Short History of Asia, Second Edition
A Short History of Asia, Second Edition A Short History of Asia, Second Edition
A Short History of Asia, Second Edition A Short History of Asia, Second Edition
A Short History of Asia, Second Edition A Short History of Asia, Second Edition
A Short History of Asia, Second Edition A Short History of Asia, Second Edition
A Short History of Asia, Second Edition A Short History of Asia, Second Edition
A Short History of Asia, Second Edition A Short History of Asia, Second Edition

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