Chapter 10: The Flowering of Traditional China


Chapter Outline


I. China after the Han


II. China Reunified: The Sui, the Tang, and the Song

            A. The Sui Dynasty (581-618)

            B. The Tang Dynasty (618-907)

            C. The Song Dynasty (960-1279)

            D. Political Structures: The Triumph of Confucianism

                        1. Equal Opportunities in China: The Civil Service Examination

                        2. Local Government

            E. The Economy

                        1. The Land Reform

                        2. The Urban Economy

                        3. The Silk Road

                        4. The Maritime Route

            F. Society in Traditional China

                        1. The Rise of the Gentry

                        2. Village China

                        3. The Role of Women


III. Explosion in Central Asia: The Mongol Empire

            A. Mongol Rule in China

            B. The Mongols’ Place in History


IV. The Ming Dynasty (1369-1644)

            B. The Voyages of Zhenghe

            C. An Inward Turn


V. In Search of the Way

            A. The Rise and Decline of Buddhism and Daoism

                        1. The Sinification of Buddhism

                        2. Buddhism Under Threat

            B. Neo‑Confucianism: The Investigation of Things

1.      The School of Mind


VI. The Apogee of Chinese Culture

            A. Literature

                        1. The Importance of Poetry

                        2. Popular Culture

                        3. The Chinese Novel

            B. Art



Analects:  the body of writing containing conversations between Confucius and his disciples that preserves his worldly wisdom and pragmatic philosophies

Chan Buddhism:  Chinese sect, emphasis on mind training and strict regimen

Civil service examination:  an elaborate Chinese system of selecting bureaucrats on merit

Dao:  the “Way”

Dharma:  the law

“Equal field” system:  land was allocated to farmers for life in return for an annual tax payment and three weeks of conscript labor

Foot binding:  procedure that bent and compressed the feet of young girls in China

Genghis Khan:  term meaning “universal ruler,” title associated with nomadic Mongol conqueror Temuchin

Khanates:  four divisions of the Mongol world—Chaghadai, Persia, Kipchak (Golden Horde), and Yuan dynasty in China

Khitan:  northern nomadic peoples, threat to Tang

Manichaeanism:  religion popular in western China, offshoot of ancient Zoroastrianism with some Christian influence

Neo-Confucianism:  the dominant ideology of China during the second millennium C.E., it combined the metaphysical speculations of Buddhism and Daoism with the pragmatic Confucian approach to society, maintaining that the world is real, not illusory, and that fulfillment comes from participation not withdrawal.

Nirvana:  in Buddhist thought, enlightenment, the ultimate transcendence from the illusion of the material world, release from the wheel of life

Pure Land Buddhism:  Buddhist sect, stressed role of devotion

Scholar-gentry:  rising land-owning gentry class in China, prized education

School of Mind:  Chinese philosophy associated with thought of Wang Yangming, disagreed with Neo-Confucians, knowledge was intuitive, mind and body a single unit

Uighars:  Turkic-speaking people, dominated parts of Silk Road, threat to Tang

White Lotus Buddhism:  sect of Buddhism, looked for a “savior Buddha,” backed political reform and sometimes revolt

Yang:  Chinese foundational concept, male and light, balanced by yin

Yin:  Chinese foundational concept, female and dark, balanced by yang


Chapter Objectives

  1. Trace the causes, nature, and duration of conditions in China between the fall of the Han Dynasty and China’s revival during the Sui era.
  2. Survey the various possible causes and explanations for the loss of the “Mandate of Heaven” from the Han to the Yuan.
  3. Examine why Chinese society became restored in the late 500s, after such a long period of division and disorder and how the Sui and Tang governments were able not only to exert power but also to harness the social and economic vitality of the country.
  4. Examine the relationships among renascent Confucianism, durable Daoism, and advancing Buddhism as they interacted during a period of dynamic cultural, political, and economic development.
  5. Discuss the significance and lasting influence, both positive and negative, of the examination system on the political and social systems of China.
  6. Rather than emphasizing China as a centralized and unitary state, explore instead the history of China as a construct of vastly different regional societies.
  7. Analyze the impact of extended societal and elite affluence on Chinese cultural and social life from the Sui through the Song dynasties.
  8. Assess the reasons for, and impact of, the Mongol victory over China. Was it “simply” a matter of better military effectiveness or were societal, economic and related attitudinal elements also influential, if not determinative?
  9. Using the tribute system as a point of departure and reference, trace China’s relationships, military and diplomatic, with its neighboring states.
  10. Survey, with the use of supplementary materials and sources, the art and literature of Tang and Song China.