2005-10-04

Chinese history

Embarrassingly, I haven't read Chinese history. Quite a few Japanese that I've met have studied Chinese history to some extent. Conversations with my colleagues sometimes come to this topic, and me knowing pretty much nothing made me feel like a child who has disappointed his parents. So, I started reading up on Chinese history. It's rather interesting I must say, and certainly more interesting than Canadian history. Here's a summary.

Famous parts of Chinese history:
  • First characters were written around 3500 years ago on turtle shells and bones, which were used for divination
  • Beginning of imperial China with the Qin (秦) Dynasty around 2230 years ago (imperial China would last until 1912)
  • Three Kingdoms period, a time famously depicted in the novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms"
  • Three great dynasties - Han 漢, Tang 唐, and Ming 明
    • 漢 2200 years ago - China adopts Confucianism and prospers; population reaches 50 million. Paper is invented. China expands into parts of Korea and Vietnam.
      • Chinese people to this day refer to themselves as the people of Han in honour of this period. The major ethnic group in China is Han Chinese, which makes up 92% of China's population.
      • The Japanese word kanji (漢字) literally means "the words/characters of Han"
    • 唐 1400 years ago - A high point in Chinese civilization, perhaps even greater than the Han dynasty. Golden period for Chinese literature and arts. The government is run by intellectuals selected through civil service exams (standardized merit tests and the closest thing to IQ tests until the late 1800's)
      • Chinatowns in major cities are often called 唐人街, lit. "district of the Tang people"
      • Block printing greatly improves literacy
    • 明 640 years ago - China finally recovers from Mongol rule and begins a successful revitalization. The economy flourishes bringing arts and technology to new heights. A vast army and navy is built. Ming becomes the most advanced and powerful nation on Earth - The Great Ming Empire (大明帝国). Later on, there's a shift from exploration to isolation which marks the beginning of the decline of China, which in turn would last until the 20th century.
      • Over 100,000 tons of iron per year was produced in Northern China
      • Books were printed using movable type
      • The navy consisted of four-masted ships displacing 1500 tons. Early Ming explorers and merchants explored all of the Indian ocean, with some historians proposing that even the Americas were reached.
      • Ming was the last ethnic Han dynasty in China. The "great restoration of China during early Ming" was used as a rallying cry to instill feelings of national pride and resentment of foreign rule from the Qing Dynasty (Manchu rule) until after WWII.
I hope this was an entertaining and informative read!

2 comments:

Ambrose said...

Yeah Chinese history is cool/interesting to me. Unfortunately, UW does not offer any course based solely on Chinese history. They have like, some East Asian Studies course on Asian religions or Asian history and the like, totally sucks.

Alan said...

Yeah, I wouldn't mind learning about Chinese history if I had the time, either.

Too bad there never was a Yu Dynasty, haha.