The years from 400 to 1500 in Asia were marked by periods of invasions and civil wars, interspersed with periods of unification, expanding trade, and economic prosperity. Central governments gradually took on expanding roles in creating orderly societies. Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam became the dominant religions of the Asian world.
Section 1 China Reunified
China suffered three hundred years of disorder and civil war following the collapse of the Han dynasty. The three dynasties that followed reunified the empire. Important Han dynasty reforms were reinstated. However, periods of peace and stability were interspersed with invasions and civil wars. However, this nearly 700-year period also included major economic and cultural achievements. The introduction of gunpowder, steel manufacturing, and cotton planting spurred economic growth. The economy evolved into a complex mix of agriculture, manufacturing, and trade. The old aristocracy was replaced by a new landed gentry that also supplied candidates for the civil service. The magnificence of the Song capital, Hangzhou, testified to China's growing prosperity. However, the status of women remained low.
Section 2 The Mongols and China
The Mongols brought the entire Eurasian land mass under a single rule, creating the largest land empire in history. After the death of Genghis Khan, the Mongol empire was divided into Khanates. The Mongol armies continued their invasions, eventually conquering China. Khan's grandson Kublai Khan established the Yuan dynasty in China. A major change in Chinese government was the adoption of a new brand of Confucianism in place of Buddhism and Daoism. Neo-Confucianism, adopted during the late Tang period, would remain the governing philosophy until the twentieth century. The invention of printing made literature more readily available. Poetry began to flourish, as did art in general.
Section 3 Early Japan and Korea
Early Japan was a decentralized farming society dominated by aristocratic families. Those who tried to unify Japan were often thwarted by rival noble families. The samurai class emerged to serve as guardians of the aristocrats and their property. During one of the more stable interludes, central military rulers called shoguns held power. One of the shoguns defended Japan against the ill-fated Mongol invasion of 1281. Manufacturing and foreign trade—particularly with Korea and China—began in the eleventh century. Women, although subordinate to men, played an active social role, became artists, and were among the most prominent writers. A state religion called Shinto evolved, but Buddhism had a strong following. Early Korean history was marked by civil wars and invasions. The Koryo dynasty that emerged in the tenth century stayed in power after the Mongol invasion. After the collapse of the Mongol dynasty in China, the Koryo were overthrown.
Section 4 India after the Guptas
After the fall of the Guptas, Buddhism continued to spread abroad, but its influence in India declined. Meanwhile, Hinduism saw a revival. From the eleventh through the sixteenth centuries, India faced a series of invaders—first Muslims from the area of modern-day Afghanistan, and later Mongols, Moguls, and Portuguese traders. While most Muslim rulers showed tolerance toward the Hindu majority, Muslims and Hindus had a tense relationship. Most Indians were rural peasant farmers. The landed elites and merchants lived in the cities. Foreign trade flourished even at times of upheaval inside India. Indian culture produced ever more ornate Hindu temples, and prose writing developed long before it took hold elsewhere.
Section 5 Civilization in Southeast Asia
In Southeast Asia, geographical barriers resulted in the survival of many distinct cultures, languages, and religions. These barriers may also explain why the region never united under a single ruler. The economies of Southeast Asia can be divided into two groups: those that were primarily agricultural, and those that were primarily organized around trade. The formation of states, often based on Chinese or Indian models, gave a boost to trade in Southeast Asia. So did the Muslim conquest of northern India. Wealth was concentrated in the cities, which were home to rulers and hereditary aristocrats. Most people were probably subsistence rice farmers. Women in Southeast Asia often had greater rights than their counterparts in China and India. Theravada Buddhism, rejected in India, became the dominant religion in much of Southeast Asia. The exception was the Malay Peninsula, where nearly the entire population converted to Islam.