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Asian Studies

1. The threat of nomadic peoples to the North and West of China constituted one of the most intractable problems faced by Chinese governments throughout its history. Briefly survey the history of Chinese-nomadic relations from the Western Zhou through the Yuan and discuss what accounted for the success of the Liao, Jin and the Mongol Yuan in conquering and ruling part or all of China.

The states that bordered China in the North were nomadic and greatly relied on trade with China. It was not only barter trade but also trade for coin. Chine exported paper, silk, metal, sugar, tea and other goods. and imported wool, salt and horses. The trade was interrupted when military conflicts took place. In order to keep nomads from raiding the Chinese land, the local government created a tribute system. From that time on, nomands were receiving gifts from the Chinese rulers (Zhao 321). However, this method was not always effective and as a result the Great Wall was erected in 220-206 BC.

The threat from the North coincided with the climate change to which nomadic tribes were very sensitive. The cold period brought about the invasion of Xianyun, Rong (which resulted in a collapse of the Western Zhou dynasty), and Di tribes between 1000AD and 770BC. Nomads also raided China during the Eastern Han Dynasty. Starting from 1000AD, China was ruled by nomadic and semi-nomadic dynasties such as Xixia, Jin, Liao, and Yuan (Mongolian dynasty) (Zhao 322).

The last 3 dynasties had a particular success in ruling over China and remained in power longer than other nomadic dynasties. Although their reign was firstly characterized by massive destruction of the territory and property as their only goal was to enrich themselves, in later years, conquerors made some economic and cultural contributions to the prosperity of China. For example, in order to rule China, Mongols appointed non-Chinese well-educated elite from other conquered lands. They were often sinicized and made administrative reforms that were favorable for the economy and mitigated destruction (for example, Yelu Chucai). They also divided Chinese population into Mongols, Asians, Northern and Southern Chinese. This facilitated cultural diffusion. Mongolian rule also fostered trade between Europe and Asia. It was now the first time that European merchants could travel as far as China (Zhao 315). In later years, nomadic dynasties in China also accepted Confucian-Legalist state system (Zhao 324).

2. Please compare the two historical “debates” contained in Patricia Ebrey’s Chinese Civilization: “The Debate on Salt and Iron” (No. 14, pp. 60-63) and “Wang Anshi, Sima Guang, and Emperor Shenzong” (No. 35, pp. 151-154). In your essay, you should consider a) the nature of the documents involved (what kind of documents are they and what were their intended purposes), b) the issues and arguments on both sides of each debate, and c) the historical background to each of the debates.

Patricia Buckley Ebrey’s offers a translation of two debates which took place in the Chinese Empire. Although the time difference between these discussions is about a thousand years, they have much in common. Both of them are debates between a governmental official and a follower of Confucian philosophy. The argument is related to fiscal policies implemented by the government. While the governmental official defends the appropriateness and advantages of fiscal policies, a Confucian follower argues that the desire to gain profit is detrimental to common people and state in general.

“The Debate on Salt and Iron” took place after the death of Emperor Wu in 81 BC. Confucian scholars were invited to discuss new policies with the chief minister who introduced them. The debate was recorded (Ebrey 60) and, thus, is available in the form of a written dialogue between ‘the learned men’ and ‘the minister’. The learned men (Confucian scholars) criticized the system of salt and iron monopolies, liquor taxation and equable marketing that was established in the country being a burden for ordinary people. They speculated that these changes made farmers pursue other professions in trade and industry instead of traditional and ‘simple’ agriculture (Ebrey 61). After becoming merchants, people start striving for profit which leads to decoy of virtuous society. The minister, in his turn, argues that new fiscal policies are necessary for raising money for the army that defends the land from Xiongnu rebel in the North. In addition, he says that all professions are important and it is necessary to have merchants and artisans as well as farmers (Ebrey 61-62). During this debate China was fiercely fighting against the nomadic tribes in the North and the military forces required much money to protect the land.

“Wang Anshi, Sima Guang, and Emperor Shenzong” debate took place in 1070 AD during the ruling of Emperor Zhenzong and reforms of Wang Anshi who was against the acceptance of Confucian principles by politicians of the country (Ebrey 151). The debate is divided into 3 written parts – Sima’s account of the debate with Wang, Sima’s letter to Wang, and Wang’s response letter. In his letter, Sima argues that new reforms implemented by Wang are aimed at making profit being a burden to ordinary people and nobles. He also criticizes the existence of governmental expenses (gifts) as money is scarce and there are other more important needs that should be addressed (Ebrey 152). In his answer, Wang shortly explains that at first there is always resentment when changes are made, even if changes are positive (Ebrey 154). Indeed Wang’s reforms took place when there was an economic decline in the country. Although reforms were not welcomed first, they brought prosperity to the economy, while the government was now headed by scholarly men.

3. The use of examinations in the selection of officials is one of the most distinctive and important features of Chinese society in the imperial period. Describe the use of examinations during the Han, Tang, Song, and Yuan dynasties. What were the distinctive features of examinations in each of these periods? In what ways can the examinations be said to have influenced Chinese society and culture?

The Chinese managed to create an examination system in order to select officials based on merit and knowledge and not on political connections or heritage. It gave credit of trust to the government on behalf of the ordinary people. It also created a group of literary elite in the country.

In 124 BC, an imperial university was founded. Its purpose was to train officials. During Han Dynasty (206 BC-220AD) imperial examination system was established. It consisted of questions related to policy making (mostly interpretation of Confucian texts) and an interview. The candidates were mostly people recommended by the local elite or other officials. Imperial examination allowed some mobility to upper class. However, it required thorough preparation which was affordable only to wealthy people. Exam took place every 3 years and had 3 stages – county, provincial and palace levels. The evaluation was very strict with only 2% succeeding at the provincial level. The system was greatly elaborated and systematized during Sui Dynasty (581–618) (Mu 12-18).

During Tang Dynasty (618–907) a system of schools was founded and started training local elite for imperial examination. It also became important to have a person who would recommend candidates for an exam. During the Song dynasty (960–1279) such schools became public and served not only elite but also poor but talented representatives of lower class. Relatives were not allowed to engage in business together and candidates for exam were recommended by those who were responsible for the candidate’s performance (Mu 66-77).

When the Mongols conquered China, examination system seized to recruit bureaucrats for the first time in a thousand years. However, even foreign conquerors such as the Mongols of Yuan dynasty realized the benefits of examination system and renewed it in 1315 with significant changes. Quotas on the number of candidates were created with preference given to candidates of non-Chinese origin (Mu 91). Thus, foreign elite ruled China during Yuan dynasty.

Chinese examination system was indeed unique for its time and had a number of benefits for the country. Firstly, it allowed (although only theoretically) a man of any background to become a respected governmental official. Secondly, it helped to create an educated group of governmental officials who were chosen for their merit and not through nepotism. Having excessive knowledge, they always took decisions in favor of economic and political development of the country. Thirdly, although not many people passed the exam, many studied for it for years and by doing so formed a group of educated people in the society.

4. Describe the history Chinese women from the Han through Song dynasties. While it is certainly appropriate to mention women from those periods, your answer should analyze both the continuities and significant changes that occurred in their roles, activities and status.

During Han Dynasty (206 BC-220AD) a writing system was introduced in China. Although empresses’ names as well as other court ladies and emperor’s concubines appeared in chronicles, they were greatly neglected. Ordinary women that were not of a noble origin were neglected too and did not have many rights. They had to subordinate to their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. Marriages were arranged and women were not allowed to choose a future husband. They also could be sold for different reasons. Women had no education and were assigned home jobs. They often became prostitutes after being sold or courtesans if they had a talent like poem-writing, dancing or singing.

Confucianism differentiated women as lower individuals. Based on Confucian hierarchical principles, Lessons for Girls manuals were created during Han Dynasty (45-120 AD). They contained guidelines of female behavior that mainly indicated that women were obliged to serve men (McMahon 1-11).

However, the rights of noble women were much dictated by yin/yang symbol. Yin means a feminine, passive and compassionate features and this was how women were perceived. Although two parts of the symbol are equal, a woman pursuing political career would be considered as the one breaking a world order and creating chaos (Lee and Wiles 4).

In this respect, it is worth mentioning Wu Zitan of Tang Dynasty (625-705 AD) who was the only woman in Chinese history who ruled the country. At first, she governed the state as a regent to her son which was a common practice in China. In 690, she defeated her enemies and established her own dynasty Zhou. She was skilled in politics, however, and her reign is also known for as terrifying and cruel. Although her reign did not bring any dramatic changes, in later years women could enjoy unprecedented power in court politics (Lee and Wiles 6). As a result, Tang era paintings depicted women as artists and administrators.

During Song Dynasty, the position of women worsened, especially due to the Mongol invasion and popularity of Neo-Confucian beliefs. Such practices as foot binding, selling unwanted daughters and widow chastity were accepted as morally correct. However, as silk was the main exported product in China and women served as laborers in this field, it gave women some privileges and even resulted in marriage resistance movement in South China (legends of Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih) (McMahon 239-256).