China Chinese ideas were prevalent throughout the dynasties as

China
became a new Eurasian country between the tenth and eighteenth centuries.
Throughout that time, seven dynasties took reign over China to establish what
it was in the eighteenth century before the Opium War. China underwent numerous
rulers, regimes, and governments from the Song to the Qing dynasty. Traditional
Chinese ideas were prevalent throughout the dynasties as they were establishing
their power and identity, which assisted the China’s path to becoming a Eurasian
country. This extensive period of change was influenced by political, economic,
and social factors, in addition to domestic and foreign influences, to
establish China as a Eurasian country.

            Prior to the beginning of the Song
dynasty, there was a transitional period from A.D. 907 to 960 from the Tang dynasty
to the Song dynasty. During this transitional period, the Song dynasty was
split into Northern (A.D. 960-1127) and Southern (A.D. 1127-1279) phases. The
Northern Song was dominated by five dynasties, and the Southern Song was
dominated by ten kingdoms. The dynasties in the North and the kingdoms in the
South were both negatively impacted by the fragmentation of the Tang dynasty. Northern
Song throne bearers were unable to hold their ground as foreign rivals
exercised their power, which ultimately led to the split of the Song dynasty. The
Khitans were recognized as a new power in Manchuria that could potentially
assist the Northern Song in gaining control of the city of Kaifeng, which they
succeeded in doing. Unfortunately, the successor of the northern ruler tried to
take away territory granted to the Khitans for their assistance years prior.
This resulted in the Khitans attacking Kaifeng between 946 and 947, thus
demonstrating the power of foreign rivals. Southern Song was also not very
successful or efficient during its rule. Kings in the south were
self-proclaimed and did not possess much power over the ten kingdoms.

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Eventually, general Zhao Kuangyin was able to unify
the Song dynasty with political and military reforms. He was recognized as
Taizu, the first emperor of the Song dynasty, and was greatly assisted by Zhao
Pu, the first Song emperor’s minister. Under Zhao Pu, the Song dynasty
emphasized cultivation, like literature, and looked down on military force. Zhao
Pu weakened local political leaders and gave power to scholar-officials from the
capital. Prime ministers’ power was also weakened, resulting in a division of power
among different positions. High-ranking military leaders were not appointed
anymore, and generals were dismissed because military strength was looked down
upon. Forces were rotated between capitals in provinces to prevent the rise of
regional strongmen (Ebrey 137).  According
to a University of Maryland resource, this period was also known for major
economic developments by creating centers for trade, industry, and maritime
commerce (“The Imperial Era: II”). Rice cultivation in central and southern
China expanded, and China’s food supply and population steadily increased. This
also resulted in stimulated commercialization and inland and coastal trading of
more products, like charcoal, tea, textiles, and vegetables (Ebrey 141). The
great success of domestic trading eventually resulted in a desire to expand
trading, so China began traveling southwest and southeast to obtain silk,
ceramics, and books. Government workshops and family-based enterprises
dominated the market, which also created more job opportunities.

The Song dynasty was also known for its focus on intellectual
cultivation and the rise of Neo-Confucianism. Confucian teachings were revived,
and intellectual scholars and officials became more influential. The civil
service examination became one of the most distinctive features of becoming
“elite” at the time, which was mainly defined by one’s intellectual
capabilities and understandings of Confucian readings. Everyone wanted to be an
intellectual and pass the exam because they would be highly valued. The gravity
of passing the exam during the Song dynasty was enhanced by making the exams
more private. They were sealed to cover up the candidates’ names to avoid
nepotism, and exam sheets were copied to eliminate any traces of private handwriting.
Intellectuals were also highly valued at the time instead of men who might join the army, so quotas of admission were
increased. This resulted in a greater number of intellectuals and long waiting
lists. As for the rise of Neo-Confucianism, Zhu Xi was one of the most
influential philosophers of the Song
dynasty to spread Neo-Confucianism. According to The Synthesis of Song Neo-Confucianism in Zhu Xi:

“The humankind this principle is one’s moral nature,
which is fundamentally good. The human mind, moreover, is in essence one with
the mind of the universe, capable of entering into all things and understanding
their principles. Zhu believed in human perfectibility, in the overcoming of
those limitations or weaknesses that arise from
an imbalance in one’s psycho-physical endowment. His method was the
‘investigation of things’ as taught in the Great
Learning — this is, the study of principles, and also self-cultivation to
bring one’s conduct into conformity with the principles that should govern it,”
(De Bary Wm. 698).

Zhu
Xi’s teaching of Neo-Confucianism during the Song dynasty encouraged students
to look for big questions of life in the cosmos or in behavior.  This teaching encouraged the Chinese to think
intellectually in a new way.

            While the Song dynasty had an
abundance of intellectuals it faced many border crises, which eventually led to
the rise of the Liao dynasty. Before the dynasty began, the regiment was known as Khitan. It was named in
916 by Yelu Abaoji, who claimed to be an emperor in Shangjing. The Khitans
eventually grew in power after obtaining territory around Beijing during the
Northern Song phase, and soon created their own script that was derived from
Chinese. Khitan occupied the North, and eventually occupied the 16 prefectures
in the North by 936. In 947, Khitan changed its name to Liao and later defeated
the Song. In the end, they reached an agreement in 1004 that required the Song
to pay the Liao 100,000 taels of silver and 200,000 of silk and clothing every
year as a tribute. While the Song dynasty was not completely defeated after the
loss to the Liao, the Liao harnessed the power of previous dynasties to make
their dynasty the most powerful. The Liao ruled over its population with
institutions of civil bureaucracy and mobile organizations with an emperor and
his officials moving from one place to another in different seasons (Ebrey
167). Although the Liao did not rule a great population like the Song, it had a
powerfully military that was often seen as a threat to other neighbors.

The Liao dynasty had a powerful military force and the
elite practiced Khitan and Chinese ways, but the rise of the Jurchens in the
north led to the dynasty’s demise. The Jurchens formed a confederation of its
tribes and called itself the Jin dynasty. They allied with the Song dynasty to
defeat the Liao in 1125. Once the Jin replaced the Liao, the Southern Song
dynasty agreed to sign a treaty with the Jin dynasty in 1142. The treaty
claimed that the Song dynasty was to be subject to the Jin, there would be a demarcation between the two dynasties, and the
Song would pay silk and silver to the Jin every year as a tribute. The Jin continued
to build their military strength by defeating the cities of Taiyuan and
Kaifeng. The Jin moved their capital from Manchuria to Beijing in 1153, and
then to Kaifeng in 1161. Its government first consisted of Chinese and Khitan
officials like the Liao dynasty but eventually chose more Chinese officials.
The Jin made this switch because they saw the potential for more power with
Chinese political institutions. A majority of Jin rule was in North China and
they continued to adopt Chinese society, like Chinese customs of language,
dress, and rituals (Ebrey 168). In 1161, the Jin emperor was assassinated by Jurchen
commanders who rejected the assimilation. As a result, Jurchen heritage was
revitalized by the succeeding emperor. In order to not be seen as outsiders,
the Jurchen emperor heavily enforced Chinese language, dress, and Chinese
surnames. They were essentially Chinese instead of Jurchen, so they could fit
in and seem like a greater power.

Regardless of how powerful the Jin dynasty was, it
eventually collapsed in 1234 after being conquered by the Mongols. Their
success was due to their willingness to include ethnic groups who did not have
any loyalty to the Jurchen (Ebrey 171). The Mongols later welcomed Uighurs,
Tibetans, Persians, and Russians in their government, thus strengthening its
power. The Mongol government did not conquer other lands in the most
conventional or just ways. They began by looting and pillaging nearby lands,
and sending skilled workers to Mongolia to populate Karakorum, the new city capital. It was not until 1271 that the
Yuan dynasty was created by Khubilai Khan, Genghis Khan’s grandson. Khubilai instituted
Chinese rituals and continued the conquest of the Song dynasty. The conquest
lasted years with the assistance of the Chinese, Korean, Jurchen, Uighur, and
Persian. It finally ended when the Mongols were able to cross the Yangzi valley
and then finally defeat the Song along the coast of Guangdong in 1279.

After the Song conquest, Mongol was a powerful force
that occupied Beijing and favored Chinese civilization, but Mongol social and
political practices. Seeing as there were many alien rulers from different
countries, the Chinese were not expected to adopt the customs of the conquerors
(Ebrey 173). During the Yuan dynasty, Chinese identity was very ambiguous
because there were three sets of conquerors. They were all focused on
maximizing their revenues, so they went beyond their limits and faced inflation
by the fourteenth century (Ebrey 174). Ethnic divisions were later put in place
to preserve conquerors’ privileges and to prevent assimilation of Chinese
culture. There was a complex ethnic hierarchy during this dynasty’s rule and
Mongols were at the top, followed by allies of the Mongols from areas outside
of China, including Uighurs, Turks, and Tibetans among others. Former subjects
of the Jin followed the Mongols’ allies, and former subjects of the Song were
at the bottom of the hierarchy. Government methods were greatly influenced by
the hierarchy when it came to taxation, judicial processes, and office
appointment (Ebrey 175). The reason the Mongols created such a strict hierarchy
was to suppress any potential Chinese rebellion because there were so many
Chinese under Mongol rule. They were punished more severely than Mongols when
it came to government practices. Overall, alien emperors saw Chinese culture as
a threat to their power because they had nothing unifying the people in their
dynasty, while the Chinese had many cultural and governmental factors to unite
their people.

The Yuan dynasty lacked a common cultural identity to
unify their people, so it eventually began to disintegrate after Chinese
peasant rebellions and disagreements among Mongol emperors. The Ming dynasty
was created by Zhu Yuanzhang, a Chinese peasant, a former Buddhist monk, and eventual member of a rebel group called
the Red Turbans, a branch of the White Lotus Society. With his Buddhist
background, he quickly rose among the group and became a commander of the
troops. He started his campaign in Nanjing to overthrow the Mongols but was
unsuccessful. Yuanzhang eventually gained control of Beijing in 1368 and
established the Ming dynasty, and decided to go by the imperial name, Taizu. After
moving the dynasty’s capital to Nanjing, he wanted people to obey their
superiors and punish those who did not. Regarding economics, he reallocated
service and tax liabilities more fairly to lessen the weight of the government
on the weak, which also allowed him to cut government expenses freely (Ebrey
191). The Ming’s government began with the most power going to the emperor,
then the ministry and chancellors, followed by the six ministries, but the
distribution of power changed after 1380. The most power was given to the
emperor, who had direct contact with the six ministries because he was worried
that his officials were plotting against him. Taizu also created a secret
police force to spy on them and any other people who were guilty of political
crimes. These government reforms during the Ming dynasty demonstrated how emperors
were using their power over their dynasty, rather than numerous emperors ruling
at once like in the Yuan dynasty.

To align their ideas with those of the Chinese
government, the Ming dynasty banned commercial
overseas trade. The official trading of the government was a tributary trade system with foreign countries, including Korea, today’s Thailand,
and Vietnam (Annam at the time). They were considered tributary states and not
worth attacking because they were so removed, so there would be no benefits
from invading them. The Ming also had special relations with the Choson of
Korea, one of the tributary states. Between 1401-1403, Choson had chosen a 3rd
king and the tributary system with China was legitimized. In 1403, the King was
sometimes referred to as the “prince of the Chinese dynasty.” In Choson, the
Koreans adopted Chinese as the official language, were taught Neo-Confucianism,
and practiced the Chinese civil service examinations. The idea of the Ming’s
tributary system was for the tributary states to serve the great country, and
for China to cherish the little countries. Later, the Ming dynasty expanded its
expansion policies and rented Macau to Portugal as a trading port, becoming the
first settlement occupied by Europeans in China and East Asia.

Following Neo-Confucian ideals, the Ming dynasty was
able to control the population and focus on traditional Chinese ideals of politics,
economy, and society. The eventual expansion of foreign relations demonstrated
the progression of Ming ideals, while still sticking with traditional Chinese
ideals to have a successful dynasty. This expansion also resulted in new goods
and ideas. Sweet potatoes, maize, and peanuts were introduced to China, thus
improving the nutrition, population, and economy. As for new ideas, Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit priest
made a map of the world and put China in the center in 1584, and it was used
until 1602. Ricci’s most notable ideas he introduced to the Ming Chinese were
calendar-making, mathematics, geography, and astronomy.

The Ming dynasty was flourishing with Neo-Confucian
ideals, new European ideas, and successful relations with its tributary states from
1368 up until 1644, its downfall. While the dynasty was expanding its ideals,
there was a political protest against
Taizu. Many officials believed Taizu was unfair to officials who made minor
mistakes, but it was difficult to stand up to him when a Confucian idea was to
stay loyal to the throne. On the other hand, another Confucian idea placed an
emphasis on speaking up on manners of principle, which were being violated by
Taizu. Because of speaking their mind, Taizu punished many officials who spoke
up, including their families, neighbors, and friends. The Ming dynasty also
began to face economic turmoil as government became nearly bankrupt. The Wanli
emperor was supporting imperial clans and the support of military campaigns
were major drains of the government’s expenses. The bulk of financial issues
faced by the Ming was the decline of silver in its trading system. Japanese
authorities refused to allow Macao traders into Nagasaki in 1639, so China no
longer received silver. China also had poor relations with the Spanish when a
brutal battle broke out and left 20,000 Chinese dead in the Philippines. As a
result, China was, once again. cut off from a source of silver. The major
decreases of silver resulted in rapid deflation, tax defaults, and rent riots,
and hoarding of silver and grains. Famine and epidemics of illnesses were also
dominating the Chinese population at the time of economic downfall and riots,
and the government was unable to provide the necessary support for those in
need.

Li Zicheng and Zhang Xianzhong were leaders of a new
adherent that formed when the government was unable to destroy gangs that were
ravaging the countryside in response to widespread famine. Li Zicheng took over
Hubei, Henan, and Shaanxi, then Beijing in 1644, when the last Ming emperor
took his own life. While Li Zicheng was going around, Zhang Xianzhong went in
the Sichuan province and attacked Chongqing and Chengdu.

Although these two leaders helped lead to the downfall
of the Ming dynasty, the Manchus founded the new dynasty. The Manchus were not
Chinese, but they practiced Confucian court practices and temple rituals of the
Ming and earlier dynasties. Nurhaci enforced many Chinese practices and
institutions for the Manchus and created the Eight Banners system that confused
on politics, military, and society. One of his sons
later called Nurhaci’s established regime, the Great Qing Country. Over time,
the Qing rose and was able to defeat what was left of the Ming and the rebels
who took over Beijing. The Qing crossed over the Great Wall in 1644 with a
strong military to defeat the rebels and claim Beijing. Once they were in
power, the Qing reestablished social order and established the Greater China, a
multiethnic territory that consisted of Taiwan, Chinese Central Asia, Mongolia,
and Tibet (Ebrey 227). The economy of the Qing dynasty was expanded with
maritime trade between China and England in the eighteenth century, and there
was already trade occurring between the territories of the Greater China. Qing
intellectuals turned to Han commentaries of Confucian texts to develop greater
and uncontaminated understandings of ancient texts to be used as norms for the
Qing dynasty. 

Overall, the tenth to eighteenth centuries
demonstrated the journey China endured to become a new Eurasian country. It
battled among its own territories and foreign powers in its quest for more
power and development. The Song to the Qing dynasty was a great time of
development and change for China. A common theme for the dynasties was to
embody traditional Chinese ideals in some ways, even if the founders of the
dynasty were not truly Chinese, like the Yuan or Qing dynasties. They did not
start with the intention of adopting a traditional Chinese mindset, but after
political, economic, and social influences, dynasties embodied those ideals and
China became a new Eurasian country.