The initial cycle of the Chinese culture was a true spiritual renaissance. During this period the teachings of Confucius and LaoTzu, the founder of the Tao tradition, were launched. During this time Buddha, who was born in India, emerged on the scene and his work was later fully embraced by China. Each of these spiritual guides had devoted disciples who carried on the teaching and established a firm foundation which has lasted until today.
In this blog we will give a brief summary of the second cycle, the upward phase where China began to make its mark in the world.It should be noted that this upward cycle is happening at the same time as the inward Western cycle. This is also the case for the Indian and Arabic cultures.
Air Period: A New Impulse 392–630 CE
The initial stage of this period was marked by turmoil, but gradually the Eastern Jin dynasty retained sovereignty over part of the country. After more than 400years of division China was reunited under the Sui dynasty. Buddhism took overfrom Taoism as the state philosophy. A comprehensive government administrative system was put in place that lasted for almost 1000 years. The ruling emperor was Wei Di, who lived a simple life, was concerned with the needs of people at all levels of society and took steps to expand the economy.
One ofthe prime developments was the 1,550-mile network of canals, rivers and locks, known as the Grand Canal, which bound the Chinese culture together very tightly. Many believe this construction, completed between 605 and 611, was more important than the Great Wall. Significant trade was made possible and many cities grew up along the route. It made China’s economic integrationpossible. After only three emperors, power was then taken over by the Tangdynasty.
WaterPeriod: Expansion 630–928 CE
TheTang dynasty, lasting almost 300 years, marked a highpoint in Chinese culture.The imperial sphere of influence reached Central Asia for the first time. The Tang Code of Law was developed in 624 and Buddhism continued to be thespiritual guide for the Chinese people of this period. Due to the era of peaceand the long-term merging of nationalities, the society at the time became open and inclusive, with women playing an important role in society.
The national strength of Tang and the prosperity of economy was unprecedented inChinese history. Their capital Chang’an became the biggest cosmopolis in the world at the time and an important link to the Western economy. Located at the Eastern end of the Silk Road, it experienced a continual flow of goods coming in from the West. In 750, the Hanlin Academy was founded, to encourage and support the study of Arts and Science. It continues to operate in China today.
Among the cultural communications with other countries, religion was the most active. Xuan Zang, a Tang monk who had learned Sanskrit, went to India and brought back 650 Buddhist classics texts, which he translated and distributed. Many Japanese monks came to China to learn Buddhism. In 754, Jian Zhen, a Tang dignitary, went to Japan to spread Buddhism and became the founder of the Japanese religion, Zen Buddhism. In 907, a Tang general dethroned the emperor and ascended the throne himself, changing the title of his reign to Liang. This led to a period where 15 reigns appeared in succession.
Fire Period: Summit Reached, Decline Begins 829–1107 CE
TheSong emperors presided over a period of economic expansion and technologicalinnovation. One of the highlights of this period was the advancement in technology, building on four great Chinese inventions: the compass, gunpowder, paper making, and printing. They had all been invented hundreds of years before, but this period produced greatly refined versions, which were to become the inspiration for the West many years later.
Agricultural productivity was greatly improved by bringing more land under cultivation. Newcommercial crops were produced including sugar, tea, bamboo and hemp. Traditional crafts such as silk making, papermaking and ceramics flourished. Improved roads and canals boosted internal trade and with the invention of the compass, China was encouraged to sail further and trade over much greater distances.
Allthis mercantile activity required a more sophisticated financial system. TheSong government inaugurated the first Chinese banks, minting many coins each year and eventually introducing the world’s first paper money.
EarthPeriod: Consolidation, Decline, Conclusion 1107-1246
Tribesof Mongols lived in various parts of China and in 1206 they organised a clanconference and appointed Timujin as the leader of a Mongol Khanate. He was called Genghis Khan, and he started to attack and plunder the neighbouringregions. In 1219, he led a force of 200,000 men into an area that was part of India. After Genghis Khan died in 1226, his successors led Mongolian forces against the ruling Jin dynasty and destroyed them, thus severely weakening the Chinese Empire.
The Mongols made two further expeditions to the East, taking Russia, marching intoPersia, and then Hungary and Austria between 1235 and 1244. From 1253 to 1259 they marched into Iran, Syria and Egypt. For a time both East and West were under one centralised rule, which actually promoted a high degree of economic and cultural exchanges.
Lessons learned from Cycle II
This was clearly an upward cycle for the Chinese culture with many aspects of itsculture, including: economic; artistic; language; and education, all under theguidance of rulers who were guided by one of the three spiritual traditions;Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Trade with the West via the Silk Road had opened up their view of other cultures, an important learning experience. The loss of power and control of their destiny at the latter stages of the period created an atmosphere of uncertainty, which is how they entered the period of the third cycle.
Thenext blog will look at the same period for the Indian culture.