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The Genesis of East Asia, 221 B.C.-A.D. 907

The Genesis of East Asia, 221 B.C.-A.D. 907

Charles Holcombe
Copyright Date: 2001
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    The Genesis of East Asia, 221 B.C.-A.D. 907
    Book Description:

    The Genesis of East Asia examines in a comprehensive and novel way the critically formative period when a culturally coherent geopolitical region identifiable as East Asia first took shape. By sifting through an impressive array of both primary material and modern interpretations, Charles Holcombe unravels what “East Asia” means, and why. He brings to bear archaeological, textual, and linguistic evidence to elucidate how the region developed through mutual stimulation and consolidation from its highly plural origins into what we now think of as the nation-states of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Beginning with the Qin dynasty conquest of 221 B.C. which brought large portions of what are now Korea and Vietnam within China’s frontiers, the book goes on to examine the period of intense interaction that followed with the many scattered local tribal cultures then under China’s imperial sway as well as across its borders. Even the distant Japanese islands could not escape being profoundly transformed by developments on the mainland. Eventually, under the looming shadow of the Chinese empire, independent native states and civilizations matured for the first time in both Japan and Korea, and one frontier region, later known as Vietnam, moved toward independence. Exhaustively researched and engagingly written, this study of state formation in East Asia will be required reading for students and scholars of ancient and medieval East Asian history. It will be invaluable as well to anyone interested in the problems of ethno-nationalism in the post-Cold War era.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6475-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. MAPS
    (pp. x-xii)
  6. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    Few people today seem to know very precisely where East Asia is, what exactly makes it “East Asian,” or why any such broad regional identification should matter anyway as more than only some empty geographic abstraction. Surely it is the nation-state instead (if not the multinational corporation) that is everywhere the essential unit of international affairs. In East Asia, this means specifically China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. If, as of 1942, a majority of Americans notoriously “could not locate either China or India on an outline map of the world,” most Americans today surely have a sharper mental image of...

  7. TWO E Pluribus Sericum
    (pp. 8-29)

    Before there was an East Asia, there was China, but what is “China”? The answer is not as obvious as it may seem. Elements of a remarkably sophisticated higher civilization first emerged in quite remote antiquity, clustering around the core Central Plain region of what is today the northern People’s Republic of China. By as early as 4000 B.C., the distinguished archaeologist K. C. Chang already feels comfortable calling the distinctive “megacivilization,” which had resulted from the fusing together of the various regional Stone Age cultures in that area, “China.”¹

    Chinese language inscriptions, and therefore Chinese history in the truest...

  8. THREE Civilizing Mission: CONCEIVING EAST ASIA
    (pp. 30-77)

    Beyond the borders of China’s All-under-Heaven, countless numbers of foreign peoples lived out their lives in blissful ignorance of their exclusion from the one true universal civilization. The Chinese people who gave the matter amoment’s thought must have always been aware of the existence of at least some of these foreigners. However, the conceit that the Chinese empire was synonymous with All-under-Heaven was, nonetheless, not really so fantastic. Not only is some not too dissimilar degree of ethnocentricity an almost universal human trait of which nearly everyone is guilty, but the truth was that, in its early centuries, the Chinese...

    (pp. 78-108)

    East Asia took shape around the multidimensional theme and variations of the ancient Central Plain prototype civilization as it played off against a variety of local cultures both within and beyond the presentday borders of the People’s Republic of China. Other forces also contributed to this regional integration while at the same time threatening to upset the ponderous harmony oftianxiaby introducing new external influences. East Asia did not and could not exist in isolation, even in this early period.

    Buddhism, for example, was an Indian religion that swept through East Asia and contributed significantly to its early formation....

  10. FIVE Nuclear Implosion
    (pp. 109-144)

    East Asia connected with the great centers of South Asian (Indic) civilization through trade and missionary activity across the waters of the South Seas, but the front line of East Asian cultural confrontation with outsiders unquestionably lay elsewhere: to the north, across the very concrete line drawn by the Great Wall. Here, on its northern frontier, East Asia faced three different ecological zones, each with its own distinctive cultural rhythm. To the northeast were the forests of Manchuria, a transitional region connecting East Asian China with East Asian Korea but also leading northward to exotic Siberia and opening westward onto...

  11. SIX Before Vietnam
    (pp. 145-164)

    The present configuration of the country we call Vietnam would have been unimaginable to anyone living during the time period covered in this book. Not only was the entire southern half of what is now Vietnam incorporated into the country only later, but neither the name Vietnam nor any recognizable Vietnamese identity referred to by some other name would have been discernable to people of this era. Vietnam simply did not exist yet. Instead, what is today northern Vietnam—the region centering around the Red River valley—was part of the Chinese empire. It was a peripheral part, to be...

  12. SEVEN The Birth of Korea
    (pp. 165-182)

    Documented Korean history begins in very much the same way that the written history of Vietnam began, with Chinese-language records of a newly dislodged fragment of the vast Qin world empire. Even before this time, the northeastern Warring States kingdom known as Yan had apparently already occupied and fortified a section of territory within what we now think of as Korea. When Qin conquered Yan and unified All-under-Heaven, Qin incorporated Yan’s Korean territory as well. For logistical reasons, however, once the Han dynasty had reestablished centralized imperial administration following the disintegration of Qin, it pulled the northeastern imperial frontier back...

    (pp. 183-214)

    From the perspective of the Chinese empire, the Japanese archipelago seemed to lie for an eternity “just off the coast of civilization.”¹ The islands were literal outliers of the traditional EastAsian world. Unlike either Korea or Vietnam, Japan did not share any contiguous borders with China, and no part of Japan was ever conquered by the Chinese empire. Chinese influences were correspondingly more indirect.

    However, Japan’s exposure to other, non-Chinese influence was also more limited. Korea, after all, abutted on Manchuria and was open to Siberia and the steppe world as well as the Central Plain. Vietnam forms a highly...

    (pp. 215-228)

    In the year 755, a corpulent Tang general based in southern Manchuria named An Lushan (ca. 703–757), “calculating that he could take All-under-Heaven,” rose up in rebellion against the dynasty. As if in preparation for this very moment, An Lushan had long been gathering strength, assembling mounted archers from among the northern tribes as well as building up the Tang imperial forces under his command. For, in addition to being a Tang official, An Lushan was also a Hu, born in a felt tent to an apparently Sogdian father and Turkic mother and reportedly conversant with several northern languages....

    (pp. 229-262)
    (pp. 263-324)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 325-332)