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China & Korea's Influence on Classical Japan

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  • 0:02 Japan and East Asia
  • 0:48 China and Japan
  • 2:52 Korea and Japan
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson you will explore the history of Classical Japan, but also the way that Japan was impacted by the cultures of China and Korea. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Japan and East Asia

I have something to tell you. You might want to sit down; this could be a bit of a shock. Ready? Japan is not the only country in East Asia. I know, mind-blowing, right?

I only bring up this life-changing tidbit because sometimes we talk about countries as if they developed completely on their own, without any help from anybody. FYI - this is not true. Every culture was influenced by those around it. For Japan, the cultures that most influenced it were those of China and Korea. Japan is an island off the coasts of China and Korea, meaning that these two civilizations were the link connecting Japan to the rest of mainland Asia.

China and Japan

From the moment that Japan developed into a complex kingdom and empire, China was a significant cultural and political influence. China was one of the first major civilizations of East Asia, and had created complex culture, philosophy, and technology, which established it as the dominant power in the region. Although Japan always had local culture and philosophies, a great deal of their development was influenced by ideas coming in from China which they tried to emulate or improve.

China was a constant source of inspiration for Japan, but there was one time period in particular when China and Japan solidified the nature of their relationship. In the Asuka Period during the 7th century, Japan was partially ruled by the Empress Suiko, but the real power was held by the regent, Prince Shotoku Taishi. Shotoku admired the efficiency of the Chinese system, and sent diplomats to study Chinese politics and philosophy. One of the biggest changes Shotoku adopted was the Chinese philosophy Confucianism, which dictated proper moral behavior in government and social life. Confucianism stressed the idea that only those who were truly qualified should run the government and set standards for the moral obligations a government had to the people. Shotoku reformed the Japanese government with Confucianism by reorganizing officials into twelve ranks of power and writing a new constitution focused on the moral responsibility of leadership.

Prince Shotoku was also responsible for another major development in Chinese and Japanese relations. Although Shotoku greatly admired China, he did not see Japan as inferior to China. For centuries, China treated Japan as the lesser power. Shotoku didn't like that. One of the philosophies that Shotoku borrowed from China was the idea that rulers were chosen by divine right. Shotoku interpreted this to mean that his rule was just as divine as the Chinese emperor's and started demanding that Japan be treated as an equal.

Korea and Japan

Although Japan was very heavily influenced by Chinese culture, politics, and philosophy, most of these did not directly enter Japan from China itself. In between China and Japan are North Korea and South Korea. Unsurprisingly, Korea played a major role in Japanese history as the middle point between Japan and the rest of Asia. Chinese ideas almost always came through Korea before being transmitted to Japan through Korean diplomats. For most of history, the Korean Peninsula was divided into three major kingdoms. These kingdoms, called Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla, each had ports on the Korean Peninsula and were critical in spreading Chinese ideas into Japan.

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