The Warring States Period in Japan & China

Instructor: Jason McCollom

Jason has a PhD.

In this lesson, read about the Warring States Period and the Tokugawa period of Japan, and the Ming and Qing dynasties in China, across the 15th to 18th centuries.

The Warring States Period in Japan

In the 12th century, rivalries and civil war among powerful Japanese families led to the creation of the shogunate. In this system, Japan retained an emperor, but only as a figurehead, while the shogun held supreme power. Between 1333 and 1600 the Ashikaga family controlled the shogunate. But all was to change with the Onin War (1467-1477).

The civil conflict, the Onin War, destroyed the shogunate system and created a more decentralized political atmosphere in Japan. Without central authority, the powerful families, called daimyo ('great names') came to control large swaths of territory. The daimyo had the protection of their own warriors, the samurai, and didn't have to answer to any central political system.

The ruling daimyo now began constantly fighting each other over the century. This was the period of the Warring States, from the late 15th to the late 16th century. A more centralized authority replaced the warring states beginning with the Tokugawa rulers.

Tokugawa Japan (1603-1868)

In the late 16th and early 17th century, three powerful leaders consolidated authority over Japan and came to keep the warring daimyos under relative control. The first was Oda Nobunaga (1568-1582), who captured Japan's capital at Kyoto and began the process of pacifying the outlying areas. Nobunaga was assassinated by one of his generals.

His successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1582-98) made large strides in centralizing control over Japan. From his capital at Osaka, Hideyoshi used his military and support system to persuade most daimyo to accept his authority. He also introduced a national currency for all of Japan, thus increasing his influence.

Neither Nobunaga or Hideyoshi had proclaimed themselves shogun, however. But Tokugawa Ieyasu (1598-1616) did in 1603. Ieyasu and the other Tokugawa rulers continued the process of centralizing control over the daimyo. As a Tokugawa contemporary put it, 'Oda pounds the national rice cake, Hideyoshi kneads it, and in the end, Ieyasu sits down and eats it.' The Tokugawa were so successful that the Tokugawa shogunate lasted until 1868 when another civil war plunged Japan into another phase of its history.

Tokugawa Ieyasu

Ming China (1368-1644)

Around the same time that Japan transitioned from the Warring States Period to centralized rule, China experienced profound changes of their own. After a long period of rule by the Mongols, the Ming rulers re-energized the empire, extended Chinese rule into Mongolia and Central Asia, and turned an agrarian society into the world's most impressive civilization. The Ming created an enormous hierarchy of bureaucracy and government officials, presided over the explosive growth of cities and trading centers, and witnessed the doubling of China's population. To project imperial power, Ming emperor Yongle ordered a maritime expedition across the Indian Ocean to impress other civilizations.

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