Chapter 7: The *Classical Era* In the East

In the centuries when Persia, Greece and Rome
dominated the West, a different series of empires and
dynasties flourished in the east, India witnessed a
flowering of Hindu and Buddhist cultures, influencing all
of South and Southeast Asia. China saw the emergence
of great philosophers, who set the tone for much of
Chinese thought and tradition.
What were the major accomplishments of the
civilizations of India and China during the
“Classical Era”?
 How did these civilizations compare with the
civilizations of the West?
 What factors contributed to the rise and fall of
empires and dynasties in the East?
Caste System
Emperor Asoka
Mauryan Empire
Gupta Empire
Zhou Dynasty
Mandate of Heaven
Qin Dynasty
Shih Huang-ti
Great Wall of China
Han Dynasty
The Aryans introduced Hinduism and the caste
system to India, creating hereditary social
Although Buddhism began in India, it spread
rapidly throughout South, Central and Southeast,
and East Asia. Asoka, a Mauryan ruler, adopted
The Gupta Empire was marked by a “Golden Age
of Hindu Culture,” which saw growth in learning,
the arts, literature, the sciences, and
China was ruled by a series of dynasties
(ruling families).
Confucianism became China’s dominant belief
system. Based on the teachings of Confucius,
it stressed kindness and following traditional
ways to achieve peace and harmony.
The Qin Emperor, Shih Huang-ti, united distant
parts of China and built the Great Wall to
protect China from foreign invaders.
The fall of the Han Dynasty in the East had
some similarities to the fall of the Roman
Empire in the West.
In the last chapter, you
learned how an early river
valley civilization arose
along the Indus River and
then suddenly collapsed.
The Dravidian people living
in this region were then
conquered by the Aryans.
Many historians believe that
the Aryans came from
Central Asia, crossed the
mountain passes through
the Himalayas, and arrived
in India about 1,500 B.C.
Other historians believe that
Aryan culture developed
The Aryans were nomadic peoples who lived by
herding cattle and by fighting. They developed
iron weapons and horse-drawn chariots which
enabled them to conquer their neighbors. Over
the next several centuries, Aryan tribes moved
into the Ganges River valley, pushing the
Dravidian people farther south.
By 900 B.C., the
Aryans have formed
city-states in the major
river valleys. Each citystate was ruled by its
own ruler. The Aryans
developed their own
form of writing, known
as Sanskrit.
Knowledge of Sanskrit
became a sign of
education and wealth
since it was only
taught to members of
the higher castes.
The Aryans also brought a new religion to India, known as Hinduism.
Like many religions, Hinduism provided its
believers with an entire way of life. It served as
a guide, explaining everything a person should
do from birth to death. Hinduism had no single
holy book, but various Hindu writings provided
guidance. Two texts containing the major
beliefs of Hinduism were the Upanishads and
the Ghagavad-Gita.
The mixing of Aryan
and Dravidian peoples
led to a new social
order. To secure their
status, the Aryans put
into effect new social
and religious rules.
These rules allowed
only Aryans to occupy
the higher social
classes – such as
priests, warriors, and
land-owners. Under
this system, people
were divided into five
hereditary classes,
known as castes.
Caste lines were rigid and based on
birth. Under the caste system,
people lacked all social mobility (the
ability to change social classes).
People were not permitted to marry
outside their caste. Untouchables
performed the lowliest tasks, such
as handling dead bodies or
sweeping streets. They were
completely outside the social order.
The religion of
Buddhism began in
India around 500 B.C.
Siddhartha Guatama
(563-487 B.C.) lived his
youth in comfort and
luxury as a wealthy
prince in Nepal. One
day, he looked beyond
the palace walls and
was shocked by all the
human suffering he saw
around him. This
prompted him to leave
his wealth, his wife, and
his two children to set
out in search of truth.
After six years of searching, he realized in a
flash of insight that all suffering was caused by
selfish human desires. To end this suffering, a
person must come to accept the world as it is
and to block out his or her own selfish desires.
Gautama became known as the “Buddha” or
“Enlightened One.”
Buddhism quickly attracted
many followers.
Missionaries helped spread
Buddhist beliefs throughout
all of India. Buddhism began
to spread southwards from
Northern India to Sri Lanka,
Burma, Thailand, Indochina,
and other Southeast Asian
countries. It moved
northwards into the
Himalayan Kingdoms of
Bhutan and Nepal, Tibet,
Mongolia and other parts of
Central Asia. Buddhism also
spread into China, Korea,
and Japan. It was popular
among many groups
because it rejected the caste
THE MAURYAN EMPIRE (321 B.C. – 232 C.E.)
Shortly after Alexander
the Great invaded
northwestern India saw
the rise of one of the
greatest Hindu
empires. King
challenged the Greeks
and established the
powerful Mauryan
Empire in India, which
stretched from
Afghanistan to the
Ganges. His grandson
Asoka (269 B.C.-232
B.C.) was the next
great ruler of India.
THE MAURYAN EMPIRE (321 B.C. – 232 C.E.)
Asoka began his
reign by fighting a
series of wars to
enlarge his empire.
After eight years of
nearly constant
warfare, Asoka grew
horrified by the
bloodshed of battle.
This prompted him
to renounce violence
and to convert to
THE MAURYAN EMPIRE (321 B.C. – 232 C.E.)
Asoka decided to win his
people’s loyalty by acts of
kindness and by promoting
their welfare and happiness.
He decreed that people of all
religions should live
peacefully with one another.
He improved roads, built
hospitals, and sent teachers
throughout the empire to
encourage education. To
promote Buddhism, he built
Buddhist shrines throughout
India and sent missionaries
to other land. Despite his
successes, after Asoka’s
death the Mauryan Empire
began to fall apart.
THE GUPTA EMPIRE (320 A.D.- 535 A.D.)
THE GUPTA EMPIRE (320 A.D.- 535 A.D.)
In 320 A.D., a
new ruling family,
the Gupta,
emerged. They
united the
territory around
the Ganges River.
Gupta emperors
peace, prosperity,
and trade with
foreign lands,
especially China.
THE GUPTA EMPIRE (320 A.D.- 535 A.D.)
The two centuries of
Gupta rules are
sometimes referred to as
the “Golden Age of Hindu
Culture.” A “golden age”
is a period marked by
peace and stability
accompanied by strides in
the arts and literature.
Gupta emperors built
universities and
supported learning, the
arts, and literature. Gupta
artists painted colorful
murals, while writers
composed poems and
plays written in Sanskrit.
Nalanda University established during
the Gupta Empire is one of the Seven
Wonders of the World.
THE GUPTA EMPIRE (320 A.D.- 535 A.D.)
Indian scholars
excelled at the
sciences and
mathematics. Gupta
developed the
concept of zero, the
idea of infinity, and
the decimal system.
Arabic numerals,
used throughout the
world today, were first
developed in India
during this period.
THE GUPTA EMPIRE (320 A.D.- 535 A.D.)
Gupta astronomers put forward the idea that the Earth was not flat, but
round and rotated on its own axis. These astronomers calculated the solar
year and the shape and movement of bodies in space with remarkable
accuracy. In the field of medicine, Gupta physicians set bones and
performed minor skin grafts. This prosperous period drew to a close around
500 A.D. The Huns, a warlike tribe from Central Asia, invaded northeastern
India, causing the Gupta Empire to disintegrate into small states.
Like the flowering of Greek and Roman culture in the
West, China also witnessed some of its greatest
cultural achievements in these centuries. Chinese
history is generally divided into periods based upon
the dynasty (ruling family) that governed China at
that time. From 1027 B.C. to 220 A.D., China was
ruled by three main dynasties.
ZHOU DYNASTY (1027 B.C. – 221 B.C.)
In 1027 B.C., the Shang were conquered,
marking the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty.
ZHOU DYNASTY (1027 B.C. – 221 B.C.)
The new Zhou ruler
justified his rule as the
Mandate of Heaven.
The Chinese believed
that their ruler was
chosen to rule by
heaven, and that
heaven would also
overthrow a bad ruler.
Scholars taught that if
a ruler became selfish
and thought of himself
first, before the people,
then heaven would
bring floods, riots, and
revolts to end his reign.
Then a new ruling
family would emerge.
ZHOU DYNASTY (1027 B.C. – 221 B.C.)
Later Chinese rulers continued to use this
mandate as the basis for their authority to rule.
ZHOU DYNASTY (1027 B.C. – 221 B.C.)
Zhou rulers established a system in which land
was given to nobles in exchange for military
service. During succeeding centuries, Zhou
rulers conquered neighboring peoples and
made them a part of China. However, by the 6th
century B.C., local nobles became too powerful
for the Zhou rulers to control, and China was
plunged into civil war.
ZHOU DYNASTY (1027 B.C. – 221 B.C.)
The greatest legacy of the Zhou dynasty was
the work of two Chinese philosophers,
Confucius and Lao Tzu (Laozi). These
philosophers were deeply affected by the
turmoil they lived through at the end of the
Zhou dynasty. Confucius sought to bring order
to China’s social and political life, while Lao Tzu
was more interested in peace and inner
stability for individuals.
Confucianism is named for its
founder, Confucius, who lived
during a time of great turmoil in
China. Confucius established a
philosophy based on what he
believed was the basic order of
the universe. He stressed
following traditional ways, which
had worked well in the past to
achieve peace and harmony.
Confucius taught that each
person should live up to his or her
name – that is, fulfill their social
Confucius placed great
importance on
traditional values such
as obedience and order.
He also stressed the
importance of the
family, where children
should show devotion,
known as filial piety, to
their parents. For
Confucius, the family
served as a model for
society, emphasizing
duties, good deeds, and
a civilized way of life.
Daoism (or Taoism) is a Chinese
philosophy that began in the 5th
century B.C., based on the teachings
of Lao Tzu. Daoists believe that
nature has a “way” (the Dao) in which
it moves, and that people should
accept the “way” of nature rather
than to try to resist it. Daoists have a
deep respect for nature and
harmony, and accept things rather
than trying to change them. If you
fight against nature, Daoists believe
your action may even have results
opposite to what you intended.
People can achieve enlightenment
only by “non-striving,” enjoying
nature, and using contemplation to
abandon earthly concerns.
QIN DYNASTY (221 B.C. – 206 B.C.)
Shih Huang-ti, the lord of Qin
(pronounced Chin), was a
provincial ruler who unified all of
China through conquest. He
began a new dynasty and
became the first Chinese ruler to
call himself “Emperor.” He felt
that all power should rest in the
hands of a single, absolute ruler.
Shih believed that people were
not necessarily good and that
they needed a strong
government to punish those who
committed bad acts. His rule
was very harsh. He rejected
Confucianism, burnt Confucian
books, and persecuted scholars.
QIN DYNASTY (221 B.C. – 206 B.C.)
Shih’s Accomplishments.
Shih Huang-ti centralized
power by dividing China
into districts, each with
its own military and civil
Construction of a network
of roads and canals was
begun to unite distant
parts of China. Uniform
systems of writing and
measurements were
established throughout
the empire.
QIN DYNASTY (221 B.C. – 206 B.C.)
Shih’s Accomplishments. Shih
also joined together several
existing protective walls to
form the Great Wall of China,
in order to protect his empire
from nomadic peoples to the
northwest. Stretching 1,500
miles, it stood 22 feet high
and 15 feet thick, taking
thousands of laborers many
years to complete. Shih also
had workers build an immense
army of clay soldiers to
surround him in his tomb.
Although Shih’s rule was
short, he had lasting effects in
creating a unified and
centralized China.
HAN DYNASTY (206 B.C.E. – 220 C.E.)
Following the Qin
emperor’s death,
the people
rebelled against
his harsh style of
rule. After
several years of
civil war, a new
emerged. The
Han emperors
kept China
unified for over
four hundred
HAN DYNASTY (206 B.C.E. – 220 C.E.)
The Han are credited with
inventing paper and leadglazed ceramics, and with
advances in silk-weaving.
In addition, the Han
emperors established
examinations to select
candidates for imperial
service. Candidates were
tested on their knowledge
of history and Confucian
philosophy. This
encouraged the spread of
Confucian ideas.
HAN DYNASTY (206 B.C.E. – 220 C.E.)
The examination system also
strengthened the power of the
emperor by weakening the
independence of the nobles.
They could no longer claim the
high status and rewards of
imperial service as a matter of
right. Only those who passed
these rigorous tests could
assist the emperor in the
government. Examinations
provided a way for commoners
to move up the social ladder.
Confucian ideals came to
unite all government officials
and the Chinese upper classes
as a whole.
HAN DYNASTY (206 B.C.E. – 220 C.E.)
The Han rulers established overland trade routes, such as the
“Silk Road,” which connected China to the Roman Empire and
other regions. Merchants carried goods by camel caravan along
this route through mountains, steppes, and deserts, with resting
points in new towns along the way. Over these routes, China
exported its silk, iron, and bronze in exchange for gold, linen
cloth, glass, ivory, animal hides, horses, and cattle. India also
introduced Buddhism, which became popular in China.
Wealthy families in early Han China had many
children so that their sons could serve in the
government and their daughters could marry
into other wealthy families. Marriages were
arranged, and families prepared their
daughters to serve their future husbands.
Wealthy women were generally well-treated and
Under Confucian teachings, women were
subordinate to men. In childhood, a woman
obeyed her father; in adulthood, she obeyed
her husband; and in old age, she obeyed her
son. In Han China, a system of public schools,
for boys only, developed. Confucian principles,
such as respect for elders and looking after
one’s parents in old age, were taught.
The Han Dynasty ruled over
an immense territory for 400
years – nearly twice as long
as the history of the United
States from its
independence to present.
Towards the end of this
period, the Han emperors
were weakened by a series
of rebellions against their
authority. To crush these
rebellions, the imperial
government gave more
power to provincial
governors, including the
ability to tax and raise their
own local armies. Some
governors used these
newfound powers to become
local warlords.
Economic hardship from population growth led
to a rise in banditry in the countryside. In 221
A.D., the last Han emperor turned his power
over to an independent warlord. Han China
finally collapsed into a series of civil wars, and
split apart into a series of separate states.
Why do societies sometimes decline and fall? To
find an answer, some scholars have compared the
collapse of the Han Dynasty with that of Rome in
the West. In both cases, an empire had gradually
spread over a very large area, making it difficult to
govern given the state of transportation and
communication at that time. Both the Han and
Roman Empires saw areas in their empire fall into
the hands of generals and local warlords,
weakening central control.
In both empires, early emperors were talented rulers but
later emperors were not always equally capable. In each
empire, later rulers were sometimes overthrown by their
own generals or palace guards. Another similarity
between the two empires was the spread of corruption,
creating instability in the government and dissatisfaction
with the unequal distribution of wealth. Vast differences
existed between the richest and poorest social classes,
leading to frequent peasant uprisings. Both empires
faced growing discontent with high taxes to support the
army. Finally, both empires faced the constant threat of
invasion from outside “barbarian” tribes. The Huns of
Central Asia pushed the Germanic tribes into the Roman
Empire. The Huns also pushed eastward, causing
neighboring nomadic tribes to press against China.

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