East Asia: 3 Cultural Core

East Asia: 3 Cultural Core


Okay, so we’ve gone over the layout of the land physically in China and a little bit about the peeps who live on that land, but what are those peeps really all about? What is it to be Chinese? What is Chinese Culture? We’ve spent some time now identifying the difference between Eastern and Western China. I wanna spend just a second more talking about big differences between East and West in the world. Meaning East with a capital “e” and West with a capital “w”. East versus West. And what is happening on the planet and what has historically happened on the planet. Now the West you know. Most of you have grown up in that. And I talked about Team West. Right? You know, Western tradition, Western technology, and Western developed societies, and Western civilization. There’s Eastern as well and China is kind of the core of all of that. It’s not Just the core of this region. It’s the core of Eastern Civilization. We can make some arguments and debate about say what’s currently India and South Asian culture is a different Asian culture altogether. And we should do that. But when it comes to East Asia and Eastern thought and Eastern fill-in-the-blank, China is where the action has really been and it’s a major big deal on Planet Earth because they’ve done everything so differently than the West has done. They truly are what we all an epic cultural hearth. Hearth as in a fireplace, a hearth. H-E-A-R-T-H A cultural Hearth IS a place on Planet Earth that evolved its own ideas, concepts, and technologies separate and distinct from any other places on Planet Earth. We’re talking, over the last several thousand years since we had this whole thing called civilization. Since we moved from hunter-gatherer societies to sedentary folks to urban folks to technologically adept folds that have modern society and spacecraft and nuclear weapons and all of that. Way back in the beginning, China has been one of the cultural hearths of Planet Earth that they evolved and built up and did their own things independent of everybody else on the planet. There’s not that many cultural hearths on Planet Earth, by the way. It’s a historical artifact. So what is it that these folks? evolved, devised, invented, or came up with that’s so distinct from other ideas and other technologies and other concepts on Planet Earth? We’ve talked a little bit about food already, so when you start thinking about what’s distinctly Chinese, what is Chinese Culture, what’s different about what they do there that we can all recognize as outsiders as “they do that different”, even cuisine, it’s like yeah, okay Chinese Cuisine. Got that, that’s easy. Every place has its own cuisine. But does every place have its own technologies of cuisine? I’m talking about things as simple as chopsticks. That’s a Chinese invention. It’s used by lots of other Asian societies. It’s a Chinese invention. So is Stir frying, so is some food products like tofu. These are all things that the Chinese culture Invented. Then you have unique writing systems. China came up with writing on its own and it came up with its own way of writing which even you as completely ignorant of Chinese language and what it’s all about, you recognize it right? You’re like, whoa. That ain’t English. It ain’t Western European and it ain’t African. That’s Chinese. Their own writing systems, their own literature over thousands of years, art and music, calligraphy, paper cutting, porcelain. These are all distinctly Chinese things that they came up with on their own. Art and architecture. You know a Chinese building when you see one. You’re like yeah, that’s different than other places. Medicine–this One Is often Underrated in today’s world although it’s making a big comeback. Because it’s been around for thousands of years, Chinese medicine has been around longer than modern Western medicine, but we’ve overlooked it because it’s old and weird, and mystic. But things like acupuncture, herbal recipes, herbal medicines, even massage. All of these things are Chinese in origin that have been around and in practice for a long time, and they’re now being integrated into Western thought and into Western medicine. We call them “alternative”. So China has been doing it for 3,000 years. It’s alternative medicine in the West. But people are starting to pay more attention to it. Things like sports and leisure, distinctly Chinese. Inventions like dominoes, Go, that’s a really famous a board game. I guess you call it a board game. I don’t understand it at all. Mahjong, kites, the Chinese invented kites, martial arts, ways of combat but also of meditation. These are all Chinese in origin and those are very specific things. Let me back this up. China has always been a center of technological innovation. Forever. And so they have big Ideas, big concepts, big things have come out of China that are adopted in other parts of the world. Things like clocks, calendars, the use of paper, money, blast furnaces, fireworks, the crossbow. [shooting noise] It’s a Chinese invention. Civil service examinations, umbrellas abacuses, seismograph to detect earthquakes, The list can go on and on and on and on. I’m Just trying to pick things from lots of different fields. Innovations and inventions out of China are so numerous that we now just categorize them. Some of the classic big ones, they’re actually called the Four Great Inventions that have had perhaps the biggest impact on humans not just chinese, the Four Great Inventions are paper making, use of paper, printing press, both woodblock and movable type printing presses, the compass for navigation, yeah the Chinese Came up with that, and gunpowder. Yep, China did all of that. That’s just four of the really big ones that affected lots of things in China and in the rest of the World. Everything I’ve listed so far actually Is kind of tangible things. We can touch it, we can taste it, we can use it, we got it, we physically see chopsticks, or porcelain, or even civil service examinations. The Chinese have come up with really huge ideas as well on how to live, on what’s good and bad, on how to run a state, on how to run a military. Big ideas independent of the rest of the World on religious and life codes for lack of better words. Unique moral and ethical codes have come out of China. Maybe you’ve heard of something like Confucianism. And Confucianism, you don’t know nothing about it. You know I can do a separate lecture on Confucianism and Daoism if you like, but Confucianism kind of laid out things like 2500, 2800 years ago. Little things like, you know, you, shouldn’t kill people, you shouldn’t rob people, you shouldn’t covet your neighbor’s wife. Oh wait a minute wait a minute. I know the Western people are like Oh that, sounds like the Ten Commandments. Yeah! That kind of stuff. The Chinese came up with that independently. Before Moses or Jesus showed up on the scene, they were coming up with these big ideas on how do societies behave, how should humans behave. And not just moral and ethical codes in society, but unique views on life and death and spiritual balance. Things like meditation, Daoism, the yin and yang of life, the [ai qing]. These are all very spiritual, how do we deal with in our own head. What’s the proper order of things? Why are we here? What’s after here? The Mandate of Heaven we’ll even talk about in politics later. These are big concepts that the Chinese develop their own trains of thought on these things and then material codes of contact, codes of conduct followed that over the centuries in a millennium. Even things like military technologies, military tactics and strategy. Go check out Sun Tzu’s Art of War from the 5th century BC. A guy sat down and wrote out here’s how you conduct wars, here’s how you do them successfully, and here’s all the elements. I mean this is before Western Civilization or in the early phases of Western Civilization. Alexander the Great, wasn’t even on the scene When Sun Tzu sat down and wrote the Art of War. So these folks in China have come up with these big concepts and big things on how to deal with themselves, how to deal with their society, how to run their state. And speaking of which, they’ve also come up with systems of ruling, styles of government, legalistic codes, the whole nine yards. Everything that you consider that you deal with in your life on a daily basis in terms of dress and architecture and ideas and legal systems and the calendar, everything, China did that too and they did it on their own, on their own terms, So the takeaway from this is Chinese Culture is the anchor of East. Okay? When we talk about the East, the Orient, China has forever been the central anchor of this in terms of generating product, technology, philosophy, everything. And it emanates, all these things emanate outwards to the rest of Asia and the World, okay. That is not to diminish Southeast Asia, or the Hindus in India 5,000 years ago, or Japan, but you do have to understand that China has always been the central component of most of Asia and things do emanate out from from this place and are adopted in other places. Yes, other places have invented things and other concepts like Buddhism, that started over in India and migrated to China and then became very Chinese. So you’ll even see, Buddha statues and little happy fat Buddhist things that you’re like, oh Buddhism is Chinese. No. Other products and ideas have come from other places and then they become distinctly Chinese. The Chinese have their own distinct spin on them and then they emanate back outwards again. So things start here in this core and go out and effect everything everywhere. The closer you are to China, the more they affect you and the more you adopt them. Again, you can look at Korean and Japanese writing systems. They look very similar to Chinese writing systems cuz the Chinese came up with it first. And other societies have adopted them and brought them into their own and made them their own. Got it? Okay. Maybe the best example of this to make it real for you across the thousands of years leading into modern society are things like martial arts. Yeah, you all know what that is, like karate, and kung fu. Hyah! I love the Matrix. I love when Neo, Keanu Reeves gets an implant and he’s like [gasp] I know kung fu. Boom! That’s a great quote, isn’t it. Anyway, martial arts, that’s a Chinese thing. I think eve invented by monks and stuff do defend themselves. Hand-to-hand combat. Lots of martial arts not exist today all over Planet Earth. And lots of different styles. But here’s the deal. They started in China. There were lots of different schools of thought and schools of practice of martial arts and different styles developed, but then they were migrated over to Korea. Korea said hey martial arts are cool, but we’re gonna take this idea and develop our own styles. Then they migrated over to Japan, and Japan said we think these things are cool too and we’re gonna develop our own styles. So a lot of the named styles that you’re familiar with in today’s world like karate, I think that’s a Japanese word. Or even ninjas and stuff. Ninjas use martial arts. But the idea and the practice of it started in China and then migrated out to other parts of Planet Earth. Taekwondo is a Korean martial art. They got the idea from China. So you see how these things emanate out. And even in today’s world, Chinese cinema, because martial arts are an integral part of Chinese culture for 1,000, 2,000, 10,000 years, in Today’s World over the last 100 years Chinese cinema makes crime movies and kung fu movies because it’s part of their culture. And then the West likes kung fu movies. We love Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and and all these other folks. Now they’re incorporated even into Western pop culture that there’s lots of martial arts in entertainment and popular culture like Kung Fu Panda Thank you Disney. See how I brought that full circle just talking about martial arts. And eminently, originally, a Chinese idea that now is a global phenomena. You can kind of go on and on down the list of lots of different things. That actually now brings me to thing two with all the stuff that I just talked about. China has…thing two to know about China… China has forever been a cultural hearth, now you know what that is, and a major world power. For most of its history, China has been the center of all things Asian, at least east Asian, and been a world power. That is, that throughout most of human history, everybody in the rest of the world, they might not go to China, but they’ve heard of them. That make sense? And if you wanted to go to the place with the most innovation, you’d go to China and check it out. You’d see what they were up to. Throughout most of this same period I’m talking about, which is all of recorded human history, China has been fiercely independent and semi-, semi-isolationist. I don’t like to use the word isolationist. It has the connotation that they built a Great Wall around their society and didn’t interact. No, no, no, no. There was plenty of interaction. But the Chinese have historically, and I believe even today, been fiercely independent, fiercely protective of their culture, and fairly egocentric about their culture. Guess what, so or all other societies. But they’ve been doing it for a very long time. All right. So here is some factoids I think you need to know about China. It is the world’s oldest state. Now we’re getting back to sovereignty issues, right. If you really wanted to have a competition, there’s really only a couple of states in the running for the world’s oldest continuous state and that’s China and probably Iran. And even Iran is dicey. So China is I think the world’s oldest state. You can call it a sovereign state if you like, that’s cool. But it’s a land, an area, defined geographic area with a distinct and continuous four to five thousand year history. Four thousand, easy. Some push it back to five. And continuous is the key operative word here. Iran is I think on and off again in different empires. They’ve been conquered, they never were totally colonized. So Iran’s in the run, Ethiopia’s kind of in that boat as well. But there’s no real competition when it comes to…there’s no doubt about China. They’ve always been China. They’ve always been… Go back as far in time as far as you can to look at maps and they’ll always be a word China somewhere or an entity roughly in what’s today’s China that’s labeled as such. Hey, this is a place that’s been around forever. It historically has been based on authoritarian regimes. even up into today’s world. So just like Europe went through their several thousand year phase of kings and queens and monarchy lines, most of the rest of the world has run it that way too, and China’s no exception. Powers has been concentrated in the hands of few, and perhaps unlike the rest of the modern world, China still kind of does it that way. The can make the easy argument: hey look we got a billion people here. So yeah we need central, centralized authoritarian power in order to run this really big and super populous state. Because one thing I could put after this is comma is China has always been the world’s most populous state. As far as I know. Always. India will soon surpass them, and that’ll be the first time, I believe, in modern history that any state’s been larger in population than China. So historically based on authoritarian regimes and historically the biggest population on Planet Earth. Historically it’s also, as I pointed out, a center of technology and innovation. Perhaps one of the greatest. I know it’s hard to fathom the statements I’m making because we live in the modern world where we’re like, Well Europe is super rich, and Europe had all the ideas, and Europe colonized the world, and then got old and America took over and we’re the most awesome ever. [laughs] End of history. Yeah, that’s the last couple hundred years, folks. China has been around for several thousand years longer and they have the history, for a very long time, of being the place where stuff happens, of being on the cutting edge of technology, of being on the cutting edge of adopting perhaps even technologies and ideas from other parts of the planet and making them better. And you’re seeing that unfold in today’s China here in the 21st century. You’re all accepting this and you’re like, wow. China’s really happening right now. Boy! They’re finally becoming a big boy state. No no, no. They have historically been The Big Boy State. They’re getting back into the swing of things is the way I like to think of it. Historically, China has been the center of action on all fronts technologically, financially, economically, you name it. They have been what’s going on. In fact, I do this as a joke in class I’ll do it even as a joke here in a recorded lecture. I got students for years on this joke. I would say, Asian world history you must know. Here’s Asian/Chinese history you must know and I will have this on an exam. Here we go. 1000 BC, China is the shizzle. 500 BC China’s the shizzle. 0 AD, Jesus is born. China is still the shizzle. 500 AD, China’s the shizzle. The Chinese hizzle. 1000 AD, 1100 AD, 1300s AD, China is still the shizzle. Even after the Mongols invade their hizzle, China absorbs the Mongols, and remains the shizzle. By the way, why did the Mongols invade China? Because China is the shizzle and everybody wants the rich cool lifestyle stuff that they’ve got. 1400s AD, China is the shizzle. 1500…oh by the way at some point in this line up I would say if you’re still writing, that was a joke you don’t have to write this stuff down. The point Is that by 1500s AD That’s when the Europeans when their region gets its act together, they start having their action, they take gunpowder from the Chinese, they take navigational technologies from The Arabs and put two and two together to end up ruling the World. But even in 1500, China is still the shizzle. And where all the Europeans trying to go to get stuff? Why are they improving their technologies and their battleships and their navigation so they Can rule the world? Because they want to get to China. Why? To get China’s stuff. So the whole point here is that China has forever been the center even by 1600 when the Europeans are starting to break into the global market by challenging Chinese authority over the global market, China’s still the shizzle and the Manchus in the 1600s have achieved their largest territorial extent. China’s biggest single geographic state it ever held was late in the game, 16 to 17 to 1800 okay? It’s when it absorbed all these territories that some people are still fighting about. So the whole point that is think about the broad spectrum of the last several thousand years and you see that no matter where you were in the world you knew about China. If you were a musician, or a scientist, or an author of literature, an explorer, if You were a trades person, if you were a middleman merchant who wanted to buy stuff, all of these people I’ve named would at some point in their life try to get to China because that’s where the action was. The courts, the imperial courts of the king and queens, the Emperors, we call them, of China…the imperial courts would have had people and technologies and products and foodstuffs and even animals from all over the world brought in. Giraffes parading around, musicians from Islamic States and what’s now Saudi Arabia, scientists from Europe and people were here. Marco Polo visited and lots of explorers came in. This was where the action was. I’m not expecting you…because this really isn’t supposed to be a lecture on Chinese history because there’s 5000 years of it, man. You can’t even cover that in a semester. so I’m just trying to hit the highlights of understanding today’s China in the modern context of wow, what’s going on, what’s going through the Chinese head right this second? So it’s not a history lecture per se, but let me just show you some maps of the expansion of China for the last 4,000 years. First one is just the Shang Dynasty, and by the way this is not all the dynasties of China. There are many, many many dynasties. I don’t know how many major ones, probably a dozen or fifteen major dynasties. There’s way more than that, or a minor. But consider these like royal lines, imperial lines that lasts sometimes for ten years sometimes for a hundred years, sometimes for several hundred years. But in 1766 BC, the Shang Dynasty perhaps China’s first, recognized, “everybody get’s it” dynasty, here’s the area they control. I really want to point out Shang Dynasty you see is focused in Eastern China. That’s going to be a theme for the rest of these dynasties. That’s where Chinese Civilization starts, in the East. Again, where the rivers flow, where agricultural lands are aplenty, where you can grow lots of food, where there’s lots of trade, where there’s lots of merchants, where there’s lots of trades people. This is the cauldron, the crucible of Chinese society here in the East. It is why we call the East China’s Core. People have always been there recognized as Chinese people doing Chinese things, building Chinese culture. By 206, a mere 1500 years later 206 BC is the height of the Han Dynasty. I mentioned the Han. Remember Han Chinese, the ethnic group themselves named after the Han Dynasty. The Han Dynasty lasted 400 years. Was at the same time as the Roman Empire over there in Western Europe. And you see that the Han Dynasty controlled a lot more of Eastern China, that whole East-West divide I talked about, they control virtually all the East. But they also have this protruding thing going over to a football-shaped, phallic-shaped looking thing over there. That’s the Taklamakan Basin. Why would the Han Dynasty have penetrated into the continent and have this very narrow band of ownership? Because they had something called the Silk Road. That is, they opened up trade across the continent and so as empires, as dynasties became powerful, they would control more areas. When dynasties crashed or were weak, they would contract and control a smaller area, but the Han Dynasty, was a super successful, super powerful one. So they expanded the territory that they controlled and they expanded it in this case to more holdings in the East but also westward into the continent and the controlled lands to protect the Silk Road economic trade routes. They had naval trade routes as well, but this is one over land. So Han Dynasty expansion took them into modern-day interior Xinjiang Province and even probably as far as Kazakhstan and that was continued. 600 AD–the Tang Dynasty. They solidified all of the Eastern seaboard of the classic core China but also increased holdings over there in the West. Again, I’m just picking out a few important ones. The Ming Dynasty you see after the Tang crashed. They contracted their area but contracted back to the core. The Ming Dynasty, I think, was most important here in 1368 AD. They consolidated even more holdings in The South. So now areas all the way over there on the border with Burma and Laos and Vietnam. They consolidated south and consolidated a…there was a kind of a North-South divide in China. Some would argue it’s still there much the same way there’s a North-South divide in the United States. Oh! Remember I kept saying there’s a lot of similarities between the US and China? So culturally do you think there’s a North-South divide in the US? In the eastern united States? Yeah. They’re kind of has been. Even had this thing called a Civil War. They had the same thing in China. The North is where the power always was and the South was more agricultural, rural, and so there has been a long-standing, almost 1,000 years of an evolution, of absorbing that South and making it into a singular state entity when perhaps there’s this North-South divide that existed then. It may still exist today. So Ming Dynasty solidifies all of the East and again it retracts but it’s in the East, the Eastern court and I already suggested that the Manchu Dynasty by 1650 was the epitome height of Chinese power. In a funny ironic twist of fate, the Manchus are actually from Manchuria. They’re ethnically not Chinese either. So you had a couple different periods in Chinese history where the Mongols came in and took over and that lasted for I don’t know a hundred years until the Mongols themselves became completely Chinese-ified. And the Manchus did the same thing. The Manchus come in and say hey we’re from the North, we’re from the Northeast and we’re gonna come in and take over China. And China’s like, oh, okay. We lost the battle, but we won’t lose the war. And so over time the Manchus become Chinese-ified as well and adopt local custom and local dress and eventually they just become Chinese. So at the height of Manchu power, you see from the map that China proper is now expanded, well outside of just its Eastern Core, it’s actually taken over what’s now North Korea all of Manchuria, all of Mongolia, all of Tibet. And I point that out specifically because Tibet is an issue in today’s world, that it wasn’t until the 1600s that China ever even made an attempt to physically control and say Tibet and Mongolia and these other parts up North are physically part of our Chinese sovereign state. You know that in today’s world…here’s China in present-day… It’s retracted a little bit. Mongolia became a separate state. North Korea became a separate state and it lost some other of its edges but this is China today in which you see Tibet is in it. It also includes Taiwan even that Hanan Island way down South. So you see, over time, point here is, depending on the power of the dynasty, the life cycle of the Emperor, the life cycle of that dynastic line be it the Han or the Manchu, when they’re very powerful the expanded and took more territory. When the dynasty crashed and burned and another dynasty cropped up they would retract until they became powerful and they might take more territory again. That’s why today’s China is mostly a product of the last, not just 3,000 years, but specifically since about 1650 when the Manchus at the height of their power absorbed some other states, some other areas that are still contentious in today’s world. That make sense? Yes? Okay, good. Did China know that the outside world existed during its rise and retraction and re-rise over the centuries? Of course it did. I already pointed out they had this thing called the Silk Road. So for the last couple thousand years at a minimum, more like 2500, there was active participation to what we would call the global economy at the time. Now for you non history people who know nothing about the last several thousand years of humans, When we say global economy now we’re talking about the whole globe because we’re all connected. There’s no undiscovered land. When we’re talking a couple thousand years ago, China is certainly the center of the global economy for most of the last couple thousand years. For most of it. The global economy 2,000 years ago didn’t include North and South America. The Old World didn’t know about them yet. So in Eurasia and Africa, China is again the shizzle and is really one of the core if not the core of the global economy at the time. Plenty of trade went out of China. Tons of trade went out of China. Silks and porcelain and spices. Remember Columbus and the rest of that crew were exploring and trying to get around Africa or trying to sail West and accidentally bumped into New World. All of these explorers from Europe were trying to get to China to get their stuff. Everybody wanted their stuff. And China was the stuff provider for most of the last couple thousand years. I’m not even mentioning agricultural products like rice and tea and spices and all this. This stuff was worth billions and trillions over the centuries and China was not closed to global trade, but they’ve always had this kind of egotistical, semi-isolationist attitude. And again, I’m saying semi-. Semi-isolationist. Certainly egotistical, culturally egotistical attitude And let me elaborate on that for just a second more. Isolationist has the connotation that you’re sealing up the border and you’re not gonna let anybody do anything. You don’t want any new ideas, You’re not not gonna trade with anybody, you’re not gonna let anybody from the outside in, and you’re not gonna let your people from in go out. The only real state we can look at in today’s world where that is happening is North Korea. That’s a very isolationist society. Nothing goes in, nothing comes out. China has never been like tha. So what’s often portraying in history textbooks, unfortunately, that are mostly wrong is a China that didn’t want to have anything to do with the outside world. Nonsense. I’ve Now spent the last 20 minutes talking about how much interaction has happened with the Chinese Imperial Court all the way down to Chinese merchants and Chinese trade for all of human history. Well at least the last couple thousand of it. So Trade was always a big thing, but here’s the egotistical part. It’s always been one way. So China has been very resistant. That’s the word. China has always been very resistant to embracing ideas from other places, embracing a cultural phenomenon from other places, even embracing technologies or products from other places because in China’s mind, “we’ve already got it.” We’ve already done it. We don’t need Christianity. We already have our religions. We don’t need your bells, and… plateware and porcelain and utensils from Europe. We already produce all that. We don’t need your foodstuffs from Africa. We already do all that. We don’t need your technology. We don’t need your products. We don’t need your ideas. We are the shizzle and we already knew all that. So they’ve been very resistant to embracing or pulling in things from other places. They have no problem selling you their stuff, though. They have no problem exporting their ideas. And again, I’m not saying this as a negative thing. I’m not saying, well China is really bad. They’re very egotistical. All societies are and especially powerful ones that have been doing it for a very long time. So to back it up, thinking about China as a whole over the centuries the Chinese culture and the Chinese people have always been centered on the Eastern Core, okay. Empires and emperors and dynasties grow and they shrink and they grow and they shrink. The Core has always been there. It’s always been the center of China in the East. And that’s where most of the population has always been. All the historic capitals have been from Xi’an which is the kind of center of China to Beijing which is over there to the East. Everybody else is in between. Including Peking. So the Core is in the East. They’re physically kind of separated from the rest of the planet. Physically. And I’ve already given you a 30 or 40 minute lecture on the physicality of China. To sum up how they’re physically separate from the rest of the planet, think about what surrounds them. Up north they built a Great Wall, which never really stopped that much honestly, but you’ve got things like the Gobi Desert, it’s a very nice physical divider, okay. It’s hard to cross the desert. You have the Great Wall, you have deserts, you have some tough terrain and forests up North, and if you keep going north you get to Russia, Siberia where there’s nothing anyway. So there’s not a lot of action happening on the fringes of China in the Northwest and even North-Central, Gobi Desert. You keep going Into the Northwest and you come across the Taklamakan Basin. Again another big vast area of desert and scrub and steppe land, and very large. You’re talking about hundreds and hundreds or thousands of miles of not much. So that’s an effective barrier from the rest of Central Asia let’s say. Then you round around to what’s today Pakistan and India and you have the Himalayan Mountain range, the highest mountain range on Planet Earth. And it’s not alone. The Himalayas, some of the higher peaks like K2 are over on the Pakistan- Chinese border. There’s the Pamir Knot which separates Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, parts of it, from China. These are very high, very tough mountain ranges. All of them are. Some of them 25, 28, 29 thousand feet peaks. There’s just not a lot of interaction happening across the Himalayan System, Northern Tibetan Plateau as a whole. I pointed out there’s not a lot of humans there and it’s even harder to cross it. So effective natural barriers occur. Even when you start to get off that Tibetan Plateau and start to get to Southern China and Southeastern China, the Tibetan Plateau actually from its high points on the plateau, the mountain range just keeps going south. There’s even not as high but significantly tough mountains that separate parts of southern China from Southeast Asia. A lot of it because of its tropical nature is covered with rain forest. Monsoonal or true tropical rain forest things. It’s jungle. So mountains, you got deserts, to vast deserts, to tough mountains, to tropical mountains, to tropical rain forest jungle. And then what’s on the Eastern side of China? The Pacific Ocean. The World’s largest ocean. Physically it’s been quite easy for China to fend off competing ideas or technologies. Competing ideas like religious ideas. People might want to bring Christianity or Hinduism into China. It’s tough. It’s been tough because of the physical nature of the place. That’s part of the reason why it’s culturally distinct from the rest of the planet. Again, this has been perpetuated intentionally by Chinese leaders who say, We’re the center of the universe. We don’t need your other stuff. We don’t need to buy your stuff. If we need it, we’ll make it. Does that sound like something familiar in today’s world? I hope it does because that’s Chinese trade policy right on into the 21st Century. So physically separate, culturally distinct maybe quite intentionally. Culturally very conservative as well. Very conservative. We think of conservative ideas in America or Europe, you think in a certain way, and it’s that, but I mean conservative in a much broader sense. It’s not conservative politics, but conservative in terms of Tradition. Preserve tradition. It’s been working this way for several thousands years. It’s going to keep working this way. Our style of authoritarian leaders has worked for 2,000 years. It’s gonna keep working that way. Yes, we see that democracies are all over Planet Earth. We’re gonna conserve our traditions. The Chinese multiple times in history have said yeah, we want to purge out foreign elements. Some distinct periods of Chinese history. We’re gonna purge out foreign elements. China is China and we’re the best and we want to make things more Chinese-y here. Embrace Chinese culture. When in doubt embrace Chinese culture. Do it the Chinese way. So culturally very conservative. They have a tendency over history to actually absorb outsiders and absorb outsiders’ technologies and absorb outsiders themselves and make them more Chinese-y for lack of a better word. Again, they’ve been invaded in the past and everybody eventually just ends up being Chinese. Even Buddhism, the major philosophy I always think of that was embraced and adopted by the Chinese as Buddhism. And even that, I think most people on Planet Earth think it’s a Chinese thing because there’s so much Buddhist art architecture, and statues, and it’s a part of the religious philosophy of the State. And so people go, “Well Buddhism is from China.” It’s not. The Chinese are just that good at absorption and making it theirs. Including the humans who come there. So I love it about that. This manifests itself even in the 21st century. Even things like trade in the modern world in a globalized economy, even trade the Chinese have been very conservative and traditionalist in terms of We’ll adopt your ideas and make them ours, but we don’t need your products. We don’t need to buy stuff from you. Yes, America. We see you make lots of cars. So do the Japanese. If we want cars we’re gonna make them ourselves. So we’ll embrace your technology of car building and then we’re gonna do it ourselves. And then sooner or later we’ll be exporting them back to you for cheaper. And that’s what’s been going on. So this idea that all the countries of the world run a trade deficit with China because they produce everything and they don’t buy your stuff in return This s not a modern phenomena. This Is Chinese culture I wouldn’t say at its best, but at its basic. This is how it works. China has forever been a world power, a cultural hearth, an epicenter of all things technological and innovative and the ideas and unique stuff that’s happened there have emanated outward to the rest of the planet. And because China is even more powerful in today’s World and perhaps than it’s ever been in the past, Their Influence to affect other things is becoming much more pronounced and much more powerful in other cultures in other Places around the World Right now. But, You didn’t really think about that, did you? Your parents might not even agree with what I just said. Or your grandparents or great-great-grandparents. That’s because for most of our modern history, certainly your lifetime and your great-great-grandparents lifetime and everybody’s in between that lifetime, China hasn’t been all that. China hasn’t been much. Hasn’t been much at all. So how could I have made this argument that thing two is China has forever been a world power but none of us are thinking that way for the last couple hundred years? Ah! I’m glad you asked. That brings us to thing 3 which is next.

10 thoughts on “East Asia: 3 Cultural Core

  1. The Manchu did not adapt Han/Tang fashion but in fact forced the Chinese to adapted Manchu's pigtail hair style for men until the collapse of the last Chin Dynasty in 1911.
    Funny how the West perception of what is Chinese was during the Mongol rule (Marco Polo) and Manchurian rule (European and USA colonial period).
    Some even say it is still the case: Non-Chinese still associated China with Mao's Communism, which to me is more foreign than any previous foreign rules in term of distant them self away from the past by destroying to remake a new China.

    Another point: Is it a coincident that the only time that China expanded tremendously its land mass was during the Mongol, Manchurian and Communist rules? Han Chinese was not an expansionist by nature.

  2. Thanks so much for the world history lesson. We all learned that in school as a kid in China. Hope more people in the West will know about it.

  3. sorry but I need to tell you about the Korean writing system you talked about shortly at 10:27. The Korean writing system is different from china. Korea had made its own writing system. I just didn't want people to misunderstand the Korean writing system.

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