School in a Book: A Brief History of Asia

Prehistory (to 3500 BCE)

Ancient History (3500 BCE to 500 CE)

The Middle Ages (500 CE to 1500 CE)

Early Modern Times (1500 to 1900)
The 1500s
The 1600s
The 1700s
The 1800s

The Modern Era (1900 to the present)


In China, Huang Di unites the north and south. T’ang … Shang Dynasty…475 BC: Warring States period begins in China as the Zhou king became a mere figurehead; China is annexed by regional warlords…Shi Huangdi (Qin Zheng) begins uniting Warring States of China

In India, the Harappan civilization … Exodus of Indus Valley … aryan people enter india…The Mauryan Empire of India

In China, the Great Wall of China was built…. Qin Zheng orders book burning …China in this period officially becomes a Confucian state and opens trading connections with the West, i.e. the Silk Road – buddha, confucius … 221 B.C.: First united Chinese empire, under Shi Huangdi…

200 B.C.: Paper is invented in China

3000 B.C.: Farming, crafts. First small farming villages.

2700 B.C.: Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor–first emperor of China. Brought medicine, writing, civilization. Wife Xiling J. said to have discovered silk.

2200 B.C.: Xia Dynasty is first dynasty (founder Yu). Yu made irrigation, dams.

1766: Emperor Tang started the Shang Dynasty. Bronze, jade, horses/chariots, domestic animals, wheat millet, rice, silk, calligraphy, ancestor worship.

1122 B.C.: Zhou Dynasty replaced Shang.

1122-221 B.C.: The Zhou Dynasty. A golden age in China. Growth of towns, trade and imperialism. (Ousted the Shangs.) Not a single kingdom but a collection of large estates whose rulers were loyal to the king. Ironworking began in China at this time. This period followed by the “Period of the Warring States”–warlord infighting. This was the time of Confucius and Lao-Tzu. Idea of a centralized Chinese imperial state became popularized.
Inventions: China: ivention of gunpowder, paper, magnetic compasses, acupuncture, abacuses-early calculator useful for computing large sums. modern computers became faster only in the early 1980s. plus seismograph.

868: Earliest known printed book in china

900: Chinese develop porcelain

350s B.C.: Warlike Qin state grow to dominate area (of western China)

221-206 B.C.: King Qin Zheng. (Qin is pronounced “Chin” and “China” comes from it.) United most of China in just ten years, ending period o warring states. Changed name to Shi Huangdi (“first emperor”). Reorganized the government. Standardized weights and measures, Chinese writing, width of wagon wheels, laws, single currency. Had administrators take over in place of feudal system aristocrats. Roads and canals, irrigation, drainage, started Great Wall (214). Destroyed classic literary works, including some by Confucius, in name of modernization. Sages under attack. Invented the wheelbarrow. Shi Huangdi’s tomb housed 7,000 larger than life terracotta soldiers

202 B.C. to AD 220: Han Dynasty founded after Zheng’s death. Long-lasting dynasty. Very stable. More lenient than the Qins. Fair Confucian principles of law and administration. First emperor is Liu Bang. Popular, relaxed harsh laws. For a time, captial Chang’an was world’s largest city. At end of the Silk Road on which China traded with Persia and Rome. China as large as the Roman Empire. Mandarins are the educated officials. They had to take an exam on Confucianism. They managed to beat back the Huns of Mongolia. Got Buddhism from India. Writings destroyed by the Qin were replaced. Invented paper. But empire fell apart due to border tension with barbarians and internal rebellions by the poor.

Sui and Tang Dynasties: 589-907. After the fall of the Han, China divided. Constant warfare and nomad invasions. Population fell. People fled more into the soth. Buddhism grew.

589: Yang Jian united China again, founded Sui dynasty. Cut taxes and abolished compulsory military service. Irrigation, palaces, parks. Tang dynasty took over, organized empire beyond anywhere else in world. Stable for 300 years. Expanded to west to keep control of Silk Road. Empire extended from Korea to Afghanistan and Thailand.

700s and 800s: Tibetans defeated China in central Asia. Other rebellions, too. 907 to 960, period of civil war.

960: Song dynasty. Third united Chinese empire. Initiated long period of cultural eminence. Painting. Made peace with the now-unified states on their borders (Tibetan, Liao, Thai and Vietnamese states.) Agriculture expanded, population grew. 100 million people. Invented porcelain, far ahead of Europe. Also invented gunpowder rockets, clocks, movable type printing, paddle-wheel boats, magnetic compass. Had poetry, theater, banking, trade expansion. Government reform.

1127: Jin invaded north, took the capital.

1234: Kublai Khan’s Mongols took over.

1279: Mongols took areas further south, too.

1206-1405: Mongol Empire. Largest empire in history. Started and led by Genghis Khan, then grandson Kublai Khan, who completed conquest of China. G. K. was 13 when he took leadership of his small warlike tribe. GK means “emperor of all men.” Took Turkestand, northern China, Korea (failed to get Japan), then Afghanistan, Persia and parts of Russia. Fast horses, far-firing bows, disciplined army. Pacific Ocean to Black Sea by 1200s.

1271: K.Khan started the Yuan dynasty with himself as Chinese emperor. Traditionally lived in Yurts, large round tents made of hides or cloth. Khan encouraged trade, opened Silk Road to the west.

1275: Venetian merchant Marco Polo spent 17 years at court of KK. Wrote all about the luxury there.

1294: Kublai Kahn died. Empire began to break up. His descendants overthrown in a thirteen-year campaign led by Zhu Yuan Zhang, who became emperor in 1368. Called his dynasty “ming” for “bright”. Mongols lost power in all states by 1405. China, Russia left poor and Muslims in turmoil.

Ming dynasty: 1368-1644. Zhang moved the campital south to Nanjing. Restored order. Uncle, Emperor Yonle, took over and China became great again. Built the Forbidden City (where?) for only emperors to use. Roads, canals, palaces, temples, leraning, arts, trade, exports. Ornamental gardens.

1517: Portugese and other Europeans arrived on coast. Traded in Guangzhou.

1592: Japan invaded Korea, threatening China. Japanese pirates near coast! Civil unrest due to famine, rising taxes, government corruption, which was due to fights and Mongols and Japan.

1517-1644: Borders weakened in several places. Mings fell. Manchus of north, called into Beijing to put down rebels. Did so, then established the Qing Dynasty.

1644-1911: Qing Dynasty. Size and population grew. Monguls finally defeated. Manchus, from Manchuria, lived separately from Chinese in closed-off areas. Chinese men had to wear long hair in pigtails to show inferiority to Manchus. But both Manchus and Chinese were civil servants (mandarins). Eventually Manchus assimilated and were accepted. Brought efficiency without disturbing customs too much. Therefore stayed in power a long time. Trade increaseed – tea, porcelain, cotton, silk. Started treating foreigners poorly to show their superiority. Took vassal states (Tibet, Vietnam, Burma, Mongolia, Turkestan)–Chinese emire now largest in world. 300 million people by 1800. (Tibet was ruled by a Buddhist leader called the Dalai Lama.)

1700: Chinese emperors only took silver for their highly-prized goods; not allowed to buy foreign stuff. Believed China was the “Middle Kingdom,” surrounded by barbarians. Diplomats tried and failed to sway the Qing emperors so illegal trade began. Opium trade. Traders began importing opium from places like Burma in huge quantities.

1830: Opium addiction widespread. Also, food shortages due to population growth. Taxes high. Some rebellions, too.

1830-1860: Opium wars. (?) Chinese officials burned stores of British opium in Guangzhous and Britain sent warships. Britain trade then banned. Fired on the ships. Britain won, took Hong Kong. China forced to open to trade. Trade agreements made with many countries.

1842: Hong Kong Island became a British colony and grew into a center of trade.

1898: Granted a 99-year lease on it. And the Kowloon Peninsula, too.

1911: Manchus (Qing Dynasty) overthrown in a cibil war.

1912: Republic of China founded. Had a president. No more imperial government; military leaders instead. One center led by rebel warlords in Beijing and nationalist government used Canton (Nanjing/Nanking) as their capital. Long civil war.

1921: Communitst Party founded.

1926: Communists joined with the nationalists in Canton and Chiang Kai-Shek took leadership and together they defeated the rebels in the North.

1927: The communists and nationalists began fighting each other. No longer allied. This fighting became known as the Chinese Civil War, though war had been going on since 1911. Kai-Shek’s capital in Nanjing. Drove communists out of Shanghai, but country still not stabilized.

1931: Japanese occupied Manchuria and threatened China. Meanshile communists set up a rival government (the JianXi Soviets) in Southern China. Mao Zedong took leadership, withstood nationalist attempts to oust them. Finally, after a huge attack, the long march.

1934: The Long March. 100,000 communists marched 6300 miles. 1/5th reached destination north in Shaanxi Province.

1936: to fight Japan, nationalists and commies allied for a while.

1945: War with Japan, which had gone on this whole time, finally ended. Communist and nationalist alliance ended and civil war resumed. (The U.S. and Britain supported the nationalists against Japan.) Communists had large army and support of the people.

1949: Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. Pushed the nationalists to Taiwan.

1958: Great Leap Forward: redistributed land to giant peasant communes. Failed, starvation, food shortages still.

1966: Started Cultural Revolution. Produced more iron and steel. Brought doctors to countryside, taught kids to read and write. Required everyone to read “The Thoughts of Chairman Mao,” also known as the Little Red Book. When people started criticising communism, he killed scholars, political opponents, more. Put others in concentration camps.

1976: China became more open. Traded more. More industry. Foreign investments welcomed.

1989: Tiananmen Square student demonstrations and massacre. 3,000 killed, 10,000 injured. Maybe many more.

1997: Hong Kong was returned to China.


Prehistory (to 3500 BCE)

Ancient History (3500 BCE to 500 CE)

The Middle Ages (500 CE to 1500 CE)

Early Modern Times (1500 to 1900)

The 1500s
The 1600s
The 1700s
The 1800s

The Modern Era (1900 to the present)

30,000 B.C.: People living in Japan. One of oldest nations in world. First settlers ethnically unrelated to other tribes. Others came from Korea and Manchuria.

300 B.C. to AD 800: Classical Japan. Yayoi tribe introduced bronze and iron, rice and barley from Korea and China. Shaped Japanese culture and Shinto religion–nature spirits and tribal ancestors worshiped. Still, Japan not unified.

167: Priestess Hiiko (of Yamato tribe) used religious influence to unite about 30 Japanese tribes. Sent ambassadors to China to learn about it and copied China in many ways. Most of Japan is one state. Invaded Korea.

500s: Established Buddhism. Shinto threatened. Temples and towns built.

700s: Golden age. Shinto and Buddhism both accepted, co-existed peacefully.

710: Nara became the capital. Emperor gradually became a ceremonial figure and government controlled by officials and monks. Increased political tension.

794: Capital moved to Kyoto, where it still is today. Japan is now a powerful state. Fujiwara family held power till about 1150.

800-1200: Fujiwara Japan. Art, literature flourished. Fujiwara became regents to the emperor and eventually became more powerful than the emperor. Rich people isolated from poor. Eventually jostling for power led to civil war.

1192: Nobleman Yoritomo took power. Set up the shogunate, a rigid feudal system. Ruthless leader. Till 1868, shoguns (rather than emperors) ruled Japan as military dictators. Emperor still there but a ceremonial figure. Regents to the emperor and daimyos jostled for power, so the samurai class developed. They fought for the daimyos. Samurai trained in religion, arts, more. Code of honor. Many rituals. Became Zen Buddhists. Had to commit hara-kiri , suicide, if defeated by enemy. Eventually infighting led to civil war and breakup of empire into smaller city-states before 1500.

1542: In midst of civil war, Portugese sailors arrived in Japan. Introduced guns. (Seen as weapons of cowards but adopted by necessity.) Introduced Christianity and converted tens of thousands.

1568: Nobunaga used guns to take Kyoto. Followed by Hideyoshi, who became the chief imperial minister. Planned a great Japanese empire that would include China. Invaded Korea but failed to capture it. Strong central control. Banned foreigners, Christianity and overseas travel.

1603-1716: Isolated. Tokugawa shoguns in control. Increased stability. Moved capital to Edo (Tokyo). Built world’s largest castle. Kept daimyos busy organizing and paying for the great palace (Nijo castle, world’s largest castle)–no time or money for soldiers and war. Killed many Christians in Nagasaki after a revolt there. Peope not allowed to go abroad. Churches torn down. Japan became prosperous. Emperor encouraged merchants and farmers to expand business while daimyos and Samurai became poor. From feudalism to a trading economy!! Population expansion. More education for all. A few trading posts set up on islands, not main island, for Dutch and China. Population gre from 20 to 30 million during the Tokugawas. Many people were educated. Advanced ideas about hygeine. Public baths popular.

1716: Opened to west more due to pressure from U.S. and others. Limited trade to other islands, not mainland.

1853: President Fillmore sent four warships–steamnships–to Japan. Commanded by Matthew Perry. Intimidated them into opening trade. Other treaties with foreigners followed. Japan began a big modernization effort and greatly improved education till became among best educated in world. Imported machines and started manufacturing cotton. Adopted European fashions.

1894-1905: War with China and Russia after trying to take over Korea. Won both wars.

1910: Annexed Korea and became most powerful nation in Asia. First industrialized nation there.

1931: Japan occupied Manchuria, a resource-rich region they needed for their increased industrialization. (Especially hard-pressed due to the depression.)

1935-6: Invaded China.

1937: “The Rape of Nanking.” 100,000 Chinese massacred. By 1938, Japan controlled most of Eastern China. Puppet governments in Beijing and Nanjing. Superior due to recent industrialization, technology. Chinese-Japanese war lasted til 1945 when Japan lost the war. Emperor Hirohito was the leader from 1901-1989. Held an aggressive policy toward other countries during his whole reign.

1940: Japan allied itself with Germany and Italy but hadn’t fought yet. Then attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, unprovoked, and went to war with the U.S>

1944: Kamikaze attacks on u.S. ships, especially as they tried to take Okinawa.

1941: Japan overtook Hong Kong, Burma, Indonesia, more. U.S. fought Japan at sea. Much of fighting from aircraft carriers. Battle of Midway: decisive victory for U.S., turning point for war. Happened because U.S. cracked Japanese radio codes. Tide turned and U.S. advanced within bombing distance of Japan.

1945: Okinawa and Iwo Jima taken; atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered in Augus. 130,,000 dead in H, 750,000 in Nagasaki and thougsands more later. War casualties totaled 2 million Japanese. 100 cities destroyed, too. Took Japan 10 years to regain prewar industrial production levels.


Add to japan: After WWII, U.S. helped Japan rebuild. Planned a complete ind. overhaul, rapid apitalist growth. Improved education, ahd free elections, (women voted and were elected too). Rapidy growing econom. South Korea also grew rapidly during this time, as sdid Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore.

Southeast Asia

802-1440: Khmer Empire: Now Cambodia. Built the city of Angkor Thom, with Angkor Wat, a huge temple complex.

1100s: Khmer conquered much of mainland Southeast Asia and held it for a time. Used war elephants. An advanced culture.

1400s: Taken over by Thailand/Siam.

1600s: Southeast Asia: No ban on traders. Dutch dominated island trade.

1700s: Britain started to gain more trade links. British established Singapore as a free port (1819). Became main trading center/stopping point.

1800s: European nations got involved in local Southeast Asian wars to advance trade interests. Didn’t colonize Southeast Asia but some countries economically dependent on them. French had Indochina, cambodia, laos, vietnam. Dutch in indonesia. british in burma. Treated locasl poorly. Cash crops grown. Rubber exported to colonies and grwon there. Factories, roads, bridges, RRs government buildings built. Industrialization began. Some mining.

1898: U.S. took Phillipines from the Spanish

1948 – Burma (Jan. 4) and Ceylon (Feb. 4) granted independence by Britain. Independent Republic of Korea is proclaimed, following election supervised by UN (Aug. 15). Verdict in Japanese war trial: 18 imprisoned (Nov. 12); Tojo and six others hanged (Dec. 23). United States of Indonesia established as Dutch and Indonesians settle conflict (Dec. 27).

1973: U.S. bombing of Cambodia ends, marking official halt to 12 years of combat activity in Southeast Asia

1975: Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge take over Cambodia (April). American merchant ship Mayaguez, seized by Cambodian forces, is rescued in operation by U.S. Navy and Marines, 38 of whom are killed (May 15).

1979 -Vietnam and Vietnam-backed Cambodian insurgents announce fall of Phnom Penh, Cambodian capital, and collapse of Pol Pot regime (Jan. 7).

ASIA: 1950-1988

Wars in Asia, including Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma and Phillipines over independence from colonial rulers.
The Korean War began when communist North Korea attacked South Korea in 1950. The UN sent aid to SK. u.s. sent troops. Still, most of SK was captured. So UN fought them back at Seoul. Reached border of China, then China entered, taking NK’s side. Cease fire n 1953. Country divided down the middle.

Vietnam war: Vietman declared independence from France in 1954–Country divided between north and south, with two different governments.

1965: U.S. sent troops to aid the south, who had started moin towards civil war between the Viet Cong in the south and the communists in the north.

1969: half a million U.S. troops in Vietnam. Then withdrawal began.

1973: Cease-fire declared. 57,000 U.S. soldiers killed.

Cambodia: 1945: The Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot took over Cambodia. Regime of terror. Overthrown by Vietnamese troops in 1979.


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