Social Structure Changes and Continuity in East Asia During 600-1450 CE

            The East Asia social structure underwent some changes as well as continuities during 600-1450 CE. Many older belief systems such as Buddhism and Confucianism, became more significant than the political organization in defining East Asia. Buddhism was a dominant religion and was vastly spread throughout Asia. The Chinese had sculptured a wooden Buddha which they worshipped as their god while the Japanese derived their sculptor from idol worship in Buddhism or animistic rites of Shinto deity (Grayson, 67). The Japanese highly regarded Heaven Worship also known as the Mandate of Heaven. Chinese folk religion (Shenism) also gained deep roots. In Korea, Ryukyuan religion of Okinawa which was very similar to Shinto was widely practiced and respected by the people. Islam was a minor religion.


During the 600-1450 CE era, religion began taking on more ordinary tasks which were not related to religious teachings such as having their temples serve as learning institutions and hotels. Some religions even began lending funds, distributing medicines to the community and monopolizing returns. Changes were caused by the increased support of Buddhism by the emperors of the Tang’ Dynasty and the elite. Buddhism popularity among the influential people of Chinese society also contributed to these changes. Furthermore, religion became a platform for learning new traditions and styles during the Tang’ dynasty (McCannon, 66). The Buddhist pilgrims who came along from India also brought their foreign culture which spread among the privileged in the society.


There was continuity between the era when Buddhism was more preferred by people and the time when Confucianism became the most favored philosophy. The role of Buddhism diminished as Confucianism gained roots. (Roupp, 124). The Tang’ Dynasty was popular and open to outside influences while Confucianism became popular during the Song Dynasty as it focused more on education and literacy.  Under Tang’, Confucianism was influenced by Buddhism leading to the emergence of Neo-Confucianism (Stearns, 33). Additionally, civil service exam based on Neo-Confucian teachings emerged. The teachings significantly stressed on self-discipline and obedience to parents and elders.

         Aristocracy originated from Turkic elites in China during the Tang’ and Sui Dynasty. Wu Zhao, a Chinese woman, became the first empress of China. The influence of women in Tang court increased. Buddhists neither paid taxes nor served in the military. Government jobs in civil service were based on performance in the civil service exam. The Song Dynasty despised women who managed their husband’s belongings. Women were not allowed to own or inherit property.  Dowry was retained after a divorce or husband’s death. In Vietnam and Korea, social structures which were based on the Chinese social structure allowed women to handle and own property. In Japan, the upper-class women controlled their households and contributed to Japanese literature.


The changes brought about foreign culture as the Buddhist pilgrims moved to East Asia. Besides, the family unit was valued and males were accorded more privileges than women such as receiving a formal education. Philosophies such as Confucianism which emphasized on literacy gained roots and China became one of the largest and most prosperous empire in Asia.

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