history map of East Asia 3500BC

East Asia
- 3500BC

Stone-Age farming cultures had emerged in the two great river valleys of China by around 6000 BC.  On the Yellow River plains of northern China millet was the main crop, whilst in the Yangze Valley to the south wet-rice cultivation predominated. By 3500 BC, both regions were home to well-established farming communities, and agriculture was beginning to spread to neighboring regions. Millet farming had recently arrived in the Korean peninsula from northern China, while wet-rice cultivation was beginning to spread into southern and eastern China. Japan, meanwhile, remained home to the oldest and most advanced hunter-gatherer culture in the world, the Jomon.

Next map, East Asia in 2500 BC

history map of East Asia 2500BC

East Asia
3500BC - 2500BC

The past thousand years have seen the two farming traditions, the one based on millet, the other based on rice, continue to expand in East Asia. In particular wet-rice agriculture is spreading outwards from its core area in the Yangze Valley in all directions. From the southern China region will spring two major migrations down into South East Asia, one moving down from South West China, the other from the south China coast. The end point of these migrations will occur thousands of years hence, as far afield as Africa and Hawaii.

In both northern and southern China, material culture is advancing, and both have seen the rise of powerful chiefdoms who can support the services of skilled craftsmen. Trade routes cover the entire East Asia region (except Japan), leading to cultural and technological exchanges between the widely dispersed areas; and East Asia has also received influences from further west: horse-riding nomads from the steppes of Central Asia arrive bringing with them skills in metallurgy.

To the north east, millet cultivation has spread across the Korean peninsula, whilst in Japan, the Jomon hunter-gatherer culture continues to thrive.

Next map, East Asia in 1500 BC

history map of East Asia 1500BC

East Asia
2500BC - 1500BC

Over the past thousand years trade networks have grown to cover the area of present-day China, which results, amongst other developments, in the spread of metallurgy into the Yellow River and then the Yangze Valleys. This coincides with the emergence of urban civilization in these two regions. In particular, the rise of the Shang dynasty in northern China marks the beginnings of written history in China.

Meanwhile, rice farming is spreading into South East Asia from the present-day south China. Rice cultivation also appears in Korea. Japan, on the other hand, remains beyond the reach of agriculture, and the elaborate Jomon hunter-gatherer culture continues to thrive there.

Next map, East Asia in 1000 BC

history map of East Asia 1000BC

East Asia
1500BC - 1000BC

In the centuries since 1500 BC, the first dynasty in the history of ancient China, the Shang, has now given way to the Zhou. Under the Zhou, who have come from the fringes of the old Shang world, the various characteristics of Chinese civilization which developed under the Shang remain in place, though material and artistic culture may have declined somewhat for a time.

In southern Korea, wet-rice cultivation has established itself as the staple crop, though in the north millet and soybeans retained their dominance. Bronze technology reaches the Korean peninsula about now, from northern China. In Japan, the late Jomon people appear to be taking up farming as a minor part of their food culture, cultivating some local wild plants, such as yams and taro, as well as rice. Hunting and gathering remain the major preoccupations, however.

Next map, East Asia in 500 BC

history map of East Asia 500BC

East Asia
1000BC - 500BC

The past centuries have seen the Zhou kingdom of northern China fragment into a number of large, highly organized states. These are continually at war with one another. Despite this, civilization has made huge strides in all spheres. Iron farming tools have come into widespread use, greatly increasing food production; commerce and industry have expanded greatly. This is leading to widespread social change, and into this fluctuating environment comes one of the most important philosophers in world history, Confucius. His teachings will be hugely influential on the life and thought of the peoples of East Asia from ancient times right up to the present day.

Bronze age Korea is divided into numerous small but warlike chiefdoms, whose aristocracies have developed a fashion for large stone-built graves (dolmens), often furnished with bronze weapons, fine ceramics and jade objects as burial goods. Contacts between Korea and Japan are growing. At this time groups of Koreans are migrating to Japan, introducing their culture, based on rice cultivation, and their knowledge of bronze working, to the southern Japanese island of Kyushu.

Next map, East Asia in 200 BC

history map of East Asia 200BC

East Asia
500BC - 200BC

Civilization has continued to make remarkable advances within the Chinese world in recent centuries. A centuries-long phase of continuous warfare between large, well-organized states has led to the emergence of one super-state covering the whole of ancient China. This is ruled by the Han dynasty.

These developments within China have been matched by the union of nomadic tribes on the eastern steppes of central Asia under Hun leadership. This is the first of a series of warlike nomadic confederacies that will have a profound impact on east Asian history.

The use of iron has spread to both Korea and Japan by this date. In Korea, powerful chiefdoms centred on small walled towns have appeared, while in Japan, the rice-growing culture brought from Korea in about 500 BC - which in Japan is called the Yayoi culture - is gradually spreading north and east.

Next map, East Asia in 30 BC

history map of East Asia 30BC

East Asia
200BC - 30BC

The Han dynasty has now ruled a united China for 200 years. Externally, the Han emperors have presided over a huge expansion of the Chinese empire, and the internal peace they have maintained has led to an upsurge in prosperity and in material civilization. The Han government has adopted Confucianism as its official ideology, and in this as in many other ways it lays the foundation for much future history, of China as well as other East Asian nations.

With China now unified and able to exert great power beyond its borders, central Asia in the west, Korea in the north and Vietnam in the south have been drawn deeply into its orbit, with a large portion of each becoming integral parts of the Chinese empire. Japan, also, has come to some extent under China's influence. This country has seen the rise of powerful and warlike chiefdoms, some of whom pay tribute to the imperial Chinese court.

Next map, East Asia in 200 AD

history map of East Asia 200AD

East Asia
30BC - 200AD

The Han empire has now governed China for 400 years. It will not do so for much longer. Forces are at work which will tear it apart and divide China for several centuries.

China’s long-lasting influence upon the East Asian world continues to grow, however. In Korea, the Chinese occupation has led to the growth of the powerful kingdom of Koguryo; here and elsewhere in the Korean peninsula the tribal aristocracies are adopting many elements of Chinese material culture. Furthermore, links between the Korean peninsula and Japan remain very strong, and these act as a conduit for Chinese influences into these islands.

By this date, Buddhism has begun to reach East Asia, with missionaries arriving from Central Asia.

Next map, East Asia in 500 AD

history map of East Asia 500AD

East Asia
200AD - 500AD

Four centuries of unity under the Han dynasty came to an end in AD 220, as government weakness and peasant revolts shattered the empire. China has since then experienced centuries of barbarian invasion and internal warfare.

Buddhism has now become a major influence within China, reaching all members of society, from top to bottom.

China's cultural influence upon neighboring peoples has not waned. Kingdoms in Japan and Korea are modelled along Chinese lines, and the elites of these countries have adopted Chinese culture wholesale. Most importantly, both Confucianism and Buddhism have been imported into Korea and Japan from China, and have made great headway there.

Next map, East Asia in 750 AD

history map of East Asia 750AD

East Asia
500AD - 750AD

In China, centuries of disunity have given way to unity, under the Tang dynasty (618-907) - one of the greatest empires in world history. It is home to the wealthiest and most advanced civilization of the time. The Chinese have ever since regarded the Tang era as one of their most glorious in their history.

It is no surprise that this period sees the high watermark of Chinese cultural influence upon neighboring countries. The Japanese and Korean states have all consciously modelled themselves upon the Tang empire, and Confucianism and Buddhism, both Chinese imports, will endure as key elements within their societies right up to modern times. Much of East Asia belongs to an international political and exchange system, with states in Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other regions paying tribute to the imperial Chinese court in Changan.

Next map, East Asia in 979 AD

history map of East Asia 979AD

East Asia
750AD - 979AD

In China, the great Tang dynasty has given way to the Song, a dynasty which will not experience the same degree of military success as the Tang but which will preside over a period of great economic and technological advance.

Korea and Japan are both loosening their ties with China, politically and culturally. Their aristocracies now play a much more prominent role in their societies than has been the case in China, where the civil service has been the key power broker, since at least Han times.

Next map, East Asia in 1215

history map of East Asia 1215AD

East Asia
979AD - 1215AD

China has experienced mixed fortunes over the past two centuries. The Song dynasty has shrunk drastically in terms of its geographical reach, now ruling only southern China; however, it continues to rule a society experiencing unprecedented technological and economic advance. Both Korea and Japan experience political instability and civil war - though Korea in particular makes important contributions to the technological advances taking place in East Asia at this time. Chinese cultural and political models continue to make headway to the south, in Vietnam - but for all the nations of East Asia, developments are taking place in central Asia which will leave none of them unaffected. This is the rise to power of the great Mongol leader, Genghis Khan.

Next map, East Asia in 1453

history map of East Asia 1453AD

East Asia
1215AD - 1453AD

The last two centuries have seen the whole of East Asia feel the impact of the Mongols in the 13th century; their armies conquered all China, Korea and Tibet, and they mounted huge but unsuccessful invasions of Japan, Burma and even Java. In the mid-14th century, however, the Mongols' power declined, and they were pushed back to their homelands in central Asia. Native rulers, most famously, the Ming dynasty of China, were again in control of all the countries of East Asia.

The rulers in Korea, Vietnam and Burma all acknowledge the superiority of the Chinese emperor, and their countries are deeply influenced by Chinese political and cultural ways. Regular missions between these tributary countries and China stimulate much international trade.

The Japanese stand aloof from this system, whilst in central Asia, the Mongols remain a real threat. In the coming centuries China will again fall victim to invasion from outside its borders.

Next map, East Asia in 1648

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history map of East Asia 1648AD

East Asia
1453AD - 1648AD

The past two centuries have seen great changes in East Asia. In China, the Ming dynasty has very recently been replaced by the Manchus. The Manchus, a people of central Asian origin who, having developed a Chinese-style state in Manchuria, took advantage of rising chaos in China to march on the capital and seize the throne. They are now in the difficult and long-drawn-out process of pacifying the entire country, under their regent, Dorgon. They call their dynasty the Qing.

After more than 100 years of civil war, Japan was at last re-unified under a military dictatorship. This then embarked on two ferocious wars in Korea before being driven out by Chinese and Korean forces. These wars left Korea in ruins, and led that country to become a vassal state of the Chinese. Japan, meanwhile, has effectively isolated itself from the outside world to preserve its feudal society under its Tokugawa shoguns.

Next map, East Asia in 1789

history map of East Asia 1789AD

East Asia
1648AD - 1789AD

During the past century and a half, almost the whole of East Asia, and much of South East Asia, has now either come under the direct rule of the Qing emperors of China, like Tibet or Mongolia, or belongs to the Qing tributary system. In this, the rulers of the different states acknowledge the overlordship of the Qing emperors, whilst running their own affairs more or less unhindered. Korea, Vietnam, Burma and even states further afield all belong to this far flung system, in which international diplomacy and trade is carefully regulated.

Japan has remained isolated from the outside world. Under the Tokugawa shoguns the old feudal order is carefully preserved, free from foreign interference.

Next map, East Asia in 1837

history map of East Asia 1837AD

East Asia
1789AD - 1837AD

On the face of it, much remains the same as it has been for a long time in East Asia. The Qing empire of China is as vast as it has ever been, except for a small, remote notch taken out of it by a peace treaty with Russia. The Qing-dominated tributary system still covers all the states of this vast region - Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma. Japan remains the one notable exception, continuing its self-imposed isolation.

Westerners, however, are an increasingly troubling presence in the region. Their notion of international trade and diplomacy knows nothing of the carefully regulated relationships involved in the tribute system; for them, commercial and political relations between nations are conducted on equal terms. They are knocking more and more clamorously on the doors of East Asian countries to be let into their markets and mission fields. The ruling elites of these nations - conservative Confucians - all react with a mixture of disdain, bafflement and fury. They are determined to keep the Westerners out, especially as many of the European traders - particularly the British - are little better than drugs pushers trying to create a market for opium.

Next map, East Asia in 1871

history map of East Asia 1871AD

East Asia
1837AD - 1871AD

In recent decades the Westerners have finally managed to open the doors of the East Asian nations, to trade and missionary activity. They have done so with complete ruthlessness.

In China, the Opium Wars (1839-42 and 1858-60) led to several "unequal treaties" being imposed on China, entirely favorable to the Europeans. In 1853 Japanese isolation was suddenly ended by a show of force by an American naval squadron, and a similar set of treaties were imposed on Japan as on China. Korea has been the only country in East Asia to successfully isolate itself from the unfriendly forces swirling around it.

What has happened in China and Japan could barely have been in greater contrast. While Japan has single-mindedly set about modernizing herself, China has struggled to deal with the Western challenge. Her attempts at modernization have been fitful and uncoordinated, and she has been handicapped by rebellion on a massive scale (notably the Taiping rebellion, 1850-65). This has gravely dislocated the enormous country, and allowed foreign nations to further impose their will on her government. As a result, the Qing regime has become more and more discredited in the eyes of its Chinese subjects.

Next map, East Asia in 1914

history map of East Asia 1914AD

East Asia
1871AD - 1914AD

Over the last few troubled decades the old tributary system, which was centred on China and which for centuries spanned almost all East Asia, has now well and truly vanished. The smaller countries have mostly fallen under Western control (Vietnam, Burma and Laos). China herself has been unable to find an effective answer to the Western challenge, to the extent that the old imperial system has now vanished, replaced by a republic. Japan has been the outstanding success story of the region, having created a modern, industrial nation on the foundations of a feudal society, in the space of one generation. This has enabled it to build a powerful military machine, which it has used to take its place alongside the Western powers seeking "spheres of influence" in China. It has in fact become the most aggressive of these powers, having conquered Korea and other territories, and defeated, first China, and then Russia, in war.

Next map, East Asia in 1960

history map of East Asia 1960AD

East Asia
1914AD - 1960AD

In the past decades, much of East Asia has been torn apart by a succession of great wars. China was engulfed in civil warfare from 1916 onwards, first between the various warlords who had divided the country between them (1916-26) and then between Nationalists and Communists (1926-37). Then Japan, having secured control of Manchuria, launched a major invasion of China, which convulsed much of that country in more bitter fighting (1937-45). Between 1941 and 1945 Japan contrived to involve herself in a war for the Pacific with the USA and her Allies in World War 2; this only ended in her becoming the first country in the world to have an A-bomb dropped on her soil. In the post-war years, the civil war in China flared up again, ending in the Communist takeover of the whole country in 1949 (except Taiwan). Korea was torn apart by a terrible war between the Communists of the North, supported by China, and the people of the South, supported by America and her UN Allies (1950-52). Finally, since 1955 Vietnam has experienced almost continual war against her colonial masters, France.

Next map, East Asia in 2005

history map of East Asia 2005AD

East Asia
1960AD - 2005AD

The latter decades of the 20th century and the first years of the 21st century have been a much happier time for most East Asians than the preceding ones. With the exception of Vietnam, where American forces were heavily engaged against Communist guerillas until 1973, peace has been the normal condition in this vast region during this period. The peoples of Japan and South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, have all become amongst the wealthiest in the world. The Chinese have also seen a massive rise in wealth since the late 1970's, with their nation becoming the second largest economy in the world. Even Vietnam has experienced a large measure of economic growth since the late 1970's. North Korea remains stuck in the 1950's, however: the country remains isolated and impoverished under what must surely be the most destructive regime in the world.