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Eastern civilization has its own fascinating story, with consequences that matter deeply to our lives today. Now you can take a grand journey to explore the big accomplishments of Eastern civilization, from the material economy of day-to-day life to the political and religious philosophies that would bind Eastern cultures together.

The Great Courses Signature Collection
1 Season, 47 Episodes
October 25, 2013
Cast: Craig G. Benjamin
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Foundations of Eastern Civilization Full Episode Guide

  • End your journey through the story of Eastern civilization by reflecting on the role of East Asia in the world today. What insights do the events at Tiananmen Square in 1989 shed on the people of China? Will China eventually democratize? What will become of China's One Child Policy? How will the story of Eastern civilization continue to unfold?

  • In the later 20th century, Mao's successors led China through what has been dubbed the "four modernizations" - significant progress in agriculture, industry, science and technology, and defense. See how China has adapted to the global world, the role of Hong Kong, and the emergence of other "Asian tigers" in the global economy.

  • Continue your study of the transformation of Eastern civilization in the 20th century with an examination of the cold war and the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. You'll investigate the wars in Korea and Vietnam and learn about the global causes and local impact of each conflict.

  • The last section of the course turns to a look at the 20th century and Eastern civilization today. Begin with a look at the political rebellions in China that led to the establishment of today's republic. You'll meet Mao Zedong, Sun Yatsen, and Chiang Kai-shek, and you'll witness the conflicts between Nationalist and Communist parties.

  • Following a political crisis in the 19th century, Emperor Meiji enacted a complete political, economic, and social reorganization of Japan, which transformed the country into a modern global and military industrial power. Watch as the nation became an imperial power and see what led to the Japanese role in World War II.

  • Enter what historians sometimes call Japan's "medieval period," in which military governors known as "shoguns" commanded the state. Look at the Kamakura, Muromachi, and Tokugawa Shogunate periods, as well as the famous samurai warriors who played a distinctive role in Japanese life. Then turn to the era's entertainment culture.

  • By the 19th century, the Choson people had become suspicious of outsiders. See how they navigated Japanese aggression in the 19th century, as well as the competition between Japan, China, and Russia. This lecture concludes with a look at the Japanese occupation of Korea in the first half of the 20th century and sets the stage for the next two lectures.

  • Revisit Korea for a two-lecture "miniseries" on the Choson dynasty, which ruled Korea for more than 500 years. Choson elites adopted a Neo-Confucian political doctrine, expanded Korean territory, and created a tiered social structure that ranged from slaves to land-owning nobility. Explore the many achievements of this dynasty.

  • Follow the rise of the Qing dynasty, which followed a series of Manchu raids into China during the 17th century. Professor Benjamin explains why the Ming dynasty failed, and he then introduces you to two of the Qing dynasty's most effective rulers. He concludes with a discussion of why the dynasty began to fail in the 19th century.

  • Delve into the Ming dynasty's great naval expeditions, led by the fascinating admiral Zheng He, a eunuch who crossed the Indian Ocean and brought rare and exotic treasures back to China. Then turn to Christianity and meet some of the Jesuit missionaries who visited China during the Ming dynasty - and consider some of the important ramifications of these missions.

  • In the wake of Mongol destruction, China's Ming dynasty emerged as a deeply conservative society dedicated to maintaining stability and tradition. These were peaceful - yet economically stagnant - years marked by problems such as piracy, an inept and disinterested government, famines, and rebellions.

  • Look beyond the military success of the Mongols and reflect on the impact their empire had on Eastern civilization. From trade to global communication, the Mongols facilitated a global system that joined East and West Eurasia in a "world system." In this lecture, you'll also meet Marco Polo, Qubilai Khan, and more.

  • Who were the Mongols, and how did they create the largest contiguous empire in all of world history? In this lecture, you'll discover the origins of the Mongolian Empire and find out what made the Mongols so effective at expanding their realm. From murder and mayhem to careful planning and discipline, the Mongols have a remarkable story.

  • Revisit China with an overview of the Song dynasty, whose rulers encouraged impressive advancements in civil administration, industry, education, and the arts. The Southern Song dynasty was responsible for a remarkable series of developments that transformed China into a global economic powerhouse, fueled by innovations such as the production of porcelain, the invention of gunpowder, and more.

  • Trace the spread of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam through Southeast Asia and see how these belief systems affected the history of Eastern civilization. This region served as a commercial and cultural hub, where Arabian, Indian, and East Asian cultures came together in interesting ways.

  • Travel back to the mainland and experience the history and culture of Vietnam, from its earliest interactions with ancient China through its colonization by the French in the 18th century. This engaging lecture shows you the tense relations between the Chinese and the Vietnamese, and it sets the stage for the cold war conflicts of the 20th century.

  • In this final foray into Japan, you'll study the Heian period, which is one of the most fascinating periods in Japanese history. The Heians created a new political and social system that would dominate the country for a millennium. Unpack the era's political factions and the principles of land ownership, then turn to its artistic and literary achievements.

  • In 710, Japan's capital was moved to what is now Nara, and this shift marks the beginning of a new era in Japanese history. Tour the splendid new capital city, with its great halls and temples. The period's art, architecture, painting, and transcultural exchange created an extraordinary cosmopolitan environment.

  • Investigate several important stages in the cultural development of Japan: the Bronze Age of the Yayoi culture, the matriarchal Yamatai kingdom and its splendid tombs, and the emergence of the first genuine state in Japan. You'll also look at the ongoing relationships between Japan, Korea, and China, and the impact of Buddhism on Japanese culture.

  • Following the end of the Silla kingdom, the Koryo dynasty would rule Korea for nearly 500 years and would be remembered as the most important and successful of all Korea's dynasties. This lecture examines the Koryo dynasty's government, culture, society, and bitter struggle with the Mongols.

  • Discover how the Silla kingdom united most of Korea by forging an alliance with the Tang dynasty in China. After examining how the Silla kingdom was organized, you'll turn to the northern Parhae kingdom - the beginning of a long history of division between north and south on the Korean peninsula.

  • Continue your study of Korea with a look at how ancient values and ideas, which were firmly rooted in the environment, became the foundations of the culture and history of the Korean people. Consider the early interaction between China and Korea, and witness the emergence of three powerful kingdoms that appeared late in the 1st century B.C.E.

  • In the first of four lectures about Korea, Professor Benjamin surveys the nation's rugged terrain, its mountains and caves and rivers. He then uses archaeological evidence to trace the emergence of civilization in the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras, when early clan-based villages produced distinctive pottery and had a fascinating variety of religious beliefs.

  • Go inside the splendid court of Emperor Xuanzong in the great capital city of Changan. During Xuanzong's 44-year reign in the 8th century, foreign merchants, students, and pilgrims bustled around the court. Stylish women were adorned with jewels from all over Eurasia. Art and poetry flourished, creating one of the most fashionable and cultured courts in the entire world.

  • After 350 years of fragmentation, the short-lived Sui dynasty unified China in the year 581, laying the foundation for the great Tang dynasty. See how the Tang dynasty reorganized China into a powerful, prosperous, and culturally sophisticated society by reforming the government and capitalizing on the demand for Chinese products, thanks to the Silk Roads.

  • Return to China and the era of fragmentation and conflict that followed the fall of the Han dynasty. Three kingdoms emerged, followed by the Jin and Sui dynasties. In this age of disunity, Buddhism made remarkable inroads into China as an alternative to Confucianism and Daoism, offering hope of salvation during a chaotic period.

  • Examine one of the great "lost civilizations." Although they are largely unknown outside of specialist circles, the Kushans played an immensely important role as middlemen in the trade routes between China and the Roman Empire. Find out who the Kushans were and what makes them so crucial to the story of the Silk Roads.

  • Step back from Eastern civilization and explore life from the Roman perspective. After an overview of Roman history, you'll find out how Mediterranean traders organized their end of the exchange with the East and what impact silk and other luxury goods from Asia had on Greco-Roman culture.

  • Discover the many geographical challenges merchants faced as they made their way into Central Asia. Trace the route a caravan would take, west across mountains and deserts, and discover the various middlemen responsible for the transmission of goods and information between China and, eventually, Europe.

  • Meet the Chinese ambassador Zhang Qian, whose epic adventure changed the course of world history. His story begins with an expedition into the neighboring Xiongnu territory, where he was captured and held hostage for 10 years. After a daring escape, he fled into Central Asia and returned to China with fabulous stories, which inspired the emperor to send him on several subsequent missions west.

  • In this first of five lectures on the Silk Roads - the pathways that connected China with the West during the Han dynasty - Professor Benjamin introduces you the pastoral nomads who rivaled the Han dynasty and played a critical role in creating trade routes by migrating into Central Asia.

  • In this second lecture on the Han, you explore the dynasty's deep and vibrant cultural legacy, from its system of education to its porcelain pottery and jade burial suits. You'll also look at the Han's extraordinary innovations in science and technology, including the iron industry and the invention of paper.

  • To this day, the Chinese still refer to themselves as "the Han people." What made the Han dynasty such an enduring part of Chinese history? How did it lay down important foundations for Eastern civilization? Witness the age of imperial expansion and see how Han dynasty emperors consolidated China under a strong central government - and how that government eventually unraveled.

  • After the Warring States Era, the Qin dynasty emerged. Although the Qin ruled China for only 15 years, the dynasty established a model of government that became the country's template for the next 2,000 years. Meet China's first emperors and study the impact of Qin rule, from political reform to massive building projects.

  • Conclude your survey of the Zhou dynasty's great philosophical traditions with a look at the principles of Legalism - strict laws enforced by gruesome punishment in order to create an orderly state. Meet Legalism's key thinkers and examine the philosophy's legacy in defining Eastern societies through the present day.

  • Continue your study of great Chinese philosophy with a thorough examination of Daoism, which runs counter to Confucianism's rationality and civic engagement. Daoism offers a path for humans to live in harmony with the natural world and the cosmos by retreating from the world of politics and society.

  • Return to the followers of Confucius and consider two contrasting views of human nature and political theory. While Mencius believed humans were innately good and were entrusted with the Mandate of Heaven, Xunzi believed human nature was essentially evil. Both philosophers, however, remained faithful to Confucius's belief in the need for well-educated, ethical rulers.

  • During the Warring States Era at the end of the Zhou dynasty, several great Chinese thinkers considered the nature of society and government. Since that era, Confucianism has been the guiding philosophy of China and much of East Asia for more than 2,500 years. Find out about Confucius's life, his philosophy, and his followers.

  • Unpack a core theme in the foundation of Chinese government. The Mandate of Heaven - a belief that seizure of power could be justified as an expression of divine will - would resonate in Chinese political history for 3,000 years. Learn about the Zhou's overthrow of the Shang dynasty and the rich legacy of the Zhou dynasty.

  • In this second lecture on the Shang dynasty, learn about the enigmatic "oracle bones" and the origins of Chinese writing. Then turn to the Shang society's social organization, religious practices, and cosmology, and find out how one of the core cultural and philosophical beliefs of Eastern civilization - the concept of yin and yang - emerged during the Shang dynasty.

  • While we still don't know much about the Xia dynasty, we have indisputable evidence that the Shang dynasty was responsible for the development of Chinese writing, the creation of a complex social structure, and the construction of the first large cities in East Asia. In this lecture, you'll visit the cities and tombs of the first significant Chinese dynasty.

  • Go back to the beginnings of Chinese history and see what archaeological evidence tells us about humans in the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras. Then look at the fragmented cultures of early civilizations - including the mysterious Xia dynasty, which, until recently, was thought to be a purely mythical culture.

  • Start with the geography and climate of China, the very cradle of Eastern civilization. After looking at the geographical regions of China, you'll explore the country's two great river systems - the Huang Ye (or Yellow River) and the Yangtze (or Chang Jiang) - which have divided Chinese culture into two distinct regions.

  • Embark on your exciting voyage through the geography, history, people, and culture of Eastern civilization with a reflection on three key words of the course. What do we mean by "Eastern"? By "civilization"? By "foundations"? This lecture readies you for the fascinating journey to come. #History

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