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6.1: Regional configurations of historical territories (50 BCE – 500 CE)

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    After four centuries of unification and control by the Han dynasty in China, revolts, invasions, and internal wars devastated the empire. Buddhism had become a significant part of religious and political beliefs in Asia. China substantially influenced Korea, where Chinese processes and cultures were adopted. Korea transferred the same influence to Japan, spreading Buddhism throughout the region. The trade routes (6.1.1) across Asia, India, and the Mediterranean grew and were further extended and strengthened. 

    Map of the continent of Asia in multiple colors
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Map of Asia 500 CE (Thomas Lessman, CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Innovation in canal building and better road construction helped widen the trade opportunities. Large industrial complexes were well established by this period, and in China, the city of Jingdezhen employed almost 700,000 workers.[1] Large industrial areas began cross-cultural integration when the large imperial states from China to Europe established economic trade foundations. “The economic foundations were the overland trade networks linking east Asia and the eastern Mediterranean region by the silk roads and the emerging maritime trade networks of the Indian Ocean basin. The imperial states promoted overland trade and communication…and cross-cultural interaction.”[2]

    Population growth expanded significantly, especially in the big cities. Some historians believe the growth rate was caused when people interacted with other areas brought by aggressive trading. “Where people regularly interacted with one another, they slowly built up shared immunities to infectious diseases. This would especially have happened in densely populated regions like Southwest Asia, northern India, or northern China. Stronger natural immunities reduced mortality from recurring epidemics, permitting populations to grow at a faster rate. However, if some new infectious malady entered a region from afar, a severe epidemic might break out and populations take a plunge.”[3] The population in Luoyang, China, during the Han dynasty, was over one million people, and in early 500 CE, Nanjing had a population of 1.4 million and was probably the largest city in the world.[4]

    Different large-scale belief systems thrived during this period, expanding across kingdoms and empires. Religious or ideological beliefs shaped cultures, moral expectations, and everyday interactions between people who shared the same ideals. The teachings of Buddha started in India and moved across Asia, influencing art devoted to his messages. Buddhism was reflected in architecture, sculptures, jewelry, and paintings, becoming a standard part of art in this period. 


    [1] Association of Asian Studies 

    [2] Bentley, J. H., Weitz, L. E., Whitfield, S., GOLDIN, I., CAMERON, G., BALARAJAN, M., ESPADA, A. G., Goldstone, J. A., & Goldstone, J. A. (1998). Hemispheric Integration, 500-1500 C.E. Journal of World History9(2), 237-254. 

    [3] This Big Era and the Three Essential Questions. 

    [4] Association of Asian Studies