Chinese culture and power summary and notes



Chinese culture and power summary and notes


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Chinese culture and power summary and notes


History 50 -- Course Summary III


Chinese culture and power probably reached its height under the Tang (618-907 CE) and Song (960-1279 CE) dynasties; and to a lesser extent under the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty in the 13th and 14th centuries.  The extent of Chinese power was great, including tributary states in Korea, Vietnam and other parts of Asia (but not Japan, which repelled a Mongol invasion in the 13th century; nor Tibet until the time of the Yuans).  Ambassadors of tributary states had to bring money to the Chinese Emperor in his capital, and kowtow to him.

The Sui and the Tang brought political unity and internal peace again to China at the beginning of the 7th century.  Their main instrument was a loyal bureaucracy that was staffed by civil service personnel chosen at least in part through competitive examinations.  The process got going again under the Tang who, although partly dependent on old-style aristocrats who received their posts through recommendation of the influential families, filled some of their bureaucratic posts by examination.  The system reached its culmination under the Song.  Civil service examinations were administered every three years in three stages; the students who passed were given civil service posts.  Exams were administered in three stages every three years -- from the local to the regional to the national/imperial. After about 1000 the examination tested a candidate's ability to write in Chinese characters, his calligraphy, his knowledge of Confucian classics, and his ability to write commentaries (sometimes on practical subjects such as foreign policy and fiscal policy) on classic texts.  The Buddhist and Daoist texts used under the Tang were dropped under the Song.  Many of the exam candidates were from the middling gentry, who moved up the social scale as a result of their academic and administrative success.  Social mobility was a strengthening factor in Song China; one of the Ming stories, "Journey of the Corpse," attests to the strength of the idea of social mobility through state service.  The civil service examinations were an indication of the rising strength of the Neo-Confucians under the Song.  The civil service of the western world did not catch up with the Chinese until the late 19th century.

A weakness in the Chinese system was the power of the eunuchs.  "100%" castrated (both penis and testicles!), they were put in charge of the harems of the Emperor, "entertained" many of the women in the harems, and also had authority over the education of the Emperor's sons (and thus over emperors and princes when they came of age).  They were much resented by Chinese public opinion, which, encouraged by mandarin historians and other jealous bureaucrats, held them responsible, along with women, for China's political ills (they called eunuchs "crows" and "stinking eunuchs" perhaps because of their urinary problems).  The eunuchs often fomented and dominated court intrigue; under the Ming dynasty they embezzled billions of dollars from the state.  They weren't finally kicked out until after the republican revolution of 1911.

Tang and Song China were also a time of prosperity.  Public works remained an important part of the function of the state: the Sui dynasty was particularly renowned for its construction of the Grand Canal joining North and South China, the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers.  The population of China remained stable at about 50 million+ until the onslaught of the Black Death in the 14th century.  With a population of about 2 million, the Tang capital Chang'an was almost certainly the largest city in the world; it was a bustling commercial center; all the world's great religions were represented there.  Commerce developed significantly under both dynasties.  With its strict salt monopoly, the Tang dynasty retained some of the prejudice against merchants, but private merchants thrived under the Song: the majority of the population of the important southern port of Canton was of foreign origin.  China was easily the most technologically advanced civilization in this era.  Steel was produced in large quantities to arm its enormous armies.  The Tang developed woodblock printing that was used to reproduce classic texts (whether Buddhist or Confucian) used by candidates for the civil service exams; some historians think that movable type printing was in use under the Song.  The Chinese invented paper under the Han; it greatly increased the efficiency of the bureaucracy and reduced the cost of producing books.  Paper was first seen in Bagdad in about 800 CE; after that, it spread through the Arab, European and African world.  The Chinese also invented gunpowder, probably sometime in the 9th century CE.  It was used first for civic celebrations, but was soon adapted to military use: flares, bombs, land mines, etc.  The Mongols were perhaps the first to use cannon.  Paradoxically, Chinese expertise in the use of firearms declined between the 13th and 17th centuries, at which time the Chinese court was employing Jesuits to cast their cannon!  Gunpowder had a much greater impact on western society than on the Chinese.

Women continued to have low status in China in this period.  As always, they were expected to obey their husbands unconditionally: "Marry a chicken, follow the chicken.  Marry a dog, follow the dog."  It was considered praiseworthy for a widow not to remarry; the "saintly Miss Wu" earned praise for not remarrying and spending her life taking care of her mother in law; she did this at the direction of the Lord of Heaven. A graphic indicator of women's status was female footbinding, which began sometime in the 10th century. Girls' feet were compressed to about 3-4 inches; the bindings/ pretty little shoes were kept on through adulthood to keep the feet from returning to a more natural shape.  The main reason appears to have been social status (find a good husband), although many men apparently found it sexually attractive -- much of Chinese erotic poetry was foot fetishist.  Footbinding was more common in North China and among well-off women, less popular in the South and among peasants.  It was very widespread in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  It lasted into the 20th century when it was stamped out by republican forces in the 1920s and 1930s; it appears that it still survives in isolated parts of China.  The Empress Wu Zetian (624-705) was the only female empress in Chinese history (Confucius: having a female empress is like "a hen crowing with the roosters at dawn."). She rose to power through marriage and through managing her several sons.  Although cruel (not uncommon in Chinese politics), she was an effective ruler in the early Tang period, first as a regent for her son and then Empress in her own right (founding a new dynasty).  She defended the northwest frontier, promoted the civil service examination, favored the spread of Buddhism, etc.  She was forced to abdicate shortl;y before her death in 705, leading to the restoration of the Tang.


Three stories from the Feng Menglong collection, "The Pearl-Sewn Shirt," "the Journey of the Corpse," and "the Canary Murders" shed some light on Chinese society in the Tang and Song periods.  They all profess to be cautionary tales telling us what a good Chinese person should do.  The "Pearl-Sewn Shirt" is probably the best story of the three from a literary point of view.  It tells us something about romantic/sexual love in China, and about merchant society. Chinese people are enjoined to care more about their spouses than about money, and to be faithful to one another; the moral purpose of the story is undercut somewhat by the narrator's dwelling on the lurid aspects of the seduction of Fortune, and by the perhaps artificially happy ending.  "The Journey of the Corpse" stresses the importance of the civil service in the lives of ambitious young men in this period, and of the reality of social mobility at least under the Song; the avowed theme of the story is about friendship. The story preaches the virtues of friendship and loyalty among men, although at the expense of leaving the women and children behind and neglecting them.  "The Canary Murders" is perhaps the least engaging of the three stories; it is an interesting Chinese take on the murder mystery; it tells us quite a bit about Chinese judicial procedures, which while similar to western ones, rely more on family initiative for investigating crimes; and stresses the importance of (harsh: particularly heinous crimes are punished by slow, painful and disfiguring executions) justice to set things again aright. All the stories deal with urban scenes (the stories were written to appeal to an urban audience): one learns quite a bit about running after money, commercial activities in China, the importance of the civil service, the position of women, marriage and burial customs, and the justice system.


China underwent some interesting religious developments in this period.  Buddhism arrived in China at the end of the Han dynasty.  The Tang emperors tended to favor Buddhism and Daoism, and included Buddhist classics in the civil service exams.  By the end of the Tang period, however, a reaction grew against Buddhist predominance, partly because Buddhists were considered foreign and undignified (Han Yu), partly because Buddhist quietism and withdrawal were considered unfavorable to the promotion of Chinese civic virtue, partly because the wealthy Buddhist monasteries were siphoning off too much of Chinese wealth.  Hence the revival of Confucianist prestige in the form of Neo-Confucianism.  One of the most famous neo-Confucianist philosophers was Zhu Xi (1130-1200) under the SongHe developed a metaphysics of li (principle, law) and qi (matter, material force) that was similar to some of the metaphysical systems of Greek philosophers, especially Aristotle.  He appears  to have denied the existence of a personal, eternal God (li is eternal, but abstract and not personal) and the immortality of the human soul (since the human personality is composed of both li and qi, the disintegration of the qi at death implies the end of the existence of the individual).  In any case, he endorsed the reality of the world (as opposed to Buddhists, who in principle saw the world as an illusion) and the obligation of Chinese people to engage in it, and to do their duty for family and state.  He was responsible, for example, for composing elaborate social ceremonies like marriage to reinforce Chinese traditions.  Neo-Confucianism became again the "official" ideology of the state, remaining paramount in China until the beginning of the 20th century.  The republicans and the Communists have campaigned against this tradition, and it does not seem influential at the beginning of the 21st century.  do not, however, rule out the return of Confucian influence in Chinese culture and intellectual life.


The Mongols made a dramatic, destructive impact on the history of China, Central Asia and Persia in the 13th and 14th centuries.  They were disunited nomads from Mongolia before Temujin (Genghis Khan, d. 1227) united them and led them to dramatic victories in China and Central Asia.  The Mongols fought largely on horseback, also using archers and flame-throwers adapted from the Chinese.  The Mongol army was composed largely of non-Mongolians, and Genghis had a policy of promoting able officers to top ranks regardless of their nationality.  They were unusually cruel, often destroying whole captured cities and putting most of the population to death; their reputation preceded them and often undermined opposition.  The reputation of the Mongols is still fearsome in places like Persia and Mesopotamia.  After Genghis' death, his sons and grandsons established their rule as far west as Russia, and then defeated Song China by 1279.  Khubilai Khan (1260-1294) became Emperor of China establishing the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1369).  With Mongols in top posts, he ruled China according to traditional principles and using many of the traditional Chinese elites.  Under the Mongols Chinese borders were extended to include Korea, Tibet, and parts of Burma.  The Yuans highly prized merchants, and Chinese mercantile activity was probably greater than ever.  Mongols domination over such a side area created the "Mongol Exchange" that favored contacts between east and west as never before.  This promoted trade, but also enabled the rapid propagation of infectious diseases, such as the bubonic plague that decimated the populations of China, the Middle East and Europe beginning in the middle of the 14th century.  With the exception of China, Mongol rule was usually short-lived: they had the habit of splitting their empire among the dead Khan's sons, and in any case their interest in a sedentary, civilized lifestyle seems to have been marginal.  After their decline, they returned to their old lifestyle in Mongolia.


Japan was a late starter in the development of civilizations.  Its island geography, the difficulties experienced in centralizing its government, and its willingness to borrow from other traditions, particularly from China, mark most of it history.  Rice cultivation was introduced in about the 4th century BCE.  The Yayoi people first settled it.  An effective Japanese state was first constructed by the famous Shotoku Taishi (572-622) who issued a "Seventeen Article Constitution" (more of a series of Confucian political maxims that civil servants were expected to observe), created a centralized bureaucracy and instituted a civil service exam, all according to Chinese models; however, the Japanese Emperor was styled "Son of Heaven" rather than the Chinese "Mandate of Heaven" to emphasize his divine status.  Shotoku also heavily promoted Buddhism in Japan.  Japan in this Heian period (up to about the 10th century) consciously imitated China, regularly dispatching diplomatic legations to China to learn more about Chinese administration, technology, etc.  The civil service system was not as effective in Japan since top jobs continued to be reserved for members of the great aristocratic clans.  The new Japanese capital was at Kyoto where it remained for many centuries.  Japan in this period developed a sort of feudal system, in which local lords/ warlords (daimyos in the 16th century) held most of the power and were supported by a class of knights known as samurai.  They were mounted warriors owing fealty to their lord.  They had a code of behavior (bushido) stressing military values, loyalty, duty and the obligation not to work; their code was much influenced by Zen Buddhism; they did not however have a code of chivalrous behavior toward women.  The parallel with the feudal system of the Middle Ages and with European knights is quite close.  The curious should view some of the historical and samurai movies of Akira Kurosawa. 

Beginning in the 12th century, the Kamakura Shogunate established a fairly reliable system of central control for a century or two: the shogun wielded effective central power in place of the Emperor who was rarely seen or heard from; the shogunate too became hereditary.  Japan continued, however, to suffer from political disunity and civil war.  Internal conflict was rife in the period following the Heian and in the Period of the Warring States (late 15th and 16th centuries).    Political conditions in the 15th and 16th century were near chaotic (the entire city of Kyoto was, for example, put to the torch) paving the way for Western influence and the (abortive) Christian missions around 1600; western influence was particularly strong in Kyushu.  Japan was united again about this time under the Tokugawa shogunate and it has enjoyed more or less effective central government for the rest of its history.  The Meiji Revolution of the 1860s attempted to install a sort of western constitutional system, but instead ended up with military control in the 20th century.

Japanese religion was originally Shinto (the divine way), a polytheistic animist religion that greatly prized nature; shrines located in beautiful natural areas were characteristic of Shinto; it also promoted patriotic respect for Japan as a homeland and the divinity of the Emperor.  Buddhism arrived from China and Korea beginning in the 6th century.  Zen (Chan) Buddhism came in the 12th century and with its emphasis on a direct, simple and immediate perception of nature as a means to enlightenment (satori), it had a great impact on Japan.  Buddhism (with Shinto aspects) remained the dominant religion in Japan until the modern day.  Shinto was revived in the late 19th century by the Japanese state as a means of social integration and promotion of an often extreme Japanese nationalism.

Japanese arts have a classical flavor.  In all areas the values of spareness, simplicity, refinement, delicacy and harmony predominate.  In the Heian period the Japanese adopted Chinese characters to provide a literate written system for their own language.  Literature thrived during the Heian and Kamakura periods; almost all the authors were women.  Haikus, which express the Japanese penchant for formalism and simplicity, originated in this period.  By far the most famous work of the Heian period is Lady Murasaki Shikibu's Tales of Genji(about 1000 CE) that with a delicacy of sentiment and psychological insight paints an idealized picture of the Japanese court.  Japanese aristocratic women enjoyed high status at the Heian court.  Although their dress styles would not suit modern tastes (huge amounts of cloth, a powdered white face with black teeth!), they had considerable social freedom, conducting love affairs almost as frequently as their husbands. Love affairs were quite formal, calling for mandatory poetry at important steps in the affair ("leaving you yesterday morning was like a lamb being torn away from its mother for slaughter!").  Such women were more likely to be judged for their choice of colors in their clothes and for the quality of their poetry than for their moral behavior. 

In its intimacy, simplicity and harmony, the Japanese garden seems influenced by Zen.  The concern in Japanese garden design is to include in a harmonious whole all the elements found in nature -- water, mountains, plants, buildings; Japanese people debated as to whether a spring garden (flowering peach blossoms) or a fall garden (fall colors of Japanese maples) is more beautiful.  Zen also heavily influenced the Japanese tea ceremony.  Although tea was first introduced into Japan in the 9th century, it did not really catch on until the Zen masters became popular in the later middle ages.  The tea ceremony was developed as a part of Zen discipline and in Zen temples: "tea and Zen have the same flavor."  The Great Tea Master, Rikyu (1522-91 -- he probably committed suicide at the behest of the Shogun Hideyoshi) was more responsible than any other for the development of the ceremony.  The ceremony took place in a small room, followed a specific ritual with certain utensils, and promoted the values of peace, respect, purity and tranquility.  The samurai who participated were expected to leave their swords at the door; to one famous practitioner, the sound of the boiling water in the kettle reminded him of "a breeze passing through the pine needles."  It is still popular in Japan today (and too bad it is not practiced everywhere), although less formal than before.

The European Middle Ages stretch roughly from 500 CE to the beginning of the Renaissance in 1400.  The term 'Middle Ages' ('medieval') was coined by Renaissance writers who saw the Middle Ages as a benighted and barbaric time after the decline of true civilization (Greece and Rome) and its revival in the Renaissance.  The 'Dark Ages' (primitive conditions) stretched from about 500 to 1050; the 'High Middle Ages' (great dynamism) from about 1050 to 1300; and the 'Late Middle Ages (time of crisis and change) from about 1300 to 1450.

After the fall of Rome, Western Europe went into a deep crisis.  The Germanic kingdoms were often primitive (the result of Gregory of Tours attempt to settle a feud between two Frankish clans); the economy generally collapsed, and focused almost exclusively on local agricultural production; and Magyars and Vikings raided many parts of Europe in the 9th and 10 centuries.  The Vikings settled permanently in Normandy in 911.  The impact of this political and social chaos was the formation of the system of feudalism, a sort of substitute for political authority based on personal relationships between lord and vassals to preserve order.  The military class of knight was of the highest status in this period.  Lords and vassals had mutual obligations: for example, the lord granted the vassal a fief (land to provide income), and the vassal promised military service, fees at certain periods of his life, and the exercise of police and judicial powers at the local level.  Beginning in the 12th century, knights were theoretically subject to a code of chivalry (from the French word 'cheval' meaning 'horse') that sought to "tame" their loutish behavior; at the behest of the ladies, this code came to include 'chivalric' treatment of women, protection of the Church and of the poor, some training in music and poetry, etc.  Of course, much of this was theoretical.


The famous story of Tristan and Iseultwas essentially a Celtic folk tale written down by French and German monks beginning in the 12th century.  The edition read in class is a modern French compilation of the many stories written on this theme by medieval authors.  Marking the beginning of the tradition of romantic love in the West, it has had an enormous influence on western attitudes since then.  The story is obviously set in a social and cultural milieu that is part pagan and part Christian: there is little reference to medieval ecclesiastical institutions, but there are many allusions to Christian morality and faith.  The slant of the tale is not however orthodox.  On many occasions, God/nature/the common people endorse the behavior and values of the lovers vs. conformist cultural standards: e.g., the occasion in which Iseult passes the ordeal despite her obvious intention to mislead everyone around her. The story largely defines the "romantic" tradition in the West: mysterious beginning as seen in the incident of the magic potion; its obsessive nature and the inability of the lovers to stay separated; although their relationship has a sexual, physical side, it is also a spiritual, soulmate-style connection that will last for an eternity; hostility to social and religious institutions (marriage and the Church), indeed the author presents the lovers' love as superior to civilization; usually a tragic, ennobling ending.  Finally, it can be read for the light it sheds on attitudes about women in the Middle Ages.  Women are essentially creatures of the domestic sphere; they are ruled by their emotions (especially the feelings of love!), etc.  But in a broader sense, the story ennobles women by raising the status of 'their' thing - love - to a sphere higher than society and civilization.


Western civilization revived beginning in the 11th century.  Agriculture production grew rapidly due partly to the clearing of new lands (aided by improvement in the weather) and partly to new technology such as the three-field crop rotation, the invention of the shoulder harness for horses (compared the Roman neck harness that 'strangled' the beast), and the widespread use of watermills and windmills.  The population of Europe approximately tripled in this period. Cities grew rapidly especially in the industrialized area of Flanders (production of woolen cloth) and in Italy, where Venice was the leading commercial city. (Dynamic cities in these areas led to cultural beginnings of the Renaissance in the 15th century.)  Meanwhile, the kings of western Europe enhanced their power at the expense of the nobility.  The kings usually allied themselves with the Church and the new towns, and anyone else concerned about security and predictability, to expand their jurisdiction and power at the expense of their overmighty vassals.  Germany was the exception, due in part to the fascination of the German Emperors (Holy Roman Empire) with expanding their power in Italy, thus leading them into conflict with the pope.  The Capetian kings of France began to expand their power in the 11th century radiating out from their power base in the Île-de-France.  Philip II Augustus (1180-1223) had little success against Richard II of England ("The Lion Hearted"); but he was particularly successful in his campaigns against John "Lackland;' upon Philip's death, the monarchy had effective control over Normandy, most of Aquitaine, and a good part of the South.  Unlike the English, the French did not develop a strong sense of elected representation; they developed an Estates General, but it had very little influence.

England already had an effective centralized state under its Anglo-Saxon rulers when William I "The Conqueror" took England in 1066.  These Norman kings, and then the Plantagenets (beginning with Henry II [1154-89]) then expanded their power, fought unsuccessfully to maintain their position in France against the French king, and then presided over the first stages of the establishment of the English political system.  Magna Carta (1215) established the principle of the rule of law in England, to which the king was subject like any other Englishman.  The 13th century brought a nationwide common law enforced by the king's courts, and the famous Model Parliament (1295) defined the composition of a legislature (composed of country and borough members), which was to cooperate with the king in passing laws and raising taxes.  This English system is the obvious ancestor of American political institutions and of the liberal idea in European civilization.

The gothic cathedral is perhaps the greatest visible monument of the Middle Ages; it is testimony to the deep faith of the people, to the importance of the Latin Church in their lives, and to the engineering sophistication of the builders.  Chartres, finished about 1220, is perhaps the most beautiful.  It has an enormous interior vault, reaching toward God; the vaults are supported by the innovative flying buttresses on the outside.  The cathedral is cruciform; it has an extensive iconographical, education element in the sculpture on the outside and the exquisite stained glass windows on the inside.

The Middle Ages also marked a dramatic increase in the power and influence of the Catholic (Latin) Church (which had formally separated from the Greek Orthodox Church in the middle of the 11th century).  Its importance to the lives of medieval people is symbolized by the enormous resources devoted to the Romanesque and gothic cathedrals constructed throughout Europe in this period.  The 11th century was marked by efforts of reforming popes like Gregory VII to increase the purity of the Church and its power and independence vis-à-vis secular rulers like the German Emperor.  A famous incident in the struggle between church and state was the Emperor's humiliation at Canossa (1077), when he had to wait two days in the snow to be granted an audience by the pope.  The papacy's zenith was reached in the reign of Innocent III (1198-1216), who claimed to be the sun casting light on the Emperor's moon.  The great influence of the papacy in this period laid the foundations for decline beginning already in the 13th century.  This was also a time for the renewal of the clergy.  In addition to the secular, parish clergy, the monastic clergy (monks) continued to "work and pray" in rural monasteries.  More typical of the Middle Ages was the founding of the friars to minister to the spiritual needs of the cities in the early 13th century.  The Franciscans, founded by St. Francis of Assisi (d. 1226), were the most popular religious order of the High Middle Ages.  The Dominicans were founded about the same time to fight heresy in the South of France; they were less popular due to their association with the Holy Inquisition.


The Late Middle Ages (1300-1450) was a time of crisis, but it turned out to be a temporary one that led to the renewal of European civilization in the Renaissance .  The overwhelming demographic event was the Black Death that decimated the European population from 1347 to 1350 and then returned every 15-20 years thereafter (until about 1480) to cause further damage.  On the average, it killed perhaps 30% of the rural population and as much as 60% of the urban population in the first visitation.  It began in Italy and swept northward and then eastward through Europe.  There was no way to deal with it medically, largely because no one understood how the disease was propagated ("Ashes, ashes, all fall down.").  The only effective technique was isolation and quarantine, and it took a long time to figure it out.  Its impact was enormous.  Outbreaks of popular hysteria were widespread; the Flagellants, who were active particularly in Germany, showed the spiritual dislocation caused by the plague.

There was also a lot of social and economic dislocation in most parts of Europe.  The Peasants' Revolt in England (1381) was a case in point, since it was caused by peasant resentment against Establishment attempts to impose pre-Plague wages on the rural workers.  In some ways, the tradition of social conflict in Europe dates from this period.  The crisis was deepened by endemic conflict between England and France in the 100 Years War (1337-1453), caused in part by Edward III's claim to the French throne.  The battles between the two sides resulted mostly in English victories (Crécy 1346, and Agincourt 1415) largely because the English were better tacticians.  The English however lost the war, largely because France was a much larger and richer country.  Joan of Arc provided an important rallying force in her campaign to raise the siege of Orléans in 1429; she was later burnt at the stake by the English for witchcraft and heresy.  The French used modern cannons to expel the English from the continent in 1453.  The latter part of the 15th century was characterized by political revival in Europe.  Spain was unified under Ferdinand and Isabella, and fielded the strongest army in Europe from this period until the middle of the 17th century.  The great commercial and manufacturing cities of North Italy laid the economic foundation of the Italian Renaissance in the same period.

The Late Medieval Church went through a time of almost continual crisis.  After the fiasco of Boniface VIII (d. 1303), the papacy was forced to move to Avignon, where for several decades it remained under the thumb of the French monarchy.  Moving the pope back to Rome in 1377, however, produced the Great Schism, where two popes, and for a few years even three, coexisted to the great scandal of the Christian world.  The schism was finally ended in 1415, but then the papacy entered a long period of worldliness, finances and power known as the Renaissance Period.   Some popes such as Alexander VI were immoral, corrupt, and perhaps even violent; others, such as Sixtus IV and Julius II, were able politicians and patrons of the arts.  None of them were holy men concerned primarily with the well being of the Church.  Disillusionment with the Roman papacy helped lay the groundwork of the Protestant Reformation.


The Renaissance was a time of renewal in Western Civilization, beginning in Italy in the 15th century.  It continued in Italy until the middle of the 16th century.  It also affected the North, but there it lagged behind Italy by about a half a century.  The late 15th century saw a general quickening of the West, including an economic revival, renewed population growth, and the growth of state power.  The Renaissance, however, deals mainly with the arts and humanities.  It was characterized by its fondness for, and obsession with, the arts and literature of the classical world; all Renaissance scholars and artists admired the culture of classical Greece and Rome.  The leading idea was probably humanism, that denoted a focus on the thisworldly destiny of human beings (cradle to grave!) and a confidence in the abilities of humans acting individually.  This confidence is ably expressed by the famous "Oration on the Dignity of Man" by Pico della Mirandola.  This period also the invention of movable type printing.  First developed by Johannes Gutenburg in Germany in the middle 15th century, it led to an information revolution throughout Europe.  The printing press played a major role in the Renaissance, and even more importantly in the Protestant Reformation.

The Renaissance in art (painting and sculpture) is perhaps the most famous aspect of the movement.  Renaissance artists attempted to emulate the classical art style that one might sum up as "ideal naturalism."  Renaissance painters developed original techniques for simulating naturalism on canvas: atmospheric modeling, linear perspective and expert rendering of textures.  The copy of the 5th century BCE "Poseidon" in front of the Convention Center in Sacramento sums up classical style in sculpture.  Artists such as Fra Angelico and Sandro Botticelli illustrate the earlier Florentine Renaissance of the 15th century.  Leonardo da Vinci, Titian and Michelangelo typify the High Renaissance that was focused around the patronage of the popes in Rome in the first part of the 16th century.


Luther's theology might be summarized as follows: 1) Recognize God's awful sovereignty.  He transcends puny human understanding or worth.  Humans are far inferior, "depraved" compared to God.  2) Humankind is justified by faith and not by works.  Nothing we decide or do can earn us salvation.  It is a gift of God to us from all eternity.  All our worthiness comes only from God.  We are enjoined to perform good works; but they cannot save us from perdition.  3) "The priesthood of all believers" means that we all stand directly before the throne of God in His presence.  Obviously this implies that we can dispense with the papacy and the rest of the heavy weight of the Catholic Church, including most privileges of the clergy and the majority of the sacraments, which are reduced from seven to two.  4) We can know God's plan for us exclusively through Holy Scripture ("Sola scriptura"), which we all must read in the presence of the Holy Spirit, i.e., thoughtfully and under the guidance of a minister.  5) Luther, who was originally inclined toward a sort of religious toleration, soon turned to state religions when his moderate solution was threatened from the right and the left.  The organization of religion in Europe did not turn to toleration until the end of the 17th century.  In the 16th century inhabitants of a state (of which there were many in Germany) were expected to follow the religious lead of the sovereign.

John Calvin agreed with most of the ideas of Luther, but differed on some details: 1) He has a more pessimistic interpretation of human nature.  2) He believed in predestination, i.e., God has chosen from all eternity both the souls to be saved and those to be damned. 

What was the response of the Catholic Church?  The Counter Reformation or the Catholic Reformation, which got under way in the 1530s.  The spirit of the Counter Reformation was an aggressive counter-attack against the unbelievers; there was to be no compromise.  The Council of Trent  (1545-63) redefined traditional Catholic doctrines, but with few if any concessions to the Protestants; for example, salvation was still considered to be due to a combination of faith and works; it also reaffirmed all seven sacraments.  The Council also attempted to eliminate some of the worst abuses of the Renaissance papacy: bishops were expected to take their responsibilities seriously; they must have seminaries in every diocese, etc.  The Church also resorted to more repression, including the reactivation of the Inquisition in Italy, and the creation of the "Index of Forbidden Books" which included large numbers of unorthodox books that Catholics were forbidden to read.  This was also the time of the creation of the Jesuit Order by Ignatius of Loyola: "the shock troops of the papacy," they performed great services for the Church in missionary work and in education.  This begins a dynamic spiritual period in the history of the Church that was to last until the end of the 17th century.  Much of Europe was won back to Catholic allegiance; rarely has the Church had so many dynamic and dedicated saints.


Europe in 1600 was sharply divided between Protestant and Catholic zones.  Highly destructive religious warfare mars European history until the middle of the 17th century.  Toleration does not begin to creep into European institutions until the end of that century, primarily in Holland, England and North America.  The forces of secularism, coming from the Renaissance and the development of capitalism, and of religious militancy, coming from the Reformation and the Catholic reaction to it, were equally strong in this period.  The stage is set for modern history!



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Chinese culture and power summary and notes


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Chinese culture and power summary and notes