Lecture 1. Context and Civilization

East Asia is a relatively clear idea defined by geography, culture, political constitution, and history. For more than two millennia, the high culture of the region was part of the Chinese cultural sphere, most centrally defined by the influence of Chinese script, Classical Chinese, and the wide range of cultural practices that it entails. At the same time, East Asia contains a vast diversity of political entities, ethnic communities, and language groups. China is presently a large nation state (roughly the same as the USA) with a long history and many different cultures. During the last 2,000 years since 221 BCE, many empires have been founded on this land. Some of them are bigger than the current China; some are smaller. The dynastic history goes even further back, to the 17th century BCE according to Western scholars or to the 21st century BCE according to the Chinese. And before the appearance of the first dynasties, numerous prehistoric cultures had flourished for millenniums. Hence, the notion of “Chinese” in the idea of the Chinese cultural sphere is similar to a civilizational character, much in the way that ancient Greek and Roman civilization became the foundation of a Western civilization.

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Lecture Notes