Daily Archives: 4 June 2009

Effects of Tang Imperialism on Its Eastern Neighbors

From Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History, by William Wayne Farris (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), pp. 28-30:

In 631, [Tang Emperor] Taizong decided to resume the Sui policy of attacking the warlike state of Koguryŏ by sending an expedition to gather the bones of Chinese troops who had perished during earlier campaigns. Tang soldiers also pillaged Koguryŏ villages, throwing that kingdom into an uproar. The presence of massive Chinese armies on Koguryŏ soil also profoundly affected the political outlook in Paekche, Silla, and Yamato. When the Tang assaulted Koguryŏ again in 641, the elites in Paekche, Koguryo,Yamato, and Silla panicked. Between 641 and 647, militaristic, centralizing coups rocked each kingdom, as conspirators hoped to assemble the resources and troops necessary to fend off the coming Tang invasion.

In Japan, what is known as the Taika Reform took place in 645, concentrating leadership in the hands of a coterie of disenchanted royals (Princes Naka and Karu) and nobles (Nakatomi, later Fujiwara, no Kamatari). After killing off the Soga before the eyes of a startled monarch during a banquet, the rebels announced their intentions to take control of all the land and human resources of the islands, using institutions modeled after successful Chinese precedents. In other words, the best way to repel the Chinese was to copy their advanced political system and use it against them. Members of the cabal moved immediately to secure all weapons and arsenals, especially in the Kanto, home to the majority of mounted fighters. For the next fifteen years, the leaders of the Taika palace revolution struggled to play local leaders off against each other so as to concentrate power in their own hands.

The conflict in Korea, however, kept forcing its attention on the Taika leaders. After all, Paekche was a Yamato ally and a source of invaluable materials, ideas, and immigrants. Between 621 and 650, Yamato’s long-time enemy, Silla, sent envoys to the Tang court, and eventually the two cemented an alliance. Tang wanted the accord because its direct assaults on Koguryŏ were proving no more effective than those of the Sui, and the court needed an ally located at Koguryŏ’s rear. Finally, Tang and Silla decided that the best way to destroy Koguryŏ was to first conquer Paekche, a feat accomplished in 660 with an army of more than one hundred thousand. Most of the Paekche royal house fell into the hands of the alliance, but some escaped to Japan.

Beginning in 661, the Yamato court sent flotillas of small vessels to join Paekche guerillas fighting to revive their fortunes. By 663, more than twenty-five thousand Yamato troops were on erstwhile Paekche soil. At this time, a Yamato embassy was visiting the Tang court, but Taizong decreed that he had “determined … to take administrative measures in regard to the lands east of the sea, and you, visitors from Wa, may not return.” The envoys were locked in prison for months to prevent them from giving away Taizong’s plans. Later that year, the Tang navy and Silla army crushed the Yamato troops and Paekche partisans at the Battle of the Paekch’on River. It was one of the most decisive engagements in Japanese history.

Prince Naka and his supporters were now faced with a true emergency. Naka ascended the throne as the monarch Tenji and ordered beacons and Korean-style mountain fortifications erected from northern Kyushu, up the Inland Sea, to the Kinai. He withdrew his court to Otsu, guarded by mountains and safer from the looming threat. Meanwhile, the Tang-Silla alliance advanced from victory to victory, smashing Koguryŏ in 668. It is amazing that, although Tenji’s centralizing policies had met resistance from the beginning and he was now branded as a loser for the defeat in Korea, he managed to reform the bureaucracy and attempted to implement a census in 670.

When Tenji died in 671, he was unpopular with most local notables because they had lost men in Korea. He pressed his son Prince Otomo to succeed him, but Tenji’s brother, Prince Oama, secluded in the Yoshino Mountains to the south, had other ideas. In a brief civil war, Oama routed his nephew and took the title of Tenmu, “the Heavenly Warrior Emperor” (tenno). Born in 631, Tenmu had witnessed the Taika coup as a boy and the Battle of the Paekch’on River as a youth. He knew that to resist an invasion he had to have a strong, stable government capable of calling on the material and human resources of the entire archipelago. If Tenmu needed any further persuasion, Silla, which had implemented modified Chinese institutions, unified the peninsula, and then terminated its alliance with the Tang and chased the Chinese armies out of Korea. Fear of invasion consumed the Japanese court for several decades, and relations with Silla (668-935) were hostile for most of the 700s.

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Filed under China, Japan, Korea, war

Early Japan’s Peaceful Foragers, Violent Farmers

From Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History, by William Wayne Farris (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), pp. 13-14:

Yayoi society was constantly at war, as historians have known from brief citations about the islands in Chinese annals. For example, of the five thousand skeletons surviving from the Jōmon era, practically none suggests a violent death, whereas among the one thousand skeletons preserved from Yayoi times, about one hundred betray signs of gruesome ends, including beheading and piercing with a dozen or more arrowheads. Iron and stone arrowheads are among the most common finds in Yayoi sites, and by the middle and late Yayoi, iron arrowheads were heavier and more deadly than ever.

Settlement location and structure also imply that Yayoi society was violent. Scattered throughout upland areas, highland settlements for just a few people probably served as lookouts for attackers. Some of these hamlets have pits containing ash, which suggests a system of smoke signals. On the flatlands, one and sometimes two moats with a V-shaped cross section encircle large settlements; as of 1998, about eighty moated villages have been found for the Yayoi period. At Ōtsuka in the Kanto, a trench measured twenty by one hundred thirty meters and was two meters deep. At Ōgidani near Kyoto, there were two ditches one kilometer in length; it is estimated that it would have taken one thousand ten-ton dump trucks to haul away the earth. Many moated settlements also used stakes, twisted branches, and earthen walls as barricades.

Why did the Yayoi resort to war so frequently? The reason is probably related to the importation of agriculture, which, even though it diffused slowly over the archipelago, soon produced classes of haves and have-nots. Villagers resorted to violence when their harvest was inadequate or when they wanted to take over a neighbor’s surplus grain and the lands that had produced them. The discovery of similar moated and walled settlements around the world from an analogous period, when agriculture was just underway, also supports such a view.

The invention of war went along with famine to comprise new ways for agrarian peoples to die. Malnutrition had been a problem under forager regimes, of course, but with the advent of agriculture and the consequent population growth, many more people were dependent on a new subsistence system and liable to starve to death. Known as the “spring hungers,” famine usually beset a family or village whose crop had failed or whose reserves of grain had been exhausted by the late winter. Along with the greater chance of extensive famine came war, which was really just theft organized on a village-wide scale. Every system of subsistence has its advantages and disadvantages.

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Filed under economics, food, Japan, war