Unlike the fall of the Western Roman Empire, which resulted in permanent political fragmentation, China was reunited under the Sui dynasty.
The Chinese state, on the other hand, did not disintegrate for a long time during this dynastic collapse. The Sui foundations of renewed unity were built on by the two dynasties that followed the Tang and Song. Despite fifty years of disunity between the two dynasties, they established patterns of Chinese life that lasted into the twentieth century.
The establishment of aristocratic families' grasp on public service was threatened by electing officials based on merit. Even if the sons of the affluent did not pass the tests, a significant share of government employment went to them.
An “economic revolution” underpinned these artistic and political triumphs, making Song dynasty China “by far the richest, most skilled, and most populated country on earth.” 5 China's fast population increase, which jumped from perhaps 50 million or 60 million under the Tang dynasty to 120 million by 1200, was the most visible indicator of its affluence.
Many people migrated to the cities, making China the world's most urbanized country. Hundreds of Chinese cities had populations exceeding 100,000 people, including the Song dynasty capital of Hangzhou, which had a population of over a million people. In 1235, a Chinese observer gave a detailed account of the city.
Perhaps most notably, all of this occurred in the world's most commercialized society, when manufacturing for the market rather than for local consumption became a common occurrence.
Unlike Korea and Vietnam, the Japanese islands were isolated from China by more than 100 miles of water, and they were never effectively attacked or conquered by their massive mainland neighbor.
Shotoku Taishi (572–622), a renowned nobleman from one of the main clans, was the first to lead this endeavor. He organized a series of large-scale missions to China, sending hundreds of Japanese monks, academics, artists, and students to the mainland, where they put their newfound knowledge into effect.
China's culture, like its political methods, was well received in Japan. Various schools of Chinese Buddhism spread across Japan, initially among the educated and literate classes and then more generally in society, profoundly influencing much of Japanese life.
In terms of politics, for example, the Japanese have never been able to equal China's successful centralized and bureaucratic state. Although the court and the emperor continued to play an important ceremonial and cultural role, their true political power over the kingdom eroded as rival aristocratic families gained power at court and in the provinces.
Japan was also different in terms of religion. Although Buddhism gained root in the nation in many forms, it never entirely supplanted the area's indigenous beliefs and rituals, which centered on a number of kami, holy spirits linked with human ancestors, as well as other natural occurrences.
Confucian thinkers once again emphasized women's subjection to men and the necessity to keep males and females apart in all aspects of life. Sima Guang, a Song dynasty historian, and scholar put it like this: “The boy leads the girl, the girl follows the boy; the duty of husbands to be resolute and wives to be meek begins with this.”
Foot tying was the most powerful manifestation of tightening patriarchy. This practice, which appears to have started among dancers and courtesans in the tenth or eleventh-century c.e., involved the tight wrapping of young girls' feet, which usually broke the bones of the foot and caused excruciating suffering.
Women worked as maids, cooks, and dressmakers in the cities, where they managed restaurants, sold fish and vegetables, and worked as maids, cooks, and dressmakers. As the wealth of elite families grew, more women were drawn into positions as concubines, entertainers, courtesans, and prostitutes.