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Foundations of Eastern Civilization

Uncover the fascinating origins of East Asian civilization in this comprehensive course that explores the history of China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia.
Foundations of Eastern Civilization is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 129.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Strong History of China, Japan, Korea through 1920 I finished this course last month and learned a great deal about ancient Chinese history in particular from it, though also medieval Japanese and Korean history. I now know all the dynasties of China, when they ruled, what the main story is. I thought this course was an effective very high-level overview of thousands of years of history and gave me what I was looking for in that regard (I didn't need extreme detail, for which I would seek out other courses and materials). There were some lectures on Vietnam, but it might have benefited from a few lectures on Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, which it did not address at all. But that's merely a matter of scope and I understand editorial decisions have to be made.
Date published: 2024-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course Professor Benjamin does an amazing job presenting the detail view of East Civilization within the large text of time and world history. Professor Benjamin is very easy to listen to and follow.
Date published: 2024-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent survey of Chinese history. Thank you Professor Benjamin for the excellent survey of Chinese history. I went to Chinese school in Japan and learned Chinese history in Chinese till grade 9. That was 50 years ago. I wish I had kept the textbooks from that time. As I listened to the lectures in English, I could not help to wonder what are the Chinese characters of the names of Emperors and famous people he mentioned. I wish he included more Chinese characters visually so I understand better. I will continue my research on my own. Someday I will have even better understanding of Chinese history by further reading. Thank you for letting me begin my journey of relearning Chinese culture and history.
Date published: 2024-02-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course by Prof Benjamin I thought this was an excellent presentation of a vast subject and it provided much information about a subject that is often overlooked in college courses. I have travelled extensively in the Far East so this presentation really enriched my understanding of the region.
Date published: 2023-08-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Engaging Journey with Missing Signposts First and foremost, I must commend Professor Benjamin for his enthusiastic delivery style, which truly reflects his passion for the subject matter and his dedication to sharing knowledge with us. The course covers an impressive array of topics, making it one of the most ambitious classes I have encountered from The Great Courses. However, due to the extensive content, some topics are unfortunately only touched upon briefly, lacking a proper explanation of their significance. Nevertheless, Professor Benjamin's engaging teaching style made it relatively easy to follow, even during some of the less consistent parts. Despite the course's strengths, there is room for improvement in terms of its thematic approach. While many of the stories and facts presented throughout the lectures were indeed interesting, the connection between them and their collective contribution to forming the 'foundations' of Eastern Civilizations was not adequately established. I had hoped to extract overarching themes or core ideas that define these civilizations, or a systematic approach to better understand the region's historical development. Regrettably, despite of clear efforts, these 'signposts' were lacking or not articulated convincingly enough.
Date published: 2023-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A perfect overview with an engaging teacher This was exactly what I was looking for; an overview of Eastern civilisation that covered all eras in enough to detail to stick in memory but without ever dwelling too long or getting bogged down in details. The lecturer is clearly enthusiastic and knowledgeable which makes the whole series engaging.
Date published: 2023-07-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Pro Chinese It's noticeable how he avoided subjects that would infuriate the Party. Tibet for example is hardly mentioned. I suppose he does not want to be banned from visiting China. It was worth watching though.
Date published: 2023-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Phenomenal professor, fascinating subject matter I'm about a third of the way through the lectures and I am absolutely loving this course. I'm separately in school full-time at the moment, and watching this to supplement the material in my Philosophy and History of Asian Medicine course. Wow. Wowee. Professor Benjamin is one of those rare teachers who has an incredible handle on the subject material, an engaging speaking style, and the ability to present lectures as beautifully structured segments that set out and accomplish specific goals while guiding the overall series coherently through history. It's just an incredibly-well-presented and fascinating body of material, in fact the only other professor I've seen for whom I quickly gained a similar level of respect is the teacher of the Foundations of Western Civilization course on great courses/wondrium, the fantastic Thomas F.X. Noble. So to sum up, this series is amazing and great courses is absolutely killing it with their Foundations series, highly recommended no matter in which hemisphere you choose to start!
Date published: 2023-02-25
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So much of our historical knowledge is rooted in Western civilization. But Eastern civilization has its own fascinating story, with consequences that matter deeply to our lives today. Now you can take a grand journey to explore the big accomplishments of Eastern civilization, from the material economy of day-to-day life to the political and religious philosophies that would bind Eastern cultures together for thousands of years, with Foundations of Eastern Civilization. Over the course of 48 lectures, Professor Craig G. Benjamin of Grand Valley State University introduces you to the many people, achievements, and ideas that came out of Eastern civilization and played a role in creating the modern world.


Craig G. Benjamin

These big ideas of Eastern civilization emerged thousands of years ago, but they endured and shaped the long history of these regions all the way to the present.


Grand Valley State University

Dr. Craig G. Benjamin is Associate Professor of History in the Frederik Meijer Honors College at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), where he teaches East Asian civilization, big history, ancient Central Asian history, and historiography. He earned his undergraduate education at The Australian National University in Canberra and Macquarie University in Sydney, and his Ph.D. in Ancient History from Macquarie University. Professor Benjamin has received several awards for teaching, including the 2012 Faculty of Distinction Award from Omicron Delta Kappa Society (a national leadership honor society) and the 2009 Student Award for Faculty Excellence from the GVSU Student Senate. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including The Yuezhi: Origin, Migration and the Conquest of Northern Bactria and Readings in the Historiography of World History. He is coauthor (with David Christian and Cynthia Stokes Brown) of Big History: Between Nothing and Everything. Professor Benjamin is an officer of the World History Association and the International Big History Association. He is also a consultant for The College Board and a member of the SAT World History Subject Committee and the Advanced Placement World History Development Committee.

By This Professor

The Big History of Civilizations
Foundations of Eastern Civilization
The Mongol Empire
Foundations of Eastern Civilization


Journey to the East

01: Journey to the East

Embark on your exciting voyage through the geography, history, people, and culture of Eastern civilization with a reflection on three key words of the course. What do we mean by "Eastern"? By "civilization"? By "foundations"? This lecture readies you for the fascinating journey to come.

30 min
Yin and Yang-The Geography of China

02: Yin and Yang-The Geography of China

Start with the geography and climate of China, the very cradle of Eastern civilization. After looking at the geographical regions of China, you'll explore the country's two great river systems-the Huang Ye (or Yellow River) and the Yangtze (or Chang Jiang)-which have divided Chinese culture into two distinct regions.

28 min
Early China and the Mysterious Xia

03: Early China and the Mysterious Xia

Go back to the beginnings of Chinese history and see what archaeological evidence tells us about humans in the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras. Then look at the fragmented cultures of early civilizations-including the mysterious Xia dynasty, which, until recently, was thought to be a purely mythical culture.

30 min
The Coming of the Shang

04: The Coming of the Shang

While we still don't know much about the Xia dynasty, we have indisputable evidence that the Shang dynasty was responsible for the development of Chinese writing, the creation of a complex social structure, and the construction of the first large cities in East Asia. In this lecture, you'll visit the cities and tombs of the first significant Chinese dynasty.

28 min
The Shang and Writing for the Gods

05: The Shang and Writing for the Gods

In this second lecture on the Shang dynasty, learn about the enigmatic "oracle bones" and the origins of Chinese writing. Then turn to the Shang society's social organization, religious practices, and cosmology, and find out how one of the core cultural and philosophical beliefs of Eastern civilization-the concept of yin and yang-emerged during the Shang dynasty.

30 min
The Zhou and the Mandate of Heaven

06: The Zhou and the Mandate of Heaven

Unpack a core theme in the foundation of Chinese government. The Mandate of Heaven-a belief that seizure of power could be justified as an expression of divine will-would resonate in Chinese political history for 3,000 years. Learn about the Zhou's overthrow of the Shang dynasty and the rich legacy of the Zhou dynasty.

30 min
Great Ideas of the Zhou-Confucianism

07: Great Ideas of the Zhou-Confucianism

During the Warring States Era at the end of the Zhou dynasty, several great Chinese thinkers considered the nature of society and government. Since that era, Confucianism has been the guiding philosophy of China and much of East Asia for more than 2,500 years. Find out about Confucius's life, his philosophy, and his followers.

29 min
Great Ideas of the Zhou-Later Confucianism

08: Great Ideas of the Zhou-Later Confucianism

Return to the followers of Confucius and consider two contrasting views of human nature and political theory. While Mencius believed humans were innately good and were entrusted with the Mandate of Heaven, Xunzi believed human nature was essentially evil. Both philosophers, however, remained faithful to Confucius's belief in the need for well-educated, ethical rulers.

29 min
Great Ideas of the Zhou-Daoism

09: Great Ideas of the Zhou-Daoism

Continue your study of great Chinese philosophy with a thorough examination of Daoism, which runs counter to Confucianism's rationality and civic engagement. Daoism offers a path for humans to live in harmony with the natural world and the cosmos by retreating from the world of politics and society.

29 min
Great Ideas of the Zhou-Legalism

10: Great Ideas of the Zhou-Legalism

Conclude your survey of the Zhou dynasty's great philosophical traditions with a look at the principles of Legalism-strict laws enforced by gruesome punishment in order to create an orderly state. Meet Legalism's key thinkers and examine the philosophy's legacy in defining Eastern societies through the present day.

28 min
The Qin and the First Emperor of China

11: The Qin and the First Emperor of China

After the Warring States Era, the Qin dynasty emerged. Although the Qin ruled China for only 15 years, the dynasty established a model of government that became the country's template for the next 2,000 years. Meet China's first emperors and study the impact of Qin rule, from political reform to massive building projects.

29 min
Contact with the West-The Early Han

12: Contact with the West-The Early Han

To this day, the Chinese still refer to themselves as "the Han people." What made the Han dynasty such an enduring part of Chinese history? How did it lay down important foundations for Eastern civilization? Witness the age of imperial expansion and see how Han dynasty emperors consolidated China under a strong central government-and how that government eventually unraveled.

29 min
Triumph and Tragedy-The Later Han

13: Triumph and Tragedy-The Later Han

In this second lecture on the Han, you explore the dynasty's deep and vibrant cultural legacy, from its system of education to its porcelain pottery and jade burial suits. You'll also look at the Han's extraordinary innovations in science and technology, including the iron industry and the invention of paper.

29 min
Silk Roads-In the Footsteps of Nomads

14: Silk Roads-In the Footsteps of Nomads

In this first of five lectures on the Silk Roads-the pathways that connected China with the West during the Han dynasty-Professor Benjamin introduces you the pastoral nomads who rivaled the Han dynasty and played a critical role in creating trade routes by migrating into Central Asia.

29 min
Silk Roads-The Envoy Zhang Qian

15: Silk Roads-The Envoy Zhang Qian

Meet the Chinese ambassador Zhang Qian, whose epic adventure changed the course of world history. His story begins with an expedition into the neighboring Xiongnu territory, where he was captured and held hostage for 10 years. After a daring escape, he fled west into Central Asia and returned to China with fabulous stories, which inspired the emperor to send him on several subsequent missions west...

30 min
Silk Roads-Perils of Camels and Caravans

16: Silk Roads-Perils of Camels and Caravans

Discover the many geographical challenges merchants faced as they made their way into Central Asia. Trace the route a caravan would take, west across mountains and deserts, and discover the various middlemen responsible for the transmission of goods and information between China and, eventually, Europe.

28 min
Silk Roads-Rome and Roads from the West

17: Silk Roads-Rome and Roads from the West

Step back from Eastern civilization and explore life from the Roman perspective. After an overview of Roman history, you'll find out how Mediterranean traders organized their end of the exchange with the East and what impact silk and other luxury goods from Asia had on Greco-Roman culture.

30 min
Silk Roads-The Lost Kushan Empire

18: Silk Roads-The Lost Kushan Empire

Examine one of the great "lost civilizations." Although they are largely unknown outside of specialist circles, the Kushans played an immensely important role as middlemen in the trade routes between China and the Roman Empire. Find out who the Kushans were and what makes them so crucial to the story of the Silk Roads.

30 min
Origins of Buddhism

19: Origins of Buddhism

Take another excursion away from East Asia-this time to explore the Indian origins of Buddhism. Learn about the gods of the Indus civilization, the origins of the caste system, and the emergence of new religions in the 5th and 6th centuries B.C.E. After studying the life of Siddhartha Gautama, you'll survey the key beliefs and practices of Buddhism.

30 min
The Age of Disunity

20: The Age of Disunity

Return to China and the era of fragmentation and conflict that followed the fall of the Han dynasty. Three kingdoms emerged, followed by the Jin and Sui dynasties. In this age of disunity, Buddhism made remarkable inroads into China as an alternative to Confucianism and Daoism, offering hope of salvation during a chaotic period.

30 min
The Great Taizong and the Rise of the Tang

21: The Great Taizong and the Rise of the Tang

After 350 years of fragmentation, the short-lived Sui dy¬¬nasty unified China in the year 581, laying the foundation for the great Tang dynasty. See how the Tang dynasty reorganized China into a powerful, prosperous, and culturally sophisticated¬ society by reforming the government and capitalizing on the demand for Chinese products, thanks to the Silk Roads.

29 min
Changan and the Glittering Tang

22: Changan and the Glittering Tang

Go inside the splendid court of Emperor Xuanzong in the great capital city of Changan. During Xuanzong's 44-year reign in the 8th century, foreign merchants, students, and pilgrims bustled around the court. Stylish women were adorned with jewels from all over Eurasia. Art and poetry flourished, creating one of the most fashionable and cultured courts in the entire world.

28 min
Korea-Mysterious Beginnings

23: Korea-Mysterious Beginnings

In the first of four lectures about Korea, Professor Benjamin surveys the nation's rugged terrain, its mountains and caves and rivers. He then uses archaeological evidence to trace the emergence of civilization in the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras, when early clan-based villages produced distinctive pottery and had a fascinating variety of religious beliefs.

29 min
Korea-The Land of Morning Calm

24: Korea-The Land of Morning Calm

Continue your study of Korea with a look at how ancient values and ideas, which were firmly rooted in the environment, became the foundations of the culture and history of the Korean people. Consider the early interaction between China and Korea, and witness the emergence of three powerful kingdoms that appeared late in the 1st century B.C.E.

30 min
Korea-The Unified Silla

25: Korea-The Unified Silla

Discover how the Silla kingdom united most of Korea by forging an alliance with the Tang dynasty in China. After examining how the Silla kingdom was organized, you'll turn to the northern Parhae kingdom-the beginning of a long history of division between north and south on the Korean peninsula.

29 min
Korea-The Koryo

26: Korea-The Koryo

Following the end of the Silla kingdom, the Koryo dynasty would rule Korea for nearly 500 years and would be remembered as the most important and successful of all Korea's dynasties. This lecture examines the Koryo dynasty's government, culture, society, and bitter struggle with the Mongols.

29 min
Japan-Geography and Early Cultures

27: Japan-Geography and Early Cultures

Shift your attention to the islands of Japan. In this first of four lectures, you'll explore the nation's geography-notably its mountains, fertile plains, and surrounding sea. Then you'll discover the many rituals and achievements of several early cultures, including the Neolithic people who created what is perhaps the world's first pottery.

30 min
Japan-Treasures of the Tomb Period

28: Japan-Treasures of the Tomb Period

Investigate several important stages in the cultural development of Japan: the Bronze Age of the Yayoi culture, the matriarchal Yamatai kingdom and its splendid tombs, and the emergence of the first genuine state in Japan. You'll also look at the ongoing relationships between Japan, Korea, and China, and the impact of Buddhism on Japanese culture.

30 min
Japan-Nara and the Great Eastern Temple

29: Japan-Nara and the Great Eastern Temple

In 710, Japan's capital was moved to what is now Nara, and this shift marks the beginning of a new era in Japanese history. Tour the splendid new capital city, with its great halls and temples. The period's art, architecture, painting, and transcultural exchange created an extraordinary cosmopolitan environment.

28 min
Japan-The World of the Heian

30: Japan-The World of the Heian

In this final foray into Japan, you'll study the Heian period, which is one of the most fascinating periods in Japanese history. The Heians created a new political and social system that would dominate the country for a millennium. Unpack the era's political factions and the principles of land ownership, then turn to its artistic and literary achievements.

29 min
Southeast Asia-Vietnam

31: Southeast Asia-Vietnam

Travel back to the mainland and experience the history and culture of Vietnam, from its earliest interactions with ancient China through its colonization by the French in the 18th century. This engaging lecture shows you the tense relations between the Chinese and the Vietnamese, and it sets the stage for the cold war conflicts of the 20th century.

29 min
Southeast Asia-Indian and Islamic Influences

32: Southeast Asia-Indian and Islamic Influences

Trace the spread of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam through Southeast Asia and see how these belief systems affected the history of Eastern civilization. This region served as a commercial and cultural hub, where Arabian, Indian, and East Asian cultures came together in interesting ways.

29 min
The Industrial Revolution of the Song

33: The Industrial Revolution of the Song

Revisit China with an overview of the Song dynasty, whose rulers encouraged impressive advancements in civil administration, industry, education, and the arts. The Southern Song dynasty was responsible for a remarkable series of developments that transformed China into a global economic powerhouse, fueled by innovations such as the mass production of porcelain, the invention of gunpowder, and more...

31 min
Intellectual and Cultural Life of the Song

34: Intellectual and Cultural Life of the Song

Experience everyday life in the Song dynasty, a prosperous, cosmopolitan, and very modern society. Consider the culture's foreign influences, the emerging xenophobia, the subordinate role of women, and the dynasty's impact on the global economy. Then see why Song innovations did not spread throughout the rest of the world.

29 min
The Mongols Conquer the World

35: The Mongols Conquer the World

Who were the Mongols, and how did they create the largest contiguous empire in all of world history? In this lecture, you'll discover the origins of the Mongolian Empire and find out what made the Mongols so effective at expanding their realm. From murder and mayhem to careful planning and discipline, the Mongols have a remarkable story.

29 min
Shaking the Foundation-Mongols in the East

36: Shaking the Foundation-Mongols in the East

Look beyond the military success of the Mongols and reflect on the impact their empire had on Eastern civilization. From trade to global communication, the Mongols facilitated a global system that joined East and West Eurasia in a "world system." In this lecture, you'll also meet Marco Polo, Qubilai Khan, and more.

29 min
The Rise of the Ming

37: The Rise of the Ming

In the wake of Mongol destruction, China's Ming dynasty emerged as a deeply conservative society dedicated to maintaining stability and tradition. These were peaceful-yet economically stagnant-years marked by problems such as piracy, an inept and disinterested government, famines, and rebellions.

28 min
Great Treasure Fleets of the Ming

38: Great Treasure Fleets of the Ming

Delve into the Ming dynasty's great naval expeditions, led by the fascinating admiral Zheng He, a eunuch who crossed the Indian Ocean and brought rare and exotic treasures back to China. Then turn to Christianity and meet some of the Jesuit missionaries who visited China during the Ming dynasty-and consider some of the important ramifications of these missions.

30 min
The Qing-Nomads Return from the North

39: The Qing-Nomads Return from the North

Follow the rise of the Qing dynasty, which followed a series of Manchu raids into China during the 17th century. Professor Benjamin explains why the Ming dynasty failed, and he then introduces you to two of the Qing dynasty's most effective rulers. He concludes with a discussion of why the dynasty began to fail in the 19th century.

30 min
The Qing-The Last Emperor of China

40: The Qing-The Last Emperor of China

After thousands of years, the dynastic system came to an end in China in 1912 with the abdication of Emperor Puyi at the age of six. Survey the many problems faced by the Qing dynasty in the 19th century-including the Opium Wars, peasant uprisings and rebellions, and the expanding European empires.

30 min
Korea Choson-Rise of the Yangban

41: Korea Choson-Rise of the Yangban

Revisit Korea for a two-lecture "miniseries" on the Choson dynasty, which ruled Korea for more than 500 years. Choson elites adopted a Neo-Confucian political doctrine, expanded Korean territory, and created a tiered social structure that ranged from slaves to land-owning nobility. Explore the many achievements of this dynasty.

29 min
Korea Choson-The Last Dynasty

42: Korea Choson-The Last Dynasty

By the 19th century, the Choson people had become suspicious of outsiders. See how they navigated Japanese aggression in the 19th century, as well as the competition between Japan, China, and Russia. This lecture concludes with a look at the Japanese occupation of Korea in the first half of the 20th century and sets the stage for the next two lectures.

29 min
Medieval Japan-Samurai and Shoguns

43: Medieval Japan-Samurai and Shoguns

Enter what historians sometimes call Japan's "medieval period," in which military governors known as "shoguns" commanded the state. Look at the Kamakura, Muromachi, and Tokugawa Shogunate periods, as well as the famous samurai warriors who played a distinctive role in Japanese life. Then turn to the era's entertainment culture.

29 min
Tokugawa and Meiji Japan

44: Tokugawa and Meiji Japan

Following a political crisis in the 19th century, Emperor Meiji enacted a complete political, economic, and social reorganization of Japan, which transformed the country into a modern global and military industrial power. Watch as the nation became an imperial power and see what led to the Japanese role in World War II.

29 min
The People's Republic of China

45: The People's Republic of China

The last section of the course turns to a look at the 20th century and Eastern civilization today. Begin with a look at the political rebellions in China that led to the establishment of today's republic. You'll meet Mao Zedong, Sun Yatsen, and Chiang Kai-shek, and you'll witness the conflicts between Nationalist and Communist parties.

28 min
Isolation and Cold War Conflicts

46: Isolation and Cold War Conflicts

Continue your study of the transformation of Eastern civilization in the 20th century with an examination of the cold war and the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. You'll investigate the wars in Korea and Vietnam and learn about the global causes and local impact of each conflict.

29 min
The Rise of the East Asian Tigers

47: The Rise of the East Asian Tigers

In the later 20th century, Mao's successors led China through what has been dubbed the "four modernizations"-significant progress in agriculture, industry, science and technology, and defense. See how China has adapted to the global world, the role of Hong Kong, and the emergence of other "Asian tigers" in the global economy.

29 min
The Enduring Ideas of Eastern Civilization

48: The Enduring Ideas of Eastern Civilization

End your journey through the story of Eastern civilization by reflecting on the role of East Asia in the world today. What insights do the events at Tiananmen Square in 1989 shed on the people of China? Will China eventually democratize? What will become of China's One Child Policy? How will the story of Eastern civilization continue to unfold?

37 min