Foundations of Eastern Civilization

Course No. 3630
Professor Craig G. Benjamin, Ph.D.
Grand Valley State University
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Course No. 3630
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What Will You Learn?

  • Explore the geography and climate of China to understand how and why societies developed as they did.
  • Examine the great Chinese philosophies that began during the Zhou Dynasty, like Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism.
  • Delve into the impact of the Silk Road: the pathway that connected China with the West during the Han Dynasty.
  • Trace the spread of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam throughout Southeast Asia.
  • Discover little-known details about Japan's Kamakura, Muromachi, and Tokugawa shogunate periods.

Course Overview

So much of our historical knowledge is rooted in Western civilization, from the stories of ancient Greece and Rome to the intellectual developments of the Renaissance. But this history tells only part of the story of our global world. Eastern civilization has its own fascinating story, with consequences that matter deeply to our lives today.

How did Eastern civilization—particularly that of China, Korea, Japan, and the nations of Southeast Asia—develop? What do we know about the history, politics, governments, art, science, and technology of these countries? And how does the story of Eastern civilization play out in today’s world of business, politics, and international exchange?

Foundations of Eastern Civilization takes you on 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 these cultures together for thousands of years. Over the course of 48 ambitious 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.

In this course, you will travel across continents and over the ages to arrive at a full understanding of the Eastern world.

  • See how climate and geography allowed powerful civilizations to emerge in certain regions.
  • Discover the origins of the yin and yang cosmology, the Mandate of Heaven political philosophy, and Confucianism and Daoism.
  • Trace the spread of ideas between East and West, especially along the Silk Roads.
  • Explore the rise and fall of empires—some famous and others largely unknown.
  • Survey the role of Eastern civilization in the 20th and 21st centuries, and see what the future may hold for the “Asian tiger” economies.

“To truly understand the modern world, it is essential to know something about the many extraordinary contributions Eastern civilization has made,” Professor Benjamin says. “Simply put, it is not enough to know just the ‘Western’ half of the story any more—both Eastern and Western are critical to understanding our present and our future.”

Foundations of Eastern Civilization offers you just that—the chance to fill in the other half of the story. You may be surprised to realize that all of us have been students of Eastern civilization, even if we have not been aware of it. Filled with captivating stories and surprising details, this course is an excellent overview of one of the most dynamic regions in the world.

Immerse Yourself in a Rich Cultural History

This course covers an impressive amount of ground, from the emergence of early cultures 10,000 years ago to the booming economies of the 21st century. China is at the hub of Eastern civilization, and when you complete this course, you’ll come away with a comprehensive understanding of its intriguing history:

  • Uncover the Xia dynasty, which was long thought to be legendary but for which there is now some archaeological evidence.
  • Study the mysterious “oracle bones” and the development of Chinese writing in the Shang dynasty.
  • Examine the development of different administrative structures, educational programs, and civil service exams.
  • Delve into the remarkable agricultural and industrial revolutions that occurred during the Song dynasty.
  • Learn about China’s 19th-century difficulties, including opium wars, humiliating trade agreements with the British, peasant uprisings, and, eventually, the revolution that ended the dynastic system.

Along the way, you’ll meet some of the most extraordinary people in Chinese history: emperors and empresses, soldiers and envoys, administrative eunuchs, philosophers, and more. You’ll also consider the myriad inventions and innovations that drove the Chinese economy—including gunpowder, paper, the porcelain industry, and paper money.

While China is home to some of the great moments in world history, it is far from the only significant nation in the East. Professor Benjamin takes you on several extended forays to examine a wealth of other cultures:

  • Discover the many dynasties of Korea, the “land of the morning calm.”
  • Explore the extraordinary history of Japan, including a deep examination into the era of medieval shoguns and samurai warriors.
  • Find out about the Mongols, who had the largest continuous empire in world history.
  • Venture into India to witness the rise of Buddhism and other Indus civilization religions.
  • Witness the amazing spread of Islam throughout Southeast Asia, as well as the impact of Christian missionaries.
  • Unpack many of the 20th century’s most significant wars, including the Japanese aggression that culminated in World War II and the cold war conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

Discover the Ancient Roots of Eastern Society

What unifies the foundations of Eastern civilization? With all the many cultures and nations and peoples—some of whom are little known outside highly specialized circles—what can we say about these societies as a whole?

By going back to the beginnings of Eastern civilization, Professor Benjamin shows you the groundwork for today’s global village. You’ll be surprised to find out just how far back some of the modern-day divides go. For instance, the conflicts between northern and southern Korea originated hundreds of years ago and have their roots in the peninsula’s geography.

Eastern civilization today is grounded in ancient history in a number of ways, one of the most interesting of which is the way Eastern nations think about human nature, government, and economics. Whereas the Western nations tend to take an individualist approach to society—with ideas originating in ancient Greece and Rome and expanded on during the Enlightenment—Eastern nations still tend to take a collectivist tack.

This collectivist approach has its roots in the Warring States Era at the end of the Zhou dynasty, when philosophers reflected on human nature and the best way to organize society.

  • Confucius and his followers created a model of ethical leadership based on education and moral behavior.
  • Daoists withdrew from society and looked to harmony in the cosmos and the natural world.
  • Legalists imposed gruesome punishments to enforce the rule of law.

Each of these philosophies had different notions of human nature and laid out a different path to forming an orderly state. These philosophies provide an important foundation for Eastern thought, and their approaches to government are completely different from our conceptions in the West. Yet in today’s interconnected world, it’s more important than ever to understand the cultural foundations of countries with which we interact, do business, and negotiate global politics.

Witness a Dynamic Cultural Exchange

During the Han dynasty, the Silk Roads connected East and West and enabled a surprising amount of cross-cultural interaction and exchange. The West received goods and information from the East—including silk and spices—but the East also learned about the West, that other civilizations existed beyond the mountains, deserts, and nomadic tribes of Central Asia. Professor Benjamin takes you on a voyage along the Silk Roads and introduces you to many of the unsung heroes of history:

  • The Xiongnu
  • The Yuezhi
  • The Kushans
  • The Parthians
  • The Mongols

You’ll also meet the Chinese ambassador Zhang Qian, whose breathtaking escapades blazed a trail for the Silk Roads. You’ll travel the caravan routes, consider what it would have been like to stop at one of the many “caravanserai”—the inns where merchants would stop along the trade routes—and study the Kushan Empire, a little-known and little-studied “lost civilization” of important middlemen in what is now Afghanistan.

In addition to the Silk Roads, you’ll explore the vibrant cross-cultural exchange within the East itself. China heavily influenced Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia, yet these nations also evolved as independent, distinct cultures. How did these countries develop? What was their relationship to China? How did China influence them, and how did they influence China?

Enjoy an Inside Look at a Fascinating Civilization

Foundations of Eastern Civilization is a sweeping course, taking you across time and space. But after providing the broad strokes, Professor Benjamin zooms in on specifics to give you a flavor for the texture of daily life. You’ll learn about massive building projects such as the Great Wall of China. You’ll encounter the great art and architecture, the poetry and literature, and the many other artifacts from the East:

  • Ancient burial tombs in China
  • Chulmun pottery from ancient Korea
  • Calligraphy, poetry, and novels from the great Tang dynasty
  • The oldest surviving printed document in world history
  • Famous Japanese novels

Throughout all of these lectures, Professor Benjamin is a lively guide and a dazzling storyteller, taking you inside the great cities where riches abound—jewels, silks, and great works of art. He shares several stories from his visits to these locations, and many of his personal photographs add a charming touch to the course. Indeed, his enthusiasm for the subject and his remarkable style of lecturing will open up an entirely new world for you as he unfolds the story of Eastern civilization.

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48 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    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. x
  • 2
    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. x
  • 3
    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. x
  • 4
    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. x
  • 5
    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. x
  • 6
    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. x
  • 7
    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. x
  • 8
    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. x
  • 9
    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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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? x

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Your professor

Craig G. Benjamin

About Your Professor

Craig G. Benjamin, Ph.D.
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....
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Reviews

Foundations of Eastern Civilization is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 77.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent content I wish the course had ended with the fall of the last dynasty -- only because it would have allowed more time for the previous eras. I've noticed some awkwardness with courses that begin in ancient times and end trying to cover the 20th Century -- it seems like a stretch. That said, the course is filled with interesting information, well-presented. I was comfortable with the ratio of China to other far eastern countries. Also, this course is a great complement to Barbarians of the Steppes. You should do Barbarians first.
Date published: 2018-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing lecturer A very important course, especially for North Americans as they see a changing balance of power in the world.
Date published: 2018-08-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Grand, sweeping course There is just so much to like about this course. It’s got everything, and it’s highly relevant…even today. I just wonder why it took me so long to get around to seeing it. The DVDs were worthwhile. I was satisfied with the number of maps, pictures, photos, etc. First, I have to say it’s very well organized. Each lecture starts out with a recap of the previous lecture, and not exactly a simple review. It connects the dots with the topic under consideration. And in each lecture, there are quite a few reminders of past rulers, events, or concepts. It is mostly chronological but not entirely, with just enough repetition to jog your memory. This course hits the sweet spot for covering a wealth of material in just enough depth that it’s not overwhelming to viewers. It’s never boring at all. 48 lectures go by in an instant, covering core achievements in politics, economics, society and culture, literature, religion, science, philosophy. It’s all there. Eastern history may be initially difficult to take in at first. I’d guess that most of us have a lot of background knowledge regarding Western presidents, kings, battles and wars, big events, turning points, geography, culture, etc. With that in mind, Eastern history may be a bit off putting the first time around. It’s just hard to take in names, places, and historical events and philosophies that aren’t second nature. Luckily, Professor Benjamin is the perfect guide to take you through the Foundations of Eastern Civilization. Professor Benjamin is a wonderful speaker and storyteller, very animated and confident. He comes across as highly knowledgeable and appears to love what he does. And it’s infectious. So, I will get Big History of Civilizations next. Hopefully, TGC will invite him to do another course in the future. Count me in.
Date published: 2018-07-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Foundations of Eastern Civilization I bought this course to learn as I am driving from client to client. Since my knowledge of the East is minimal, the geography of the area was also minimal. I had to go to the library , borrow an atlas and copy some maps. I am able to read the chapters in the guide at night and follow along with my maps when needed.I find the topic fascinating and the lecturer easy to follow.
Date published: 2018-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from foundations of eastern civilization One has the feeling that the lecturer has so thoroughly absorbed the cultural details and nuances that his knowledge is complete and that he is delighted to tell us about it.
Date published: 2018-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from No matter how much you know, you'll learn a lot I've listened to all the other courses on Asian history and have done a moderate amount of reading in the field. This is a relaly fascinating overview of the region.
Date published: 2018-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well worth it; great foundation for further study I am writing after completing my third viewing of the entire 48 lecture (24 hour) course within a year. That’s what it took for me to have a reasonably good grasp of Professor Benjamin’s magnificent achievement. I can only guess at the effort that went into putting this program together. I couldn’t recommend this course more highly but it does require a serious effort on the part of the listener/viewer. After all, it covers more than 4000 years of East Asian dynastic and cultural history, with a little topography thrown in. One side benefit is exposure to a relatively new field - “Big History”, which is the subject of another Craig Benjamin course. The focus there apparently is a macro view of the development of global civilizations. One look at the “Foundations” lecture listings and descriptions shows the comprehensive nature of this offering, but it’s clear that each topic is a potential course in itself. One can only hope that Prof. Benjamin will pick a few topics and develop them into complete courses in the future. Excellent, enthusiastic delivery with plenty of visuals at appropriate times.
Date published: 2018-01-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A sweeping, cursory, and insubstantial treatment Too many details are given without any depth. Important points are not highlighted; they're often only presented as concluding remarks. This is the opposite of the more clearly defined method of introducing a major idea first, then following it up with details. The professors way is incomprehensible. Even after reading the guidebook, I often have no idea what points to take away from a lesson. Of course some lessons are treated better than others, but overall the substantial matter is often given mere cursory attention and the audience is bewildered with inconsequential details. For those who disagree, please ask yourself what the takeaway was from the lesson on the Kushan empire.
Date published: 2017-12-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In depth knowledge Information about history you will never get in most American educations!
Date published: 2017-11-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from 1/ This lecture is NOT about the Foundations of Eastern Civilization. It is basically only about China. Every lesson that concern another theme (Korea or Japan for example) was done in relation to China only. This would be okay if the title was Foundations of Chinese Culture, but it was not. 2/ Apart from Japan and Korea, other countries are barely glanced at. The lesson on Vietnam was so poor it brought almost no knowledge at all, and an incredible number of countries were only mentioned: Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, Tibet, Nepal. 3/ The book cover is the picture of THE MOST FAMOUS BHUTANESE SITE, even though Bhutan is one of these countries that were NEVER discussed about !!! The only mentioned of Bhutan was in the recitation of China's neighbors. I found this choice of picture both insulting and infuriating, especially considering the multiple territorial and societal conflicts that exist between China and Bhutan. 4/ Add to the poor quality of this lecture, I didn't like Professor Benjamin's organisation. His accent wasn't a problem, but the way he cut the lessons was confusing in multiple moments. Timeline is respected for a while, that goes back and forth in time and make it difficult to follow. Also, his explanation of Confucianism and Taoism was very abstract, the translation to the political world was not done properly. It was even worst for Buddhism. 5/ After listening to these 48 lectures, it became clear that the Professor has a fascination for China, and on purposely focused on the great aspect of this country's history. The terrible historical events were treated in a fast manner, unless they were provoked from an outside power towards China. It reached a point - specifically towards the end and the extremely under-developed lesson on Cold War - that I believe the Professor was paid by Chinese Government to bend the course in this direction. 6/ To go with my previous point, I found it very hard to accept the fact the Professor never mentioned Tibetan rich history, apart from a brief line during the Mongol lesson. The recent events, from the the reunification to the local unrest, the political conflict between Chinese government and the Dalai Lama, the destruction of so many
Date published: 2017-08-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Difficult topic to cover I appreciate the professor's enthusiasm and love of Eastern civilization which has made it fun to watch the lectures but there is too much repetition of basic ideas and insufficient detail to fully explain these ideas.
Date published: 2017-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bought this a month ago and look forward to listening to it every time I'm in car
Date published: 2017-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXCELLANT I have listened to many courses over the years and this is far and away the best. I purchased it because I have never had much interest in Eastern countries and thought it was about time to educate myself. The lectures are so well presented and inclusive and the professor so obviously loves his subject that I came away not want the series to end. I learned so much and enjoyed it all and I will listen to it again. Thank You
Date published: 2017-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great for travelers I bought this course to prepare for a trip to Japan, China and Thailand. It did for me what I had hoped. There was a good balance of history and culture, so that when I visited various sites in those countries, what I saw made more sense and I could better appreciate them. It is a broad introduction to Eastern Civilization. The professor was easy to listen to and each lecture was balanced between history and culture. His love for his subject came through. I also appreciated the conversational quality of his presentation. The course was well-organized, with a quick review of key topics when he necessarily had to take a detour from strict chronological presentation. I enjoyed the lectures on Japan, Korea and Vietnam, but wish he had included more of Southeast Asia, since I didn't feel nearly as prepared for Thailand as I had for Japan and China. His explanation of the differences in Buddhism in different areas was particularly helpful. The use of notes and pictures on the screen was excellent. They added to his lectures rather than being a distraction. I wholeheartedly recommend this course to anyone who has an interest in Eastern history and culture. Hopefully, there will be other courses with Professor Benjamin that will give more depth to some topics he introduced in this course.
Date published: 2016-11-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great content This was a very good overview of Eastern Civilization. I really enjoyed the course and the Professor had a great command over the events. I have two minor issues: 1. His pronunciation of Japanese names and places were very poor. This did not detract from the overall content but it was difficult to keep focus on the lectures regarding Japan. I am assuming he is a China expert and maybe did not have a background in Japanese language. It is a minor point but worth noting. 2. The course seemed to jump around quite a bit at the end. I would have preferred to have more of a linear timeline. Again, these are minor points and I would highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Sweeping Tour Through Time This is a fantastic and entertaining course taught by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic professor. This course explores the history of East Asia, specifically China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, from prehistoric times through the 20th Century. This is a lot of ground to cover in a twenty-four-hour course, but the professor does a skillful job of pacing himself and hitting the key highpoints through history. He returns repeatedly to the themes of politics, philosophy, economics, and women's rights as he takes the audience through this sweeping history lesson. I have spent considerable time in the past studying East Asian history, so there was very little new to me though I still feel like I learned a lot through the professor's ability to articulate recurrent themes. I took the course primarily as a refresher, and it more than served the goal. As someone already fairly well-versed in this history, I can say that I think the professor did an excellent job selecting what material to cover and what to skip in creating an overview course of this nature. He hit all of the necessary highpoints without bogging down or missing major details, which was very impressive. This is a perfect starting place for anyone who wants to know more about East Asian history. There is something to learn and enjoy for every student, regardless of whether you are a refugee of Western Civilization classes looking for a more global perspective on history or someone like me who has already studied this fascinating topic. I should add that the professor did a particularly good job summarizing the Korean War and the Vietnam War in about twenty minutes. Obviously, this is far too little time to devote to this topic. I would be one of the first in line to listen if the Great Courses used this professor to create a courses dedicated solely to these two important conflicts.
Date published: 2016-06-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 4.5 stars. A very good survey Bought the Audio Download, on sale (in a set). Would gladly pay full price for this course. 4.5 stars. A very good survey: this course covers a tremendous amount of information in the space of 24 hours. Given the vastness of the subject matter, I was not expecting an in depth study. I however learned a great deal which deepens my understanding of current events in Asia. All in all, listening to the 48 lectures was time well spent.
Date published: 2016-05-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Eastern History This is a great course on how the modern day East formed. You'll learn about important trade routes of the Silk Road, how the country formed from states from the Warring States Period to the unified country it is today, how Korea and Vietnam formed, conflicts between Japan and China, and many important figures throughout the ages. I have two courses on Eastern history and ideology and this one focuses mainly on internal Asian politics rather than how outside peoples have warred with them from various regions of the world, although they will mention the Battle of Midway, two atomic bombs being dropped, etc. You can tell he clearly enjoys the subject because he will pronounce the Asian words properly, rather than messing them up from how they are pronounced in English. I think this is important because if he had no respect for Asian culture it would just be disrespectful to the history and probably spread a bunch of lies. He even mentioned many of the ancient rituals they used to do such as having eunuch slaves and foot binding. You'll hear him talk about "peasants" very comfortably and I was a little uneasy hearing him speak so openly about different classes of people, as if anyone really has a control of which "class" they are born into, but I was willing to forgive that since the history was so interesting, and many times the peasants and nobles would be caught in revolution because of their conflicts with money so he would have to explain that, from different countries and languages and religions. They do also go into depth about religion, not just Buddhism, or the state religion of Communism, as many people call it during the Great Leap Forward, but also Taoism, Confucianism, legalism, and many other religions that gained popularity in that region of the world.
Date published: 2016-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Real Pleasure For more than a month I have looked forward to my 30-minute date with Craig Benjamin. His sweeping and superb overview of Eastern civilization covers a vast geography and several millennia, touching on political philosophy and practice, religion, art, social issues including gender, and much more; nevertheless, each lecture is coherent in itself, and never bores or confuses. As one who has always loved history but is somewhat weak on the non-Western side of things, I was especially appreciative of Prof. Benjamin's clarity and enthusiasm. This lecture series has given me a thirst to learn much more, and I am delighted to be able to turn now to Kenneth Harl's Barbarian Empires and Mark Ravina's Japan. Please may we have more courses on Asian history and culture - especially art! And I hope Craig Benjamin will return soon to your studio. His students are very lucky to have such a talented teacher!
Date published: 2016-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Foundations of Eastern Civilization I found Dr. Benjamin's course to be fantastic. It was rich and thorough and taught me so much about this part of the world. His enthusiasm was clear and made each lecture engaging. You can tell that he loves to teach and he loves this part of history.
Date published: 2016-01-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Good Content - Terrible Accent I have no problem with content presented. However, one cannot discuss with Chinese people because professor's accent is wrong many times that Chinese people cannot understand. I have several Chinese friends and if I mentioned the story of empire and names of emperor used in lecture, they don't understand. I have to explain the story before they respond with a different accent. It is very frustrating. He needs to study proper pronunciation of emperors.
Date published: 2015-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Foundations of Eastern Civilization Professor Benjamin is a fluent, articulate, personable, knowledgable, and fully engaging teacher. His ability to analyze and synthesize vast amounts of information is impressive, and he presents his material clearly and well. I hope that he develops more courses for the Great Courses.
Date published: 2015-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Best Of all the many Great Courses I have enjoyed this is without doubt the best, The material is exhaustive and very well presented. Professor Benjamin is clearly profoundly familiar with the subject(s) and his Big History approach is eye-opening. The people of the US should reflect on the turbulent history of China (in particular) - something of a cautionary tale!
Date published: 2015-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview The professor and an obvious love and enthusiasm for the topic. He is an excellent speaker and this is a great course for audio. The course is very informative. Highly recommended
Date published: 2015-10-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Professor with Excellent Presentation Skills There are many other reviews here which convinced me to purchase this course and there is no need to repeat them. The professor is excellent. My chief disappointment with this course is the paucity of supporting visual graphics. Most of the lectures are the old style "talking professor" with very few supporting pictures, maps, etc., reminding me of my college days 40 years ago, where multi-media didn't yet exist. Visually it is very weak, the professor's wonderful speaking skills not withstanding. My recommendation is for The Great Courses to incorporate more of the enormous wealth of visual material available to make their lectures more interesting and informative. In the end, this course overall was a disappointment, but I do not fault the professor.
Date published: 2015-10-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good History but Lack of Depth on the Foundations Overall: a solid course full of great history from a professor with an engaging style but there were also a number of lectures I found myself disinterested and wondering when a deep discussion of the foundations of an Eastern civilization would occur. Pluses: • The following topics were engaging: the history of China, all of its major dynasties, oracle bone inscriptions of the Shang dynasty, the silk roads, samurai Japan, and the evolution of the countries from conquerors to the conquered at various times in their histories • Eastern civilization was not just studied in isolation: interactions with the western world, comparisons to the western world at different points in time, and the examinations of which civilization was leading technological advances on the world scene at what times helped add perspective Minuses: • At times I wished the professor would’ve spelled the name of the dynasty or person he was discussing since he seemed to either mispronounce it or say it in a fast way that seemed rushed • At times the recounting of the rise and fall of dynasty after dynasty (especially in Korea and Japan) without any historical context of the ultimate legacy of that dynasty or providing perspective at a bigger picture level was monotonous and un-intriguing • Although the professor does a good job of continuously referencing the “foundations of Eastern civilization” in his lectures, the foundations themselves seemed light to me; Other than respect for elders, an emphasis on the collective vs. the individual, Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism (and even in these cases I found myself wishing the professor would’ve elaborated a little further on the key tenants or provided practical examples of their use in government, society, etc.) there seemed to be a lack of core foundations that would define an “Eastern civilization” • Breaking up the course into four distinct regions (China, Korea, Japan, and southeast Asia such as Vietnam) and discussing one region at a time for a number of centuries before switching to another led to a sense of hopping backwards and forward in time just a little too much; A more effective approach could’ve been discussing all four regions at the same time in a strict chronological narrative
Date published: 2015-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best presentation I have seen Others have already covered very well why this is a five star course. I would like to add that Professor Benjamin adds tremendously to my enjoyment and comprehension by his dynamic (using the term as in music) speaking and friend-to-friend facial expressions and his body language, and gestures. Some speakers emphasize words in a kind of beat that does not relate to the most important words of the sentence, but he uses modulation, along with body language and facial expression, to call attention to what is the point, the surprise, or the "we knew this was coming" word. I can't comment on how this would work as audio, but I certainly think that his visual presentation is far more important than the illustrations in my strong suggestion for getting the video. People learn in different ways, but for me, his presentation helps me stay in focus and helps me understand and remember the material.
Date published: 2015-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best This lecture series is easy to follow and is expertly and entertainingly delivered by Professor Benjamin. Some critiques of this series suggest that too much time is spent on China, and it is true that it is heavily weighted towards it, but when you consider the course title ("foundations") one cannot help but focus on the origins of most significant influence. And, anyway, Professor Benjamin presents it in such an interesting way it doesn't much matter if you allow yourself to just become absorbed by the material. Given the depth of the history of Eastern Civilization, a single lecture series could easily be focused on the nuances of a very short period within a specific country. One could imagine the challenge associated with tying it all together in a single series, but this observer has gained a meaningful understanding and a much broader interest in the history of the region. It has opened the door to future lectures, for which I will be seeking.
Date published: 2015-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview of a broad topic I viewed these classes mostly on the DVDs. I did listen to a couple of the DVDs in my car, and so only had the audio portion for most of those. I found the maps and photos to be useful, so I watched most of the second half of the course on the DVDs. Also, I found the second half to be more interesting and move more quickly than some of the lectures in the first half. I mention this in case you start watching this and it is not covering what you expect or find interesting. The course covers a lot a material, but the teacher does a good job of tying it all together. If you stick with it, I think it will find it worthwhile in its entirety. I fully enjoyed the course.
Date published: 2015-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from superb overview of Chinese and east Asian history The breadth of this course is staggering. It covers about 4,000 years of history with China given the most .weight because it was and is the behemoth of the region. I was generally familiar with Chinese history and had worked in China in the late 80s-early 90s but do not speak Chinese. Some of the important topics that most interested me: the 3 political philosophies of the Warring States period, Legalism, Daoism, and Confucianism, the sweep of Chinese history, the histories of Korea, early Japan and Vietnam, the Xiongnu and Silk Road, the description of ChangAn during the Tang dynasty. The course allowed me to see the current Chinese government as an extended form of imperial governance. Professor Benjamin seemed tense in the first few lectures but became more relaxed as the course proceeded. He had a unique way of pronouncing some of the Chinese names where he speeds up through the word and then emphasizes the last syllable. However, he does this in other languages and even in English at times. The maps were the only weak area with blobs of color but little topographical detail or location of urban centers. He mentioned the topography early but much of the warfare and location of states depends on natural barriers. There were some lectures that showed artwork but most video shots were of the professor. If you know the geography of east, central and southeast Asia, the audio version may be satisfactory. The Professor was highly organized, knew his topic, and gave a terrific course.
Date published: 2015-06-23
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