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?

  • numbers Explore the geography and climate of China to understand how and why societies developed as they did.
  • numbers Examine the great Chinese philosophies that began during the Zhou Dynasty, like Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism.
  • numbers Delve into the impact of the Silk Road: the pathway that connected China with the West during the Han Dynasty.
  • numbers Trace the spread of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam throughout Southeast Asia.
  • numbers 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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Foundations of Eastern Civilization is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 87.
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
Date published: 2015-06-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Goes well with other Great Courses China/ Asia As I have said before I save my 5-stars for the very best. This course is close and I would like to give it 4.5 stars but the system will not let me. I think there was a little too much emphasis on Chinese culture and it's impact on Eastern Asia. Countries the course mentions, other than China, in East Asia had other influences and 'home grown' aspects to their cultures. I agree with a few other reviews; the Professor's pronunciation of Chinese is a bit strange. I'm no expert on the Chinese language but I have been there six times over the last 30 years and his pronunciation was definitely strange to me. However, that does not detract from the value of the course. This course would go very well with The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes, Yao to Moa, and The Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition. All of the above mentioned courses have prompted me to suggest it is time for the Great Courses to do a separate course on the history and development of the Indian sub-continent and Hindu culture. In addition, although Islam is discussed in several Great Courses, it is time for a separate and comprhensive course on the history, development, spread of Islam. It should include a detailed discussion of the various forms of Islam, interpretation of the Quran, Islam's great thinkers, and the forms of Sharia Law.
Date published: 2015-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Good! He is a good and captivating professor, and I had the sense of finally grasping the enormity of the Far East history and culture. And am excited to learn more.
Date published: 2015-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A LOT!!! Prior to hearing this course, I have never heard an academic course on Eastern Civilization. This course was fantastic. It was brimming with content and insight on Eastern Civilization, and most important I think – it focuses on the foundations – just as is promised in the title. The content is VERY expansive, presuming to go over the narrative history of all of Eastern Asia over four Millennia. Professor Benjamin lays down the ground rules for the course in the first lecture: Geographically the subjects are first of all China, with substantial coverage of Japan and Korea also provided and a less substantial coverage of Southeastern Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) also provided. By "civilization" we mean sedentary culture as opposed to the Nomadic cultures that were so prevalent in the Eurasian steppes and had in fact have a huge impact on the Eastern civilizations. The important term is foundations. What is meant by this term are the long term, cultural, philosophical, political, economic and religious structures that developed in the East. The course is primarily narrative in nature, following the history in several main threads. The most significant thread is the narrative history of China. Professor Benjamin does pause this narrative (leaving the listeners somewhat in suspended animation) to pursue other important threads. One such thread for example, is a five lecture discussion of the Silk Road. A triad of threads (some ten lectures long) discusses the narrative histories of Korea, japan and Southeast Asia (stopping the narrative at different eras for each and continuing later), and there are some thematic threads as well. The overall impression of the content is that it is A HUGE amount of ground to cover, even in a course of forty eight lectures. Moreover, the course is really quite disjointed in its focus and its narrative. This would have been a big problem if the course were focusing on the narrative history of the region, but this is not what Professor Benjamin set out to do in this course. Instead he introduces many foundational aspects of Eastern Asia, and demonstrates their behavior and evolution over time. In fact, the goal of the course is to study these foundations and find out how they manifest themselves in the narrative history. From this perspective, the course is highly coherent and focused. A lot of these "foundations" are very distinctly Eastern. Prime examples are the Eastern philosophies such as Confucianism and Daoism, both of which started long before the birth of Christ and are still dominant forces in Eastern governance to this very day. The adoption of Buddhism and its adaptation to suit the special cultures and tastes of the East is discussed and demonstrated at length, in many different geographies and in many different eras. Another key theme or "foundation" is the influence of China on all of the other East Asian civilizations discussed. In all cases, China is like the sun in the Solar system around which everything revolves, but each planet is still a separate entity with its own particular and peculiar aspects. In many cases, China conquered and ruled many of its neighbors for much of their history. This is certainly true of Korea and Vietnam, and it had an absolutely pivotal effect on the evolution of the culture of these countries. The interactions of the Eastern Civilizations with the nomadic tribal "Barbarians" of the Eurasian steppes is another key theme. This key aspect makes itself apparent in China's interactions of the Han dynasty with the Xiongnu on the Northern border. The culmination of this interaction was with the forming of the Mongol Empire in the late twelfth century which conquered China and set the Yuan dynasty in China. Professor Benjamin is a very good teacher. His Australian accent was refreshing, different and fun to listen to. he is obviously very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the subject. His disposition was friendly, yet serious and seemed to say "right, we have a lot of work to do so let's get to it". The lectures were quite fast paced and packed with content; but as I have said, if one focuses on the foundational terms and not on the details it is really not that overwhelming. Particularly I appreciate the fact that in retrospect, after completing the course, I see that this course is well planned and coherent, and very nicely achieves the goals that it sketches in the first lecture.
Date published: 2015-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and well-researched course! I have deep respect for the wealth of research, knowledge and the well thought-out organization of the materials. A broad-view topic such as this one that covers the history of several thousand years is far from being easy to make it comprehensible to all viewers and to hold people's attention through the 48 courses--- Bravo, professor Craig Benjamin! I am a Chinese born in South Vietnam but educated in French--- I am constantly learning about my ancestral lineage that has deeply impacted the Eastern shores. I have traveled extensively throughout Asia through the years, for business and for culture pleasure/learning. I have had many discussions with scholars and laypersons alike about this topic that I'm fascinated with and in search for, but a lot of times ended in overwhelm or frustration, especially with the complexity of the long dynastic history of China that has influenced the Eastern countries in profound ways. Professor Benjamin made it interesting, captivating and even easy to understand--- I find myself looking forward to pursue this course with more and more heightened attention. Needless to say, it is impossible to cover any of the topics in depth with only a half-hour course on each title, but this wisely organized chronology of the courses can easily propel people to further research or learn from any of the subjects covered. Professor Benjamin conveyed a real care and interest in the topics; and he stayed as neutral as possible while describing history in a compelling way--- the biases seem quite minor to me. My main suggestions for any future improvements are in these areas: -More visuals in the DVD to help with easier, more colorful understanding/reference of people and places. The drawn maps were very helpful. -More accurate pronunciation of the Asian names through the historical periods; and show the writings of names/places on-screen for longer intervals of time, so viewers can follow the descriptions and the stories better. -India was not mentioned at all. I know this country and its profound culture is a long course in itself, but it would have been meaningful to state clearly right from the beginning why India was omitted in this course, and why its influence in the Eastern cultural foundation had to be addressed in another course. Other than the above suggestions, this is an excellent achievement of a project as a foundational education to all--- opening accessible ways for deeper inquiries and research. My hats-off to professor Benjamin!
Date published: 2015-02-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Consistent Excellence! I wish I had taken this course before I went to some of these countries. This professor's knowledge has deeply increased my love for the rich history of these countries. Thank you ! Thank you!
Date published: 2015-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thank you Prof. Benjamin This is the best course I have listened to so far and Prof. Benjamin is the best lecturer. His lectures are well organized, clear, very interesting and a pleasure to listen to. Thank you Prof. Benjamin for doing such an outstanding job on this course!
Date published: 2015-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent survey course on China and East Asia This was my first survey course on Chinese history since my undergraduate days as a history major, and it's a great introduction to the topic. Prof. Benjamin clearly loves the topic and is an engaging, enthusiastic presenter. He does an excellent job of laying out several thousand years of Chinese history, with some side trips to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. This course is well worth the investment of time if you're looking for a broad overview of East Asian history.
Date published: 2015-02-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing! The title for this series of lectures given by Professor Craig Benjamin is a misnomer. It deals not with all Eastern civilization(s) but essentially with China, Korea and Japan. Little is said about, for instance, India, Indonesia or the Philippines. The approach is not foundational or synthetic but very classically based on a broad historical survey. Totalling 48 lectures, the series is too long. Worse, the material is poorly organized, with chronological groupings of lectures on a specific country followed by a return to the past for a similar sequence on another nation. Things would be a lot more pedagogical if the course were broken up into three shorter ones, each dealing separately with China, Korea or Japan. Professor Benjamin’s unfailing enthusiasm does not suffice to alleviate many aggravating traits: • oftentimes, unconnected tidbits of information are delivered with the apparent intent to impress more than to inform, as a tour guide would do; • time and again, Professor Benjamin pointlessly insists on the superiority of Chinese culture at various moments in history; • he strives to pronounce Chinese, Korean and Japanese names as in each language what makes them difficult to grasp and is patently absurd : are we to say Al Maghreb for Morocco, Moskva for Moscow or Firenze for Florence ? • he appears to give in to laughable Maoist propaganda, quoting for instance the anecdote of Mao heroically swimming across the Yangtze River at age 72; • he fails to realize that the Western hemisphere refers to the North and South American continents and the Eastern to Asia, Africa and Europe. Though certainly not devoid of substance, this series can only be recommended to those unwilling to wait for totally revised offerings.
Date published: 2015-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent course on a vast and complex subject This course contains 48 lectures and tackles a massive subject. It covers the history of China and east Asia from prehistoric, even pre-Homo sapiens, times to today including the succession of dynasties, the government, the philosophy, the religions, the culture, the technologies, the geography, and the interactions of the region with the rest of the world. Approximately two thirds of the time is devoted to China, the remainder being concentrated on Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. It is impossible not to have quibbles with a course that is this ambitious, with the areas of criticism differing from listener to listener, depending on their prior knowledge and particular expectations. However, it is my opinion that Professor Benjamin has done an extraordinarily good job of organizing and delivering this very complex material. The course is well-structured, clear, and presented with great enthusiasm. It also forms an excellent companion to the outstanding course, The Fall and Rise of China by Professor Richard Baum which covers the very recent history of China in much more detail.
Date published: 2014-12-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Big History - China This is a good course if you know little about China and want to garner an overview of culture, religion, art and literature set against a vast sweep of history. The professor is entertaining and spins a good descriptive yarn. Where it falls down is as an actually history course. It has the breadth of the Pacific Ocean and a depth of several inches. Journalists are supposed to answer the questions Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. I've always thought these six questions were important to history as well. In this course 4 of these questions are answered quite well and 2 are given a wide berth. Who is broadly answered well as in Chinese, Confusion or Ming Dynasty, answered reasonably well for important people and especially women and poorly for the lowly peasants who we rarely meet. What happened and When it happened is covered solidly as we learn that dynasties rose and fell on certain dates and that silk road trade occurred in certain time frames. Where is also there for China, Korea, Japan and more. What is missing or at least glossed over are the deeper questions of Why and How. Dynasty slips into dynasty with little mention of why or even how one dynasty fell and another arose. Battles are virtually absent from this history with even the most important garnering only a few minutes. Instead of historical depth we get broad trends of history, commerce, religion, art and women's issues with stories of interesting people tossed into the mix for good measure. This is my experience in most Big History as Professors rarely sweat the historical details but prefer generalizations and comparisons. This generally leads to courses that are content-lite and more about PBS adult learning than college level courses. For a company specializing in college courses, this trend might be even more frightening than the one toward wine tasting, meditation, gambling odds and tai chi.
Date published: 2014-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive history The presenters breadth and depth of knowledge on the subject is simply amazing. He makes a potentially anesthetizing subject truly fascinating.
Date published: 2014-11-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Amazing Total of Information There was a lot to like about this course, and it held my attention through all forty-eight lectures. There were also a few respects, in my opinion, in which it could have been better. Here are some of the praiseworthy points: 1. Professor Benjamin covered a vast range of history spanning several millennia. The lectures were jam-packed with information. If, instead of a DVD course, this had been a book, then I would have called it 'a real page-turner.' 2. The professor spoke with enthusiasm and intensity, and he seemed to have prepared the material thoroughly that he wanted to present. 3. Professor Benjamin organized his lectures effectively, even when that meant deviating from a strictly chronological approach. 4. There were 'no punches pulled' when reprehensible behaviours were reported, whether these were actions done by Oriental peoples and their leaders or by imperialists from the Occident. 5. Because I now feel motivated to learn more about the subjects under discussion, I know this course deserves to be rated as an above-average learning experience. Here are several considerations that have led me to rank Foundations of Eastern Civilization just a bit lower than the very best of The Great Courses in my collection: 1. Closed Captioning (had it been available) would have been very helpful to me as a viewer, even though I don't actually have hearing impairment. I say this because Professor Benjamin's pronunciation tended to be rushed and inconsistent. It is, of course, possible to study the names of people and places by consulting the course guide book or transcript book after a lecture has been viewed, but I prefer to feel that I can do that to clear up uncertainties rather than that I must. 2. I have noticed that some reviewers claimed that pronunciation of Chinese vocabulary in the course was often simply wrong. Though I am personally unable to judge that, I do know that some German words and Japanese words were mispronounced. 3. During these lectures, the provision of illustrative sidebars, spelled-out vocabulary, maps, photos, and video clips was a little odd. Sometimes, very simple words (e.g., loyalty) were spelled out on the screen, yet no captions were displayed to help with keeping straight truly unfamiliar names and other words. Occasionally, a map or photo didn't seem well-matched with what Professor Benjamin was saying at the time. For example, when the professor first mentioned pastoral nomads, a photo was flashed on the screen showing people and horses transporting what looked to me like a giant kettle. My wife was able to enlighten me by identifying that as a yurt; however, yurts weren't even mentioned in either the lecture or the guide book. I was left wondering if Professor Benjamin even knew which picture had been chosen to illustrate pastoral nomads. If he had, I imagine he would have at least explained to his listeners what was in that startling picture. 4. A few of Professor Benjamin's generalizations seemed to me to be unconvincing or inadequately supported by his cited evidence. For example, he argued that Mahayana Buddhism had a stronger appeal to the Chinese population because it offered an easier path to salvation than other forms of Buddhism; however, the Buddhist sources that I've consulted say that salvation is simply a non-Buddhist concept. Similarly, when the professor concluded that Legalism won out over Confucianism and Daoism after China's Hundred Schools of Thought era primarily because, philosophically, it was 'the system that worked,' I was skeptical, thinking the lecture material itself made it seem that Legalism more or less 'rode in on the coattails' of the militarily most-dominant group. All in all, I do wish to thank Professor Benjamin for tackling so ambitious an undertaking as this detailed course on the Foundations of Eastern Civilization and for really making me think.
Date published: 2014-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Course! Dr. Benjamin presents a very informative and entertaining course. As exhaustive as the course is, the lectures are so well orgamized and delivered that the listener has no problem keeping up with the journey across miles and millenia. Today the importance of China and environs cannot be overstated. Dr. Benjamin's course goes a long way toward the goal of deepening our understanding and appreciation of Eastern Civilization. A truly GREAT COURSE!
Date published: 2014-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best of the Great Courses I would look to the other 5-star ratings for particulars on the positive qualities for this course. The course is extraordinary. Dr. Benjamin presents this information with passion and exuberance that you won't find with many other courses (or lecturers anywhere. The sweep of the material covered is amazing and perhaps a little too ambitious. But as a proponent of "Big History," Dr. Benjamin's approach provides some critical insights into the cultures and psychology of East Asians that will provide a often-missed context for understanding these cultures today. My travels to China and Southeast Asia have taken on a new context after having gone through this course. Some reviewers have been critical of Dr. Benjamin's coverage of more contemporary 20th Century historical developments, but I think the course provides an essential context for rereading much of this recent history in a new light. Some examples that come to mind include the indo-Chinese Wars and recent #and current conflicts between China and Viet Nam. My only wish is that Dr. Benjamin or one of his colleagues would take on developing a course on Southeast Asia in particular. The confluence of Indian, Muslim, and Chinese cultures (as well as Majapahit and other more ancient influences# in places like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand are underserved by popular history but may have major influences over developments in Southeast Asia as China rises to reassert itself as the "Middle Kingdom."
Date published: 2014-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course This was a great course, and I learned a lot about Chinese history and culture. I would recommend this course to others.
Date published: 2014-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterful Presentation of a Lot of History Having a technical background, I generally avoided history courses in college. This course was a real eye opener for me because it is so much more than dates and battles. When I completed the course, the concepts fit together very well for me, considering I started from knowing very little of the history of the East. I have traveled there and studied some of the languages in the past. This course helped me make sense of so much. I was very impressed with the professor's presentation style and appreciated the material about the silk roads. It's always great to study about areas of the professors' specializations. Studying this course was a real pleasure and I'm very happy with the video download version because of the many wonderful resources, including great maps, which were presented and explained. The sections of the course covering Thailand, Viet Nam and Korea were especially enlightening to me.
Date published: 2014-07-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A tempest in a teapot For those who appreciate this lecture series, I beg you to review its content, or rather the lack thereof. Sweeping generalizations, tediously prologued rhetoric, and an exhausting series of parallels between ancient thought and modern concerns (without the faintest awareness of anachronism), make this lecture series an exercise in professorial bluster. There are precious few facts, fewer direct quotes or references to primary sources, and a maddening lack of historical context. The amount of actual information delivered per lecture could be scribbled down on a cocktail napkin.
Date published: 2014-06-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Foundations of Eastern Civiloization Great subject, but I had issues with some of the subject emphasis. Much too much on prehistory/paleolithic and neolithic eras. Also too many lectures on the Silk Road, although I suppose one must cut the instructor some slack inasmuch as he is an expert on the Kushan empire. Finally I had difficulty understanding his presentation, including his tendency drop his voice too often at the end of sentences and his too rapid pronunciation of Asian names and places, difficult for western listener.
Date published: 2014-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Cold-Blooded Murder of the Chinese Tongue I am a third of the way through the course and the content is excellent. However, it has one almost fatal flaw. The professor hopelessly mispronouces the Chinese names and words he is talking about. Occasionally they are unrecognizable but more frequently they are simply grating, and bring to mind Professor Higgen's quip in the 1964 musical "My Fair Lady" describing Liza's excruciating pronouciation of English: "By right she should be taken out and hung, for the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue". I have no problems with Professor Benjamin's Australian English, but prehaps he could take a one or two week course on Chinese pronunciation? As it is, his pronuncication of Mo Zi - Mowtsy - makes me think Mo Zi must have been one of the three stooges. Allan Marson
Date published: 2014-05-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Dissapointed I got this course because I had spent two tours to Japan and a couple of TDYs to Korea and wanted to learn more about these two countries. What a disappointment. For a course that spent 24 hrs giving information only 4 hours was devoted to Japan and Korea (two hours each) and only 1/2 hour on all of Southeast Asia. The rest (about 18 hours) was all on China including the last lecture. On the lectures on Japan he didn't mention anything about the Anius, who are indigenous to Japan and were first mentioned in 1264. He also mentioned the military bases on Japan but didn't include Yokota AB. Nothing was mentioned about the Philippine Islands. Now maybe the PI is not considered part of the Far East but it's still in the same theater. To me, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia got the "bum's rush" on this course.
Date published: 2014-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Survey of East Asia This course (video) takes the student on a fascinating journey through the history of some of the Earth's oldest civilizations. Dr. Benjamin superbly presents the philosophy, politics, economy, culture,religion, social pressure, and technology of the region over 5000 years. The course is focused on China, Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia but occasional forays are made into Central Asia, India, Russia, and even ancient Rome to the extent these influence the East Asia culture and economies. Dr. Benjamin adroitly addresses key mysteries such as how Confucianism and other philosophies grew out of a period of great conflict in China, yet persisted in their influence throughout East Asia for 25 centuries. He explains how Buddhism, developed in India, became the major religious influence throughout China, Korea, SE Asia, and to a large extent in Japan, while it did not become as popular where it started compared to Hinduism or even Islam. He explains how the Silk Road began, how it facilitated the first "globalization", how it lasted for 500 years, fell apart, and came back for another 300 year stint. A great irony to be learned is how China went to great lengths to protect its intellectual property concerning the origins of silk and its manufacture. Dr. Benjamin teaches how high fashion among women in Rome lead to prosperity in China, while nearly bankrupting the Roman state. He introduces the student to the mysterious Kingdom of the Kushan which plays a key role in economic, cultural, and religious exchange. The student will learn how despite the fact that several Chinese dynasties lasted for centuries, the name China came from a dynasty that only lasted 15 years. The student will learn that Chinese philosophy influenced the European Enlightenment and how China had its own Industrial Revolution some 700 years before Europe. Dr. Benjamin teaches how China once had the world's greatest Navy and largest ships which were capable of encountering the Americas, but he explains why they didn't. One learns that Korea and Vietnam were not just split into North and South as artifacts of the Cold War but had been partitioned this way for much of their history. Dr. Benjamin shows how people migrated to Japan, how that country was influenced by China and Korea yet developed its own identity as it migrated from an Empire, to a Shogunate, back to an Empire. This is just a small sample of discoveries the course offers the student. Dr. Benjamin is a passionate lecturer, who uses vocal inflection and body language very effectively. He unfolds a captivating story as he transports the student and himself back in time and place. His lectures are well organized and mesh well together even as he occasionally leaves one country to discuss another and later return back again. Dr. Benjamin is clearly versed in "Big History", snippets of which he weaves into this course as he describes the importance of geography to developments in the region, even taking a segue into plate tectonics to explain Japan's uniqueness in this regard. The production quality of the video is first rate. Maps are essential to a course like this and those used clearly illustrate the location and evolution of the various dynasties. The photographs, artwork, and occasional video clip are well integrated into the lectures and add significant value. The use of side-by-side video and text as well as picture in picture is very effective.The accompanying music fits the topic; it is so compelling that at the end of each disc I actually let the credits run to the end simply to hear the music. The course guide is very good. The lecture summaries cover most of the main points of the lectures and a comprehensive bibliography is included. Minor disappointments are the lack of a timeline or biographical notes. I found a timeline online to address that concern, but given the similarity of the names of many of the players in this saga, biographical notes would be a welcome addition. If you've ever been to East Asia, have an interest in going, or are just interested in how civilization evolved in this most populous region of the planet, then this is the course for you. I have been to China, Korea, Japan and much of SE Asia many times on business. I wish I had taken this course beforehand, but this course made me want to go back for pleasure as I missed so much. I recommend this course with great enthusiasm.
Date published: 2014-05-21
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