Culture, War, and Major Events in Asian History

Exploring the Historical Impact of Asia

The history of Asia is filled with crucial events and cultural advances. Battles decided the fate of nations, wars rewrote the continent's maps, protests rocked governments, and natural disasters afflicted the people. There were also great inventions that improved everyday life and new arts to bring enjoyment and expression to the peoples of Asia.

Chinese Soldiers Marching with Weapons
This glimpse of a battalion of Mukden forces marching to the advance posts at Chinchow is one of the first actual photographs to be made of the Sino-Japanese conflict from the Chinese side. Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Over the centuries, many wars have been fought in the vast area known as Asia. Some stand out in history, such as the Opium Wars and the Sino-Japanese War, both of which took place in the last half of 19th century.

Then, there are the modern wars like the Korean War and the Vietnam War. These saw heavy involvement from the United States and were key fights against Communism. Even later than these was the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

While few people will argue the impact that this conflicts had on Asia and the world as a whole, there are lesser-known battles that changed history as well. For example, did you know that the 331 B.C.E. Battle of Gaugamela opened Asia to invasion by Alexander the Great? More »

The iconic "Tank Man" photo from the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Beijing, China (1989).
The iconic "Tank Man" photo from the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Beijing, China (1989). Jeff Widener/Associated Press. Used with permission.

From the An-Lushan Uprising in the 8th century to the Quit India movement of the 20th and beyond, Asian people have risen in protest of their governments innumerable times. Unfortunately, those governments sometimes react by cracking down on the protestors. This, in turn, did lead to a number of notable massacres.

The 1800s saw unrest like the Indian Revolt of 1857 that transformed India and gave control to the British Raj. At the end of the century, the great Boxer Rebellion took place during which Chinese citizens fought against foreign influence.

The 20th century was not without rebellion and witnessed some of the most horrific in Asian history. The Gwangju Massacre of 1980 saw the death of 144 Korean civilians. The 8/8/88 Protests in Myanmar (Burma) saw a death toll of 350 to as many as 1000 people in 1988.

Yet, most memorable among modern protests is The Tienanmen Square Massacre of 1989. People in the West vividly remember the image of the lone protester—"Tank Man"—standing strong in front of a Chinese tank, but it went much deeper. The official number of dead was 241 though many believe it may have been as high as 4000, mostly student, protesters. More »

Ships on the flooded Yellow River in China, 1887.
Photo of the Yellow River floods of 1887 in central China. George Eastman Kodak House/Getty Images

Asia is a tectonically active place. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis are among the natural dangers inherent to the area. To make life even more precarious, monsoon floods, typhoons, sandstorms, and endless droughts can afflict different parts of Asia.

Sometimes, these natural forces influence the history of entire nations. For example, the annual monsoons played a large role in taking down the Chinese Tang, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties. Yet, when those monsoons failed to come in 1899, the resulting famine ultimately led to Indian independence from Britain.

At times, it is amazing the power that nature has over society. It just happens that Asian history is filled with this reminder. More »

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The Arts in Asia

Great kabuki actors train successors, who then assume their stage name, such as Ebizo Ichikawa XI.
Kabuki theater company of Ebizo Ichikawa XI, thirteenth generation of a famous acting lineage from Japan. GanMed64/Flickr

The creative minds of Asia have brought the world a huge number of stunningly beautiful art forms. From music, theater, and dance,  to painting and pottery, the people of Asia have created some of the most memorable art the world has seen.

Asian music, for instance, is both distinct and varied at the same time. The songs of China and Japan are memorable and memorizing. Yet, it is traditions like Indonesia's gamelon that are most captivating.

The same can be said of painting and pottery. Asian cultures have distinct styles in each and though they're recognizable as a whole, there are distinctions throughout the ages. Yoshitoshi Taiso's paintings of demons is a great example of the impact these made. Sometimes, as in the Ceramic Wars, conflict even broke out over art.

To Westerners, though, Asian theater and dance are among the most memorable forms of art. The Kabuki theater of Japan, the Chinese opera, and those distinctive Korean dance masks have long led to the allure of these cultures.

The Great Wall of China stretches over 21,000 kilometers (13,000 miles).
Banners decorate the Great Wall of China, one of the wonders of the world. Pete Turner/Getty Images

Great leaders and wars, earthquakes and typhoons—these things are interesting, but what about the lives of everyday people in Asian history?

The cultures of the Asian countries are varied and fascinating. You can dive as deep as you like into it, but a few pieces are particularly notable.

Among these are mysteries like China's Terracotta Army of Xian and, of course, the Great Wall. While Asian dress is always fanciful, the styles and hair of Japanese women throughout the ages are of particular interest. 

Similarly, the fashion, societal norms, and ways of life of the Korean people lead to much intrigue. Many of the first photographs of the country tell the country's story with great detail.

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    Mulberry Paper Making In Anhui Province
    The traditional techniques for handmade mulberry papermaking have a history of about 1,500 years. China Photos/Stringer/Getty Images

    Asian scientists and tinkerers have invented an enormous number of useful things, including some that you no doubt use every day. Possibly the most monumental of these is a simple piece of paper.

    It's said that the first paper was presented in 105 C.E. to the Eastern Han Dynasty. Since then, billions of people have written countless things down, both important and not so much. It is certainly one invention we would be hard-pressed to live without. More »