From 580 to 701, a series of events in East Asia would seal the fate of millions of lives. The significant events that led to the formations of nations were War and Unity of small tribes. Kingdoms rose from the many tribes and the many kingdoms would lead to the formation of three major countries including China, Japan and Korea.
In 580s, China unified for the first time in 400 hundred years . Since the Han dynasty, China has been unable to unify. However two emperors (Yang Jian and Emperor Wen) of the Sui dynasty will manage to unify China. Emperor Yang who usurped the throne was a tyrant and didn’t last very long. Yearning for Power and success, Yang lead a war against Korea. Peasants and Country side farmers would be forced in heavy military service . Later in 607, the second Sui emperor threatened Koguryo if their secret diplomatic relations with the Turks were to continue. The emperor would lead an armed inspection into Koguryo1.
China felt threatened since Koguryo had led an attack in Sui territory around 598 and the Turks were an emerging imperialistic empire1. The Sui army, assembled a million troops to invade Koguryo but was quickly expelled and retreated. According to (Lacombe 2011), this retreat would lead to annihilation of the Sui army. Later the Sui army would invade Koguryo again, however this time the army was obliged to return to the capital to deal with domestic disputes1.
In the early 7th century, each of the three Korean kingdoms (Silla, Paechke and Koguryo). felt threatened by its neighbors. All three kingdoms requested Chinese assistance. Silla would be the eventual winner of the Chinese assistance1. Koguryo had invaded China in 598 during the Sui reign, for obvious reason China offered it’s help to Silla instead. The Tang dynasty replaced the Sui and repeated the same mistakes. Between 644 and 658, Tang conducted five substantial campaigns against Koguryo2. Every time Koguryo replied with stiff resistance, as a result Tang adopt a new strategy and decided to ally with Silla2.
The new strategy being to outflank Koguryo by the south in alliance with Silla. The conditions of the alliance changed as Silla asked for military assistance against Paechke. Shortly after the agreement, Japan joins the conflict. According to Charles Lacombe, a combined Sillan and Tang troops in 660 was enough to successfully capture the Paechke capital. The Paechke royal family was brought back to China and imprisoned. However, a Paechke Prince who had been away in attendance at court in Japan was proclaimed by the Japanese as the new king. Later in 663, a Japanese expedition was launched to restore Paechke back.
Tang and Sillan navies sank four hundred Japanese warships which ended Japanese influence on the continent for a millennium2. Meanwhile throughout this decade, Koguryo was torn by internal conflict. The king was killed by Yon Kaesomun and appointed a figurehead, Yon dies in 666CE and left his sons quarreling among themselves for the throne2. One of the sons defected to Tang and brought an army with him, he was rewarded with an appointment as a Tang general. In 668, Chinese Tang dynasty relocated 5 percent of its population to Korea . In 607 during the first Chinese attacks on Koguryo, Japan felt compelled to contact the Sui dynasty fearing the attack at Koguryo might result into an expansion of China on the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago. Later in 645, the Taika coup in Japan happened coincidently as Tang China attacked Koguryo2.
Japan was drawn into this proxy war fearing they might be the next to suffer Chinese imperialism. As a result they used Paechke as a proxy state between them and China. Japan and China growth of imperialism are what led the 3 kingdoms to warfare. Paechke was backed by the Japanese, Silla By the Chinese and Koguryo was self-sufficient. This transnational turmoil would later lead to the unification of Korea. Korea would later grow a need to become self-sufficient, this will lead to the unity of the three kingdoms (Silla, Paechke and Koguryo) . The three kingdoms had no other choice than unification.
The first unity of Korea was in 676 and lasted until 935 C.E. According to (Seth 2006), short disunity of Korea occurred during this time but was short lived as the peninsula was reunited under Wang Kon. He named this new kingdom Koryo after Koguryo on of the three original kingdom. Another major reason why Korea united is mainly due to the relatively small size of the Korean peninsula compared to its neighbors China, Japan or Russia. During the 6th and 7th century, Buddhism spread from China to Korea, and Korean monks took it to Japan. The spread of Buddhism and the wise teachings of Confucius definitely influenced the continent into less warfare but didn’t generate long lasting peace3.
After this series of international wars, East Asia became peaceful in century. Notably during the reign of the Song dynasty from 960 to 1279 in China. And the final unification of Korea as Koryo. Despite this positive climate, peace never lasted as the Mongol Conquest followed a century after. East Asia endured tough times during the middle-ages but also had times of great prosperity, cultural, economic and artistic growth. All that despite the numerous conflicts. During the middle ages, Europe had felt significantly behind after the fall of the Roman Empire in 536CE. This led to a catastrophic knowledge loss. The only historic example of technology moving backward instead of forward. Europe fell in the dark ages as texts were lost, practical knowledge and intellectual knowledge were lost as a result (Curry 1993) . Barbarian invasion and internal revolts contributed to the massive chaos.
During the 16th century, Europe would strive again and this era was to be known as renaissance (rebirth). Europe suffered from differences in belief that led to this catastrophe. Belief can be the most uniting thing in the universe. If the belief is different between people, conflicts might arise. China, Japan and Korea all had different interpretations of Buddhism. China came up with the Zen Buddhism, Japan with Nichiren Buddhism and Korea Mahayana Buddhism (Lacombe 2011)2. They both Kept the most important and fundamental ideas of 4 Noble truths and the five Buddhism precepts. In contrast to East Asia, we have France, Italy and England. For many years, France and England would fight wars over Christianity and imperialism. In East Asia, religion was used to unite the people and the sovereign Kings/Queens. In Western Europe, Religion was used to divide. It started around 16th century when King Henry VIII of England rejected the Pope Clement VII because he refused to marry him to Anne Boleyn (Lucy 2009)6.
This re-started turmoil through Europe, as England became Protestant while Italy and France remained Catholic (Curry 1993)5. During the 14th Century long before Henry VIII, England and France had a major conflicts. But a significant one stood out and came to be known as the 100 year war (Bernard 1991)7. The Anglo-French lasted 116 years and was followed later by minor conflicts. The most recent one being Waterloo in 1815 (Bernard 1991).
Buddhism in East Asia was not used for political influence, hence the reason they have never been religion war in Pre-modern Asia (Lacombe 2011). Even later during the Mongol rule of China. Religion was never used to divided internally between different sects (Zen, Mahayana,etc) or externally between different religions (Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Confucianism, etc..) Mongols encouraged mutualism in religion even more than the Chinese themselves (Weatherford 2004)8.
Considering all this, I believe that East Asian teachings from their religion contributed significantly in their peace making process. Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism were not politically controlled by the elites like other religions were in Europe. With the wide spread invention of printing China gave everyone in East Asia a chance to learn the scriptures of their religion. Meanwhile, in Western Europe, religion was used as a tool to unify or to destroy. If you shared the same faith, there was an agreement. If not, war was to come sooner or later.