Empires and Other Political Systems Review for AP World History (page 3)

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

The Development of European Nation-States

Government in Europe was organized around the nation-state. Well suited to a continent composed of various cultural groups, a nation-state is defined as a political unit that:

  • Governs people who share a common culture, including a common language.
  • Has definite geographic boundaries.
  • Enjoys sovereignty.

European nation-states were governed by either absolute or parliamentary monarchs. The number of nation-states on the small European continent, however, created rivalries and divisions that often led to war.

The Russian Empire

Russia followed the path of absolute monarchy after the final expulsion of the Mongols in 1480. The Mongol occupation of Russia produced a nation with a weakened emphasis on education, and also depressed trade and manufacturing. Under the tsars Ivan III (the Great) and Ivan IV (the Terrible), Russia expanded from the eastern border of Poland into western Siberia across the Ural Mountains. Russian pioneers called Cossacks were sent to the newly conquered territories, taking over land previously held by Asian nomads. In the process of expanding its borders, Russia added a substantial Muslim minority to its population.

The death of Ivan IV without an heir paved the way for the emergence of the Romanov dynasty. In 1613, the Russian nobles, or boyars, selected Mikhail Romanov as its new tsar, beginning a dynasty that ruled until 1917. The new tsar continued Russian expansion, adding part of the Ukraine around Kiev and also southern territory that extended to the frontier of the Ottoman Empire. Later Romanovs created state control over the Russian Orthodox Church.

Peter the Great

In 1700, the Russian Empire remained agricultural to a larger extent than East Asian empires or Western European nations. Peter I (the Great), who ruled from 1689 to 1725, launched a new era in Russian history by opening up the country to Western influence. On a trip to Western Europe in a vain attempt to enlist support against the Turks, Peter acquired an appreciation for Western science and technology. When he returned to Russia, he took Western craftsmen with him. In order to bolster trade, Peter fought a war with Sweden in which he not only greatly reduced the military power of Sweden but also gained for Russia a warm water port on the Baltic Sea. Peter also moved his capital from Moscow to a new city on the Baltic that he named St. Petersburg. He then created a navy for Russia. Continuing his policy of westernization, Peter required boyars to shave their beards and wear Western clothing. He also brought the ballet from France to Russia and allowed women of elite classes to attend public events for the first time.

In spite of his interest in Western technology, Peter the Great did not accept Western democratic trends. Unimpressed with parliamentary government, he continued to favor absolute monarchy. He set up controls over his subjects by creating a secret police and encouraged the continuation of serfdom. Serfdom, which differed from slavery in binding laborers to the land only, kept the Russian economy focused on agriculture, in spite of the westernization policies of Peter the Great.

Catherine II (the Great), who ruled from 1729 to 1796, continued the expansionist and westernization policies of Peter. Laws restricting serfs were harsher than before. Catherine upheld the concept of absolute monarchy but also brought ideas of the Enlightenment (see Chapter 19) to Russia. She reduced severe punishments for crimes in order to bring the Russian justice system more in line with that of Western Europe and encouraged Western art and architecture. Catherine added new territory in the Crimea, Alaska, and northern California to the Russian Empire.

Ming China

The Ming dynasty was founded by Zhu Yuanzhang, a warlord who had assisted in the expulsion of the Mongols from China. The Ming dynasty, which reacted against Mongol rule by returning to Chinese tradition, lasted from 1368 to 1644. Under Ming rule:

  • The revered position of the scholar-gentry was restored.
  • The Confucian-based civil service exam was reinstated and expanded. Women, however, continued to be banned from taking the exam.
  • Public officials who were corrupt or incompetent were beaten publicly.
  • Thought control, or censorship of documents, was sanctioned by the government.
  • Neo-Confucianism, which supported strict obedience to the state, increased its influence.
  • Women continued to occupy a subordinate position in the strongly patriarchal society.

Between 1405 and 1423, the Ming dynasty, under the leadership of Zheng He, engaged in several major expeditions of exploration and trade. Designed to impress the remainder of the Eastern Hemisphere with the glories of Ming China, the Zheng He expeditions sailed through the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf. By the 1430s, however, the scholar-gentry had persuaded Ming leaders that the expeditions were too costly in light of the need to spend the empire's funds on restraining continued Mongol threats to China's northern border.

In the late sixteenth century, Jesuits such as the scholar Matteo Ricci were allowed to enter China. More interested in the Jesuits' transmission of scientific and technological knowledge than in Christian theology, the Ming Chinese allowed some Jesuits to remain in China throughout the Ming era.

During the last 200 years of the Ming dynasty, China was ruled by incompetent rulers. The maintenance of dams, dikes, and irrigation systems was neglected, and nomadic peoples continued to exert pressure along the Great Wall. In 1644, the Jurchen, or Manchus, a nomadic people on China's northern borders, conquered the Ming dynasty. The new Qing dynasty ruled until the early twentieth century as the last Chinese dynasty.


While the Ming dynasty isolated itself from most foreigners, Japan went through periods of both isolation and acceptance of Western influence. In 1603, the Tokugawa family gained prominence when one of its members acquired the title of shogun. Ruling Japan from the city of Edo (present-day Tokyo), the Tokugawa Shogunate brought a degree of centralized authority to Japan. Large estates of many of the daimyo were broken up and taken over by the Tokugawa family.

Europeans entered Japan in 1543 when Portuguese sailors shipwrecked and were washed up on the shore of the southern island of Kyushu. Additional visits from European traders and missionaries brought Western technology, including clocks and firearms, into Japan. The use of firearms changed Japanese warfare from feudal to modern and assisted the Tokugawa in maintaining their authority. When Christian missionaries arrived to bring Roman Catholicism to the Japanese, the Tokugawa at first protected them from Buddhist resistance. In the late 1580s, however, the Tokugawa stifled Buddhist resistance to their authority. Christianity was perceived as a threat to Tokugawa authority, and Christian missionaries were ordered to leave Japan. Japanese Christians were persecuted and executed. By 1630, foreign trade was allowed only in a few cities and Japanese ships were banned from trading or sailing across long distances. By the 1640s, only the Dutch and Chinese were allowed to trade through the port of Nagasaki. Contacts with the Dutch allowed the Japanese to keep informed about Western developments (Dutch learning) and adopt those they considered appropriate to Japanese goals.

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