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ANCIENT CHINA. Hongshan. Yangshao/ Longshan. Liangzhu. Yangshao, Central Plains of Yellow River. Farming villages 5200-3000 BC (Covered on Test 1). Yangshao village of Banbo. Longshan Culture, central plains of the Yellow River.

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yangshao central plains of yellow river
Yangshao, Central Plains of Yellow River
  • Farming villages 5200-3000 BC
  • (Covered on Test 1)

Yangshao village of


longshan culture central plains of the yellow river
Longshan Culture, central plains of the Yellow River
  • between 3000-2000 BC, Longshan farming cultures were a patchwork of chiefdoms or small kingdoms
  • critical role of religious personnel increased dramatically
  • use of divination to communicate with ancestors, including early inscribed oracle bones
  • evidence of status differentiation in burials
  • craft specialization in jade-carving and ceramics and rare copper and later bronze metallurgy; increased trade (interaction spheres)
  • construction of “stamped-earth” town walls and fortifications – some fairly large (38 ha; 94 acres)
  • also evidence of trauma in skeletons and increase in artifacts associated with armed conflict
  • sacrificed adults and children
  • warring and trading elites vying to get upper hand
liangzhu 3300 2250 bc
Liangzhu, 3300-2250 BC
  • Liangzhu culture, in lower Yangzi River,
  • Strong ritual element in elite graves, including tombs with wooden coffins in platforms and mounds
  • Craft specialists wove silk, made laquerware and other beautiful ceramic vessels, and are particularly known for their outstanding jades
  • Large settlements within thick walls, between four and six meters (13 and 20 feet) thick

Hongshan platform with central burial at Niuheliang

Northeastern China, 4700-2900 BC

from Drennan and Peterson 2005

lower xiajiadian culture ne china inner mongolia
Lower Xiajiadian Culture, NE China/Inner Mongolia
  • Follows Hongshan culture in this area north of the Yellow River, which shows relationships with both central plains of Yellow River (Longshan) and lower Yangtze
  • Large (10 ha/25 acres) walled sites, with smaller defended and those without defensive walls clustered around major centers
  • Constructed large, richly endowed elite graves, with wooden coffins, up to 8.9 m (29 ft) deep
early dynastic china in the central plains of yellow river
Early Dynastic China in the Central Plains of Yellow River
  • China’s first true urban civilization
  • Xia Dynasty (1700-1500 BC), Shang Dynasty (1500-1045 BC), and Zhou Dynasty (1045-221 BC)
  • Marked by appearance of full-fledged cities, states, writing
  • The first dynasty of China, Xia, is mentioned in early historical sources, the Shi Ji (“Records of the Grand Historian”), written by Sima Quin (145-86 BC), which describes a remote period (Longshan), the early Xia and Shang Dynasties, including repressive government typical of Chinese dynastic civilization

Palace compound at

Erlitou, Xia Dynasty

(1700-1500 BC)

shang capital cities
Shang Capital Cities
  • Oracle bones suggest at least seven capitals in middle Yellow River, representing specific ruling lineages;
  • throughout Chinese history the nobility lived apart from commoners (e.g., the forbidden city in Beijing), with noble/royal palaces and tombs located in city centers
  • commoners lived in outlying towns and villages.

Zhengzhou, Early Shang Dynasty capital


Yinxu (“Ruins of Yin”), the last capital of China’s Shang Dynasty (1500-1045 BC). Capital served 12 kings over 8 generations. Discovered in 1899 in the northwest outskirts of Anyang.

Anyang (Yinxu site)

anyang yinxu
Anyang (Yinxu)
  • At this late Shang capital, which covers over 25 square km, archaeologists have found:
    • A palace precinct (Xiaotun) with at least 25 buildings covering an area of over 10 ha (25 acres)
    • A royal necropolis (Xibeigang) with 12 subterranean tombs
    • Temples dedicated to the supreme god Di
royal tombs
Royal Tombs
  • Rulers had great cruciform burial tombs
  • king in center and four arms with ramps leading down
  • kings buried with much wealth, slaves, sacrificial victims, animals, etc.

Tomb excavation at Yinxu in 1920s

Fu Hao Tomb at Yinxu

(Anyang), lesser member

of the royal house

Remains from Yinxu Xibeigang royal necropolis


Human sacrifice was common practice in Shang Dynasty. Slaves or captured enemies, were sometimes slaughtered or buried alive as offerings to recently deceased elite. Even living wives were known to join their husbands upon burial. Dogs, horses, chariots, and other animals would also sacrificed.

oracle bones
Oracle Bones
  • Early symbols on turtle carapace from Jiahu (6500 BC)
  • Between 2,500 -1900 BC, the practice of inscribing on bone was a hallmark of early Chinese civilization and by Shang Dynasty developed into full-fledged writing system
  • Over 100,000 oracle bones recovered mainly from Anyang
  • ox shoulder blades and turtle carapaces were cracked with hot metal and interpreted as messages from ancestors
  • provides wealth of information, especially about activities of early kings
  • later, writing on Bronze ritual vessels (Zhou dynasty), bamboo slips (Warring States period), silk, and paper

Tens of thousands of Chinese characters, widely understood across spoken dialects, which was critical to administration of early imperial states

  • Early Chinese rulers stayed in power by having a strong army
  • kings were frequently at war defending their realm and conquering others
  • through kinship obligation all subjects were expected to aid their kings

Burial remains of beheaded

people sacrificed at death of

member of royal class


Changjiang culture, 1700-1200 BC, was a complex state society that rivaled the Shang culture in SW China

Craftspeople made spectacular bronze sculptures, such as trees and heads

Sanxingdui was a walled

city 450 ha (1112 acres),

with surrounding occupied

area at least 15 square km

zhou dynasty 1045 221 bc
Zhou Dynasty, 1045-221 BC
  • Western Zhou Dynasty (1045-771 BC): The Shang Dynasty ended in 1045 BC, when the powerful and ambitious king of the state of Zhou sent his chariots and Tiger warrior infantry north to defeat the Shang
  • To legitimize their rule after overthrow of Shang rulers, Zhou emperors introduced the idea of a “mandate from heaven” (king was considered son of heaven)
  • Zhou empire was a decentralized feudal state, divided into fiefs governed by leaders chosen from among the king’s relatives and allies
  • Only the royal capital was directly controlled by Zhou emperor;
  • Eastern (late) Zhou Dynasty is divided into two periods: the Summer and Autumn period (770-481 BC) and Warring States Period (480-221 BC), when emperor’s authority waned and feudal rulers essentially became leaders of independent states, waging constant war against one another

Silk manuscript from

late first millennium BC


Confucius (551-479 BC) strongly disapproved of the absolutism and self-interest of rulers during the Warring States period


Siddhārtha Gautama (Buddha), 563-483 BC?

Buddhism in imperial China by Qin empire, but apparently suppressed by emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di

the qin empire and unification
The Qin Empire and Unification
  • Qin Shi Huangdi, “August emperor of Qin,” (King Zheng) unified China after a series of ruthless military campaigns (221 BC)
  • Ascended throne in 246 BC at age of 13, conquered the Zhou Dynasty, and then continued campaigns throughout China
  • immense burial mound at Lintong begun soon after his ascension (1000 ft. on a side, 140 ft. tall)
  • work conducted by over 600,000 conscripts (based on written records) - intensified after unification in 221 BC
  • regiment of 1000s of terra cotta soldiers at the mounds side
  • Qin Shi Huangdi made sweeping reforms and created the “commandery” administrative system (36 commanderies or provinces, under imperial appointed governor)
  • Standardized writing, travel, passports, etc.

Whereas Shang rulers buried human sacrifices in their tombs, the Qin emperor amassed an army of 1000s of terra cotta soldiers, horses, and chariots to accompany him in death


Many secondary states developed through trade, benefiting from their location between East and West, such as Khotan along the Silk Road in Tarim Basin

khmer civilization
Khmer Civilization
  • Khmer is clearly a “secondary,” rather than a “pristine” state
  • Unites disparate groups into a common polity in Southeast Asia
  • Hindu, imported by Indian traders, provided a common bond which united people across a very broad region: a common religion formed the basis of Khmer civilization
angkor cambodia
Angkor, Cambodia
  • Complex of cities, temples, and reservoirs, which between AD 800-1435 was the center of large kingdom
  • Temple-palaces were powerful symbols of the power of elite, housing thousands of priests
  • Angkor Wat, one of the largest religious structures ever built
  • Angkor kings followed religious practice of venerating royal ancestors and the god Shiva and honoring a named linga within an elaborate temple