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Ancient Civilizations Project: China. China - Geography. Post-Neolithic Dynasties in China. Shang Dynasty (1523-1028 BCE) Zhou Dynasty (1027-256 BCE) Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE) Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) Six Dynasties (220-586) Sui Dynasty (581-618) T’ang Dynasty (618-906)

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post neolithic dynasties in china
Post-Neolithic Dynasties in China
  • Shang Dynasty (1523-1028 BCE)
  • Zhou Dynasty (1027-256 BCE)
  • Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE)
  • Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE)
  • Six Dynasties (220-586)
  • Sui Dynasty (581-618)
  • T’ang Dynasty (618-906)
  • Five Dynasties (907-960)
  • Song Dynasty (960-1279)
  • Yuan (1280-1365) – Mongol rule
  • Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
  • Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) – Manchu rule
origins chinese civilization
Origins – Chinese Civilization
  • Chinese civilization is the oldest continuous, homogenous major culture in the world today.
  • Historians have usually dated the beginning of Chinese civilization to the establishment of the Xia dynasty more than 4,000 years ago.
  • Chinese civilization was the last of the great ancient civilizations to fully flower. By the time the Shang (1523-1028 BCE) began to emerge, societies in Mesopotamia and the Nile River Valley were advanced civilizations.
  • The earliest Chinese civilization was a river valley civilization like Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India.
  • Chinese civilization was founded on the Huang He (Yellow) River, the second largest river in China after the Yangtze.
belief systems china religions and philosophies
Belief Systems – China:Religions and Philosophies
  • During the Shang, people began to believe in one god, Shang Di, who presided over the forces of nature.

- As time went on, this concept of an “anthropomorphic” god evolved into the more impersonal symbol of the universe known as Heaven (Tian).

  • Two elements of “religious” worship in China:

- ancestor worship

- worship of the spirits of nature

  • Unlike the West, Chinese “priests” did not enjoy a position of power in society.
belief systems china religions and philosophies19
Belief Systems – China:Religions and Philosophies
  • In China, unlike the West, there is no creation myth, no source of divine law outside of nature.

- Nature contributed to divine ideas

- Moral law was represented by human authority: the sage kings, the Zhou founders, and Confucius.

  • Religion has a practical rather than a mystical concern.
  • Philosophy has to do primarily with ethical conduct in actual life, not with abstract questions as in the West. Exceptions:

- Buddhism from India

- Daoism

belief systems china religions and philosophies20
Belief Systems – China:Religions and Philosophies
  • Most of China’s enduring religions / philosophies emerged by the end of the Zhou Dynasty known as the

“Hundred schools” of ancient philosophy.

belief systems china religions and philosophies21
Belief Systems – China:Religions and Philosophies
  • One of the earliest ideas was that the universe was divided into two forces – Liang Yi:

- good and evil

- light and dark

- male and female

- (yin) and (yang)

  • Life was a process of interaction between these opposing forces. Harmonious life is when there is a unity of opposites.

Confucianism / K’ung Fu-tzu(551-479 BCE)

  • Wanted to find work as a political adviser in one of China’s principalities but never found a patron.
  • His philosophy is found in the Analects in the form of conversations with his disciples
  • There is no evidence that Confucius wrote anything at all (like Buddha, Socrates and Jesus)
  • His philosophy was political and ethical. Not very concerned with the cosmos.
  • Key principles:

- to love others

- to honor one’s parents (ancestor worship & filial piety)

- to do what is right rather than what is advantageous

- to lead by example

- to rule by moral example and not by force


Confucius / K’ung Fu-tzu(551-479 BCE)

Ancestor Worship & Filial Piety

  • Interconnected and part of the same concept – respect for elders = one of the key components of Chinese culture.
  • Ancestor worship – Chinese keep a small shrine in their homes with tablets commemorating all the deceased members of their family.

- They also visit the cemeteries during the warmer months to visit the deceased and clean the graves.


Confucius / K’ung Fu-tzu(551-479 BCE)

Filial Piety - Respect for one's parents

  • For Confucius, it is the starting point of humane behavior.
  • It is part of everyone’s Dao (Way).
  • Filial Piety is at the root of the “Six Relationships,” the basis for all social connections between people:
belief systems china the six relationships26
Belief Systems – China:“The Six Relationships”
  • In each relationship, the superior member has the duty of benevolence and care for the subordinate member.
  • The subordinate member has the duty of obedience.
  • The only equal relationship is between friends, unless one is older than the other.
  • Unlike in India, where social relations are absolute (caste and karma determine everything) obedience in China DEPENDS on the fulfillment of the superior person’s duty.
confucianism and filial piety
Confucianism and Filial Piety
  • What are some problems that may result from too much filial piety?
  • Would you say that Confucianism is a “conservative,” “liberal,” or “radical” belief system?

Confucianism / K’ung Fu-tzu

  • The key to proper, ethical behavior is for everyone to act according to their Dao (Way).

- Even the ruler had his own Dao and if he ignored it he would lose his mandate from heaven to rule.

- A ruler that had to resort to force to subdue his population has already failed in his duty.

  • Two main elements of the Dao:

- all individuals had to subordinate their personal interests and aspirations to the broader need of the family and the community.

- individuals must possess the idea of “humanity” – compassion and empathy for others / “Do NOT do unto others what you WOULD NOT wish do to yourself.”


Confucius / K’ung Fu-tzu

  • Confucius believed government should be open to all men of superior quality and not limited to those of noble birth.

- This idea was not accepted immediately but later influenced China’s introduction of the civil service exam for government officials.

  • An important disciple of Confucius was Mencius (370—290 BCE).

- Believed humans were good by nature

- Ruler’s duty was to rule with compassion.

  • Confucianism became the ruling philosophy first during the Han Dynasty and later during the:

- T’ang

- Sung

- Yuan (even though the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan was Buddhist)

- Ming

- Qing

  • The Sui Dynasty made Buddhism and Daoism the ruling philosophies, expanding Buddhist monasteries and promoting Buddhist monks to key positions as political advisers.
confucius and socrates
Confucius and Socrates
  • Both lived within a century of each other:

- Confucius (551 – 479 BCE)

- Socrates (470 – 399 BCE)

  • Both were philosophers who were mainly concerned with questions of moral behavior / both were “consultants” of better, ethical behavior
  • Both had an enormous influence on their societies

- Confucius = Eastern Civilization

- Socrates = Western Civilization

  • Neither left their thoughts in writing but their ideas were spread by their disciples
belief systems china religions and philosophies33
Belief Systems – China:Religions and Philosophies


  • Han Feizi – founder of the Legalist school of thought.
  • Disputed Confucius and Mencius’ view that humans are naturally inclined towards good.
  • Legalists believed that people are by nature evil and need to be forced to do good by harsh laws and stiff punishments.
  • Only a strong ruler could create an orderly society / Only firm action by the state could bring about social order.
belief systems china legalism in practice
Belief Systems – China:Legalism in Practice
  • Shi Huangdi, leader of the Qin Dynasty made Legalism the first “ruling ideology” in China’s history.
  • Created an authoritarian system:

- non-Legalist political philosophies (including Confucianism) were banned

- books offering views contrary to Legalist principles were burned

- all disagreements with the government was made a capital crime

  • The dynasty was overthrown because it was too oppressive
dynastic rule and structure of government
Dynastic Rule and Structure of Government
  • Shi Huangdi centralized political power in his hands. His way of ruling became a model for future Chinese dynasties. He did this by:

- Appointing officials at the provincial and county level / they did not inherit their positions like under the Zhou

- Unified the system of weights and measures

- Standardized the money system & the alphabet

- Constructed a system of roads all over the empire

belief systems china legalism in practice36
Belief Systems – China:Legalism in Practice
  • People were conscripted for mandatory state projects:

Irrigation projects Construction of sections of the Great Wall

dynastic rule and structure of government39
Dynastic Rule and Structure of Government
  • Since the Shang, China has been ruled by hereditary dynasties led by Emperors.
  • The Zhou overthrew the Shang an justified this by the theory of the “Mandate of Heaven,” the explanation used by all subsequent ruling dynasties of China.
causes of dynasties to fall
Causes of Dynasties to Fall
  • Rivalries between different landed aristocratic clans
  • Corrupt or weak emperors
  • Crushing tax burden, especially on the peasants > peasant rebellions
  • Sharp economic inequality
  • Constant “barbarian” attacks
  • Oppressive, authoritarian rule
dynastic rule and structure of government41
Dynastic Rule and Structure of Government
  • Ever since the Shang, the country was divided into different levels territories:
  • Beginning with the Shang, the country was divided into territories governed by aristocratic chiefs that the Emperor appointed.

- He could depose each administrator as he pleased.

  • Under the T’ang, the country was divided into provinces, districts and villages.

- The village level government was run by village elders.

- Handled local issues and tax collecting for the central government.

- Most people had little involvement with government. If they did, it was on the village level.

dynastic rule and structure of government42
Dynastic Rule and Structure of Government

1. Emperor

2. Grand Council

a. assisted by a secretariat and a chancellery

b. included representatives from all three authorities:




3. Department of State Affairs

a. composed of six ministries

- justice / military affairs / personnel / public works / revenue / ritual

the civil service exam
The Civil Service Exam
  • First given in 165 BCE during the Han dynasty, it was a way to provide well educated and well trained government bureaucrats.
  • Civil Service Exams under the Han were based on Confucian political & social ethics.
  • Theoretically, most males were eligible to take the exams except criminals and merchants.

-During the Sung Dynasty, relatives of nobles serving in the imperial court and eunuchs were also not allowed to take the exam. Still, most that took it were landed nobles.

- In reality, most poor males could not afford to sacrifice work time to study in the academy.

  • Academies were opened under the Han to prepare students for the exams.
the civil service exam44
The Civil Service Exam
  • Under the Sung Dynasty, the examination system attained the form it was to retain to the end of the dynastic system:

- 3 levels of exams for different government positions

- Students complained the exams were too difficult or that it was all memorization and irrelevant.

- Many brought cheat sheets with them

the civil service exam45
The Civil Service Exam
  • The Qing (Manchu) Dynasty (1644-1912) tried to make the civil service exam more equitable by establishing quotas for each major ethnic group and province.
the civil service exam46
The Civil Service Exam
  • With all its imperfections, the exam:

- provided for more efficient government

- more opportunity for upward mobility

  • It was abolished just before the Ming were overthrown.
landed aristocracy
Landed Aristocracy
  • The elites throughout Chinese civilization until the 20th century.

- Played a dominant role in the political and economic life of China.

- The best arable land was concentrated in their hands. Peasants worked as tenant farmers for them.

  • Shi Huangdi tried to break their power by dividing their estates among the peasants. (like Ivan the Terrible in Russia in the 16th century).
  • Most attempts by Chinese leaders to break the power of the landed nobility by distributing the land to the poor ended in failure.

- Many revolts in China were caused by the issue of land distribution: the large peasant population was chronically short of land while the landed nobility never wanted its land confiscated and redistributed.

  • Unlike in the West, the peasantry in China did not occupy the lowest rung of society.
  • Chinese peasants owned their own land since Shang period but were often turned into tenant farmers when the landed aristocracy grabbed their land.
  • Before the T’ang, many peasants were reduced to serfdom or slavery again by aristocratic landowners.
  • For most of China’s history, the peasantry was crushed with a host of different taxes. Also forced to work on public works:

- irrigation projects

- constructing the Great Wall

- military conscription

  • Chinese peasant rebellions were the largest and most violent of any society.
  • “The mind of a superior man dwells on righteousness; the mind of a little man dwells on profit". -Confucius
  • Merchants were treated particularly poorly in comparison to other societies.

- During the Zhou dynasty, they were considered the property of the local lord and on occasion could even be bought and sold like chattel.

- Qin rulers viewed them as parasites / private commercial activities were severely restricted and heavily taxed.

  • During the Han dynasty, merchants were prohibited from seeking political office, restricted to where they could live, and generally viewed as parasites that do not add value to Chinese society.
  • The T’ang and Song dynasties continued to restrict the merchants.
other social groups eunuchs
Other Social Groups: Eunuchs
  • Shi Huangdi established a class of eunuchs who served as personal attendants of the emperor and female members of his family.

- Why? Since eunuchs could not have children, they would not rise up against the emperor to sieze power for his sons.

To restrict the influence of male courtiers.

  • Eunuchs became a standard fixture of the Chinese imperial system.
  • For most of Chinese history, agriculture was the main economic activity and the main source of production.
  • The predominance of agriculture even led the Ming rulers to suspend forever overseas exploration.
  • When the Industrial Revolution developed in Europe, China ignored it.
  • From the days of the Qin, the state directed much trade and manufacturing:

- weapons / operated shipyards, granaries, mines

- directed foreign trade with neighboring countries

  • China’s trade and prosperity grew greatly under the Han dynasty.
  • The T’ang and Song dynasties relaxed the government monopoly on long-distance trade and encouraged private commerce.
  • Trade and foreign contact increased under the T’ang and Yuan dynasties.

- The Mongols controlled China under the Yuan / their empire stretched to Europe and south into the Middle East.

  • The Ming rulers who replaced the Mongols at first strictly curtailed foreign contacts until Muslim eunuch Zheng He was allowed to go on 7 explorations from 1405-1432.

- Afterwards, all maritime expeditions were suspended indefinitely.

- This marks the beginning of China’s stagnation and decline.

belief systems
Belief Systems
  • The period of the Zhou Dynasty produced many of China’s most important philosophies:

- Confucianism

- Daoism

- Legalism

  • Influenced its Far Eastern neighbors in writing system, literature, art, architecture.
silk industry
Silk Industry
  • China was the first country in the ancient world to cultivate the mulberry plant, raise silkworms, and produce silk items.
  • Silk production began during the Zhou dynasty but really took off during the Han.
  • The manufacture & trade in silk was very lucrative.

- Used for clothing, quilts

  • After silkworms were smuggled out of China to the Byzantine Empire, Emperor Justinian nationalized the silk trade in 542 CE.
agriculture iron plow
Agriculture – Iron Plow
  • Iron plows - developed first in China during the 3rd BCE.
  • By the 1st century BCE, the Chinese developed moldboards that could invert soil.
  • Europeans only developed moldboards in the late 10th century.
agriculture harness
Agriculture - Harness
  • There is evidence that the harness was first used in China in the 1st century BCE, a thousand years before it was used in Europe.
  • The horse collar made it possible for peasants to use horses as work animals.
  • Horses were faster than oxen – more agricultural output.
  • The world’s first transport contour canal was constructed in China in the 3rd century BCE on the orders of Shi Huangdi.
  • “The Magic Canal” (Lingqu)
  • Linked the Xiang and Li Rivers.
  • The “Grand Canal,” begun in 330 BCE, was completed during the Yuan dynasty (1293).
  • Both canals are still in use in China.
  • The Chinese built the first segmented arch bridge in 610 CE called the Anji Bridge (Zhaozhou Bridge). It is still standing today.
  • Paper was invented by the Chinese during the Han dynasty.
  • From China, papermaking moved to Korea, where production of paper began as early as the 5th century CE.
  • From Korea, papermaking was brought to Japan by a Buddhist monk.
  • Woodblock printing on paper and silk was first developed in China in the around the 7th century CE.
  • Buddhist monks were important in advancing this technique.
  • The earliest printed text in the world was a Buddhist scroll which was discovered in Korea between 704-751.
  • Moveable type was also invented in China in the 11th century.
  • During the T’ang dynasty, the Chinese mastered the art of manufacturing steel by mixing cast and wrought iron.
  • They mixed the two in a blast furnace, another Chinese invention.

- made swords, sickles and suits of armor.

  • By the 11th century, China produced more than 35,000 tons of steel, seven centuries before the Industrial Revolution in England.
gunpowder explosives
Gunpowder / Explosives
  • Gunpowder was invented by the Chinese during the T’ang dynasty and used primarily for explosives.
  • It reached the West through the Arabs in the 12th century.
maritime compass
Maritime - Compass
  • The invention of the compass (Sung dynasty) and improvements in shipbuilding made the Chinese a maritime power.
  • Trading along the Silk Road was becoming hazardous – this prompted China to seek maritime trade routes.
  • Between the 12th-15th centuries, Chinese ships reached Kamchatka (Russia) in the northeast Pacific to Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.
foreign relations
Foreign Relations
  • Generally speaking, the Chinese did not believe they could learn or benefit much from contacts with the outside world:

- meaning of the “Middle Kingdom”

- “The Great Wall” as a barrier

  • "Whilst his parent is alive the son may not take a distant voyage abroad;. if he has to take such a voyage the destination must be known.” - Confucius
  • Foreign trade expanded under the Han dynasty.
  • Overall, world trade declined with the collapse of the Han dynasty and the Roman Empire (220 & 476 CE).
foreign relations73
Foreign Relations
  • The Chinese have been reluctant to dilute the purity of their culture with foreign innovations because:

- pride in their own considerable achievements

- their dominant position throughout Far Eastern region

relations with asian neighbors japan
Relations with Asian Neighbors:Japan
  • Although the Japanese were aware of China for centuries, they first began noticing China’s might in the early 7th century CE.

- During the 7th century, the Japanese modeled their government after China’s. / Japan failed to centralize its government like China.

- Buddhism came from China in the 6th century CE.

  • 710 – Japan’s capital city, Nara, then later Kyoto were designed to emulate Tang China’s capital, Chang’an.
  • Instituted civil service exams for government bureaucrats however:

- exams restricted to those of noble birth

relations with asian neighbors japan75
Relations with Asian Neighbors:Japan
  • Foreign trade, mostly with China and Korea, began during the 11th century CE.
  • Chinese influence on ancient Japan can also be seen in the literature, art, especially during the 7th and 8th centuries.
  • Japan had no written language for recording their spoken language so they adopted Chinese. Eventually the Japanese developed a hybrid of Chinese characters with Japanese pronunciations.
  • Between the 8th and 12th century, most educated Japanese preferred to speak Chinese.
relations with asian neighbors korea
Relations with Asian Neighbors:Korea
  • No country in East Asia was more strongly influenced by the Chinese model than Korea.
  • In 109 BCE, the northern part of the Korean peninsula came under direct Chinese rule.
  • With the decline of the Han dynasty, local tribal leaders drove the Chinese out but maintained China’s cultural influence.
  • 3 Korean kingdoms emerged – all absorbed Chinese political and cultural institutions.

- The Koguryo in the north was the most influenced by China.

- Buddhism was introduced in the late 4th century CE and the first Confucian academy in Korea was established in Pyongyang.

relations with asian neighbors korea77
Relations with Asian Neighbors:Korea
  • The Silla kingdom, located in the southeastern part of the peninsula, was least influenced by China.

- It was the strongest of the three Korean kingdoms

- Forced the Chinese to withdraw from most of its territory.

- Silla accepted tributary status with China under the Tang dynasty.

  • Even as a unified state, the rulers of Silla tried to use Chinese political institutions and ideology to form a centralized state but faced strong resistance from powerful aristocratic families.

- Failure to centralize led to Silla’s collapse.

  • The new dynasty called Koryo adopted Chinese political institutions in an effort to unify and centralize Korea.
china under foreign rulers
China Under Foreign Rulers
  • Twice in its dynastic history China was under foreign rule:

- Yuan dynasty – Mongols

- Qing dynasty – Manchus

  • The Mongols initially tried to rule China as their own tribal society. Eventually, they adopted China’s political system, the civil service exams, and Confucian philosophy.
china under foreign rulers79
China Under Foreign Rulers
  • The Manchus ordered all Chinese to adopt Manchu dress and hair styles. All Chinese males were to shave their foreheads and braid there hair.

- Manchus were only 2% of the entire population of China!

  • The Manchus adopted the Chinese political system and were accepted by most Chinese as legitimate rulers.

- Accepted Confucianism

- Manchu nobles retained their aristocratic privileges but ethnic Chinese were brought into the top ranks of government.

  • Manchus increasingly assimilated into Chinese civilization.
useful links for china
Useful Links for China
  • - Art from the Far East
  • Chinese culture, history and achievements.