Ancient China

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Transcript of Ancient China

Ancient China

Ancient ChinaThe people of our race were created by Heaven, having from the beginning distinctions and rules, our people cling to customs and what they admire is seemly behavior.- The Book of SongsIntroductionThe most stable and in many ways the most successful civilization that history has known began in China in the second millennium B.C.It continued in its essentials through many changes in political leadership, meanwhile subjecting an enormous area and many different peoples to the Chinese way.The Chinese educated classes, who considered themselves the hub of the universe, formed the most cohesive ruling group the world has ever seen.They combined scholarship and artistic sensitivity with great administrative abilities.Much of Chinas permanent culture was already firmly established by about 500 B.C., and it would change only very slowly. Earliest China: The Shang EraAbout the time the Aryan invaders arrived in the Indus valley, the Neolithic farming villages along the central course of the Yellow River were drawn into an organized state for the first time.This state was the product of military conquest by a people closely related to the villagers, the Shang.The Shang replaced the villagers earlier political overseers and introduced the Shang Dynasty.Like other Chinese, the Shang and the people they conquered were members of the Sino-Tibetan language group and the Mongoloid or yellow-skinned race.Other members of this group include the North American Indian and the Turks.

Earliest China: The Shang EraThe society the Shang took over was already well on the way to a civilized life, introducing little if any cultural change:The villagers were making advanced stone tools and bronze weaponry.Farming had long ago replaced hunting and gathering as the mainstay of the economy.The villagers had several types of domesticated animals and were growing wheat on the fertile soil of Mongolia.Although the vast plain on both sides of the river would be Chinas breadbasket, life was not easy for the inhabitants of the Yellow River valley.Unlike the floods of the Nile, the floods of the Yellow River were tremendously damaging and had to be controlled by extensive levees.

Earliest China: The Shang EraThe central valley of the Yellow River was the cradle of Chinese civilization, but another river would play almost as important role in Chinas later history the Yangtze River.This great stream is much tamer than the Yellow River and runs far to the south through a warmer and wetter landscape.By about the fifth century A.D., it was the center of Chinas rice culture.Eventually, the rice of the Yangtze became even more important than the wheat of the Yellow River drainage.The plains along the two rivers and the coastal area between their deltas were the most densely populated and most important regions of ancient China.

Earliest China: The Shang EraOf all the ancient civilizations, China was the most isolated from outside influences, being even more isolated than Egypt.Both agriculture and metalworking apparently originated independently in China.No connections with either Indian or Mesopotamian arts and sciences are known until much later, after the civilization along the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers had developed its own characteristics and technology.Most of what we know comes from archaeology rather than history, as Shang writings were not numerous.Several rich grave sites have been excavated starting in the 1920s.Earliest China: The Shang EraShang society was strictly hierarchical:At the top was a powerful king with his warrior court.War was commonplace and warriors were favored in every way.On a level below the warriors were many skilled artisans and a growing class of small traders in the towns.In the countryside lived the great majority, the peasants in their villages.Scholars are not sure whether the early Chinese had a formal religion in which all participated:Many experts think that the upper class believed in one set of gods, whereas the majority worshipped another. Earliest China: The Shang EraSeveral fundamental aspects of Chinese life were already visible in the Shang epoch:The supreme importance of the family the Chinese rely on the family to serve as a model for public life and the source of all private virtue..The reverence shown to ancestors and the aged by the young the Chinese believed that experience was far more important than theory and that the young must learn from the aged if harmony is to be preserved and progress achieved..The emphasis on this world No other civilization of early times was so secular in orientation as the Chinese, who never had a priestly caste.The importance of education, particularly literacy No other culture has made the ability to read and write so critical for success.Earliest China: The Shang EraIn the twelfth century B.C., the Shang rulers seem to have faced internal conflicts that weakened the dynasty.Somewhat later they fell to the Zhou, a related but barbaric group from farther west. The Zhou would be the longest-lived and most influential of all the Chinese ruling dynasties.WritingThe written language was critically important in China.How did it differ from other written languages?How did it develop without input from non-Chinese sources?Like most languages, Chinese was originally pictographic but soon developed a large vocabulary of signs that had no picture equivalents.The characters are called ideographs or ideas-in-signs.An ideograph with several parts can take the place of as many as seven or eight words in most languages, conveying whole descriptions or actions in one sign.Some ideographs were derived from certain common roots, but others were not connected in any way, which made learning them difficult.Ideographs

An ideograph is a graphic symbol that represents an idea or concept.Simple ideographs are abstract symbols such as meaning up and meaning down, or numerals such as meaning three.Semantic compounds are semantic combinations of characters, such as meaning bright, meaning rest, meaning person, and meaning tree. WritingAll in all, students had to memorize about 5,000 ideographs to be considered literate.Understandably, literacy was rare and those who knew how to read and write entered a kind of elite club that carried tremendous prestige.Although writing emerged considerably later in China than in Mesopotamia and Egypt, it developed quickly, had a much richer vocabulary, and was more refined than any other written language before the first century A.D.The earliest writing beyond pictography dates to the Shang era around 1500 B.C.It is found on oracle bones animal bone and shells that were used to divine the gods wishes.The written language was immensely important in unifying the Chinese though there are dozens of spoken dialects there is only one way of writing.Oracle BonesOracle bones are pieces of shell or bone, typically from ox scapulae or turtle plastrons, which were used for pyromancy a form the art of divination by means of fire in ancient China.Diviners would submit questions to the deities by carving oracle bone script into the piece. It would then be subjected to intense heat until the piece cracked [thermal expansion]. The diviner would then interpret the pattern of cracks and write the supposed prophecy upon the piece.

Art and ArchitectureThe greatest artistic achievement of the ancient Chinese was undoubtedly their bronze work.Craftsmen in the late Shang and early Zhou periods turned out drinking cups, vases, wine vessels, brooches, and medallions, whose technical excellence and artistic grace were stunning.Metal technology in general was quite advanced in early China.Besides bronze, cast iron and copper were widely used for both tools and weaponry.The Shang buildings that have been partially unearthed by modern archaeologists are impressive in both size and design.The distinctive style with pagoda-style roof lines and diminishing upper stories was developed at this time, although it was carried out much more elaborately later.The Zhou DynastyDuring the 700 years that they ruled, the Zhou (Chou) greatly extended Chinas borders.Where the Shang had been constant to rule a relatively restricted segment of north-central China on either side of the Yellow River, the Zhou reached out almost to the sea in the east and well into Inner Mongolia in the west.We know much more about the Zhou era than the Shang because of extensive literature that survives.Much history was written and records of all types from tax rolls to lists of imports and exports were found.

The Zhou DynastyThe dynasty falls into two distinct phases: the Unified Empire (1100-750 B.C.) and the Later Zhou (750-400 B.C.).The earlier period was the most important in ancient Chinese history.The Later Zhou dynasty experienced a series of constant provincial revolts until, finally, the central government broke down altogether.One of the novelties of the Zhou period was the idea of the mandate from heaven.To justify their forcible overthrow of the Shang, the first Zhou rulers developed the idea that heaven gave the chosen earthly ruler a mandate, or vote of confidence.Heaven housed the supernatural deities who oversaw all life.The Zhou DynastySo long as he ruled well and justly, he retained the mandate but it would be taken from him if he betrayed the deities trust.A ruler who failed to protect his people from invaders or failed to contain internal revolt had betrayed this trust.Thus, if a Chinese ruler fell to superior force or a successful conspiracy, it was a sign that he had lost the mandate and should be replaced.This marvelously self-serving theory, which was used to justify numerous conspiracies and rebellions, was to be highly influential in Chinese history.The Zhou DynastyThe first Zhou kings were powerful rulers, who depended mainly on their swords.The royal court employed hundreds of skilled administrator