The Xia Dynasty was considered, for many years, more myth than fact until excavations in the s and s CE uncovered sites which argued strongly for its existence. Bronze works and tombs clearly point to an evolutionary period of development between disparate Stone Age villages and a recognizable cohesive civilization. He was so focused on his work that it was said he did not return home once in all those years, even though he seems to have passed by his house on at least three occasions, and this dedication inspired others to follow him.
After he had controlled the flooding, Yu conquered the Sanmiao tribes and was named successor by the then-ruler, Shun , reigning until his death. Yu established the hereditary system of succession and thereby the concept of dynasty which has become most familiar. The ruling class and the elite lived in urban clusters while the peasant population, which supported the elite's lifestyle, remained largely agrarian, living in rural areas.
Tang was from the kingdom of Shang. The dates popularly assigned to him BCE do not in any way correspond to the known events in which he took part and must be considered erroneous. What is known is that he was the ruler, or at least a very important personage, in the kingdom of Shang who, around BCE, led a revolt against Jie and defeated his forces at the Battle of Mingtiao. The extravagance of the Xia court and the resultant burden on the populace is thought to have led to this uprising.
Tang then assumed leadership of the land, lowered taxes, suspended the grandiose building projects begun by Jie which were draining the kingdom of resources and ruled with such wisdom and efficiency that art and culture were allowed to flourish. Writing developed under the Shang Dynasty as well as bronze metallurgy, architecture, and religion. Prior to the Shang, the people worshipped many gods with one supreme god, Shangti, as head of the pantheon the same pattern found in other cultures.
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Shangti was considered 'the great ancestor' who presided over victory in war , agriculture , the weather, and good government. Because he was so remote and so busy, however, the people seem to have required more immediate intercessors for their needs and so the practice of ancestor worship began. When someone died, it was thought, they attained divine powers and could be called upon for assistance in times of need similar to the Roman belief in the parentes.
This practice led to highly sophisticated rituals dedicated to appeasing the spirits of the ancestors which eventually included ornate burials in grand tombs filled with all one would need to enjoy a comfortable afterlife. The king, in addition to his secular duties, served as chief officiate and mediator between the living and the dead and his rule was considered ordained by divine law.
Although the famous Mandate of Heaven was developed by the later Zhou Dynasty , the idea of linking a just ruler with divine will has its roots in the beliefs fostered by the Shang. When the government no longer served the will of the gods, that government would be overthrown. Further, it was stipulated that there could be only one legitimate ruler of China and that his rule should be legitimized by his proper conduct as a steward of the lands entrusted him by heaven. Rule could be passed from father to son but only if the child possessed the necessary virtue to rule.
This mandate would later be often manipulated by various rulers entrusting succession to unworthy progeny. Under the Zhou, culture flourished and civilization spread. Writing was codified and iron metallurgy became increasingly sophisticated.
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The chariot , which was introduced to the land under the Shang, became more fully developed by the Zhou. It should be noted that these periods and dynasties did not begin nor end as neatly as they seem to in history books and the Zhou Dynasty shared many qualities with the Shang including language and religion. This is the period most noted for advances in philosophy , poetry, and the arts and saw the rise of Confucian, Taoist, and Mohist thought. At the same time, however, the different states were breaking away from central rule by Luoyang and proclaiming themselves sovereign.
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This, then, led to the so-called Warring States Period BCE in which seven states fought with each other for control. The seven states were Chu, Han , Qi, Qin, Wei, Yan, and Zhao, all of whom considered themselves sovereign but none of whom felt confident in claiming the Mandate of Heaven still held by the Zhou of Luoyang.
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All seven of the states used the same tactics and observed the same rules of conduct in battle and so none could gain the advantage over the others. His efforts were unsuccessful however and, between and BCE, the state of Qin gained supremacy over Zhao, finally defeating them at The Battle of Changping.
Whether Sun-Tzu existed as people claim, however, it is very probable that Shang Yang was acquainted with the famous work, The Art of War , which bears Sun-Tzu's name as author. One did not attack the weak or the unprepared and one was expected to delay engagement until an opponent had mobilized and formed ranks on the field.
He ordered the destruction of the walled fortifications which had separated the different states and commissioned the building of a great wall along the northern border of his kingdom. It stretched for over 5, kilometres 3, miles across hill and plain, from the boundaries of Korea in the east to the troublesome Ordos Desert in the west.
It was an enormous logistical undertaking, though for much of its course it incorporated lengths of earlier walls built by the separate Chinese kingdoms to defend their northern frontiers in the fourth and third centuries. Scarre and Fagan, Shi Huangdi also strengthened the infrastructure through road building which helped to increase trade through the ease of travel. Five trunk roads led from the imperial capital at Xianyang, each provided with police forces and posting stations. Most of these roads were of rammed-earth construction and were 15 metres 50 feet wide.
The longest ran southwest over 7, kilometres 4, miles to the frontier region of Yunnan. So precipitous was the countryside that sections of the road had to be built out from vertical cliff faces on projecting timber galleries. Shi Huangdi also expanded the boundaries of his empire, built the Grand Canal in the south, redistributed land and, initially, was a fair and just ruler.
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While he made great strides in building projects and military campaigns, his rule became increasingly characterized by a heavy hand in domestic policy. Claiming the Mandate from Heaven, he suppressed all philosophies save the Legalism which had been developed by Shang Yang and, heeding the counsel of his chief advisor, Li Siu, he ordered the destruction of any history or philosophy books which did not correspond to Legalism, his family line, the state of Qin, or himself. Since books were then written on strips of bamboo fastened with swivel pins, and a volume might be of some weight, the scholars who sought to evade the order were put to many difficulties.
A number of them were detected; tradition says that many of them were sent to labor on the Great Wall, and that four hundred and sixty were put to death. Nevertheless some of the literati memorized the complete works of Confucius and passed them on by word of mouth to equal memories.
Durant, The ancestor worship of the past and the land of the dead began to interest the emperor more than his realm of the living and Shi Huangdi became increasingly engrossed in what this other world consisted of and how he might avoid traveling there. He seems to have developed an obsession with death, became increasingly paranoid regarding his personal safety, and ardently sought after immortality. His desire to provide for himself an afterlife commensurate with his present one led him to commission a palace built for his tomb and an army of over 8, terracotta warriors created to serve him in eternity.
This ceramic army, buried with him, also included terracotta chariots, cavalry, a commander in chief, and assorted birds and animals. He is said to have died while on a quest for an elixir of immortality and Li Siu, hoping to gain control of the government, kept his death a secret until he could alter his will to name his pliable son, Hu-Hai, as heir.
This plan proved untenable, however, as the young prince showed himself to be quite unstable, executing many, and initiating a widespread rebellion in the land. With the fall of the Qin Dynasty, China was plunged into chaos. Two generals emerged among the forces which rebelled against the Qin: Liu-Bang of Hanzhong and General Xiang-Yu of the state of Chu, who fought for control of the government. The two former allies quickly became antagonists, however, in the power struggle known as the Chu-Han contention until Xiang-Yu negotiated the Treaty of Hong Canal and brought a temporary peace.
Xiang-Yu suggested dividing China under the rule of the Chu in the east and the Han in the west, but Liu-Bang wanted a united China under Han rule and, breaking the treaty, resumed hostilities. Xiang-Yu committed suicide but his family was allowed to live and even serve in government positions. The new emperor Gaozu treated all of his former adversaries with respect and united the land under his rule. He pushed back the nomadic Xiongnu tribes, who had been making incursions into China, and made peace with the other states which had risen in rebellion against the failing Qin Dynasty.
The resultant peace initiated by Gaozu brought the stability necessary for culture to again thrive and grow. Trade with the west began during this time and arts and technology increased in sophistication. He succeeds admirably with an amply illustrated volume of accompanied by copious notes and references revealing his academic background. It is an insightful and scholarly review of a substantial body of literature. Historical Traces 2. Regional Policies 3. Urbanization of the Countryside 4. New Spatial Mobilities 5.
Related CityU Press: China: Five Thousand Years of History and Civilization
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