The Neolithic period began in China about 12,000 B.C. However, good
evidence of Neolithic settlements exists from only about 4,000 B.C. The
Neolithic lasted until about 2,000 B.C. It is defined by a spread of settled
The largest concentration of agriculture was below the southern bend of
Neolithic China was different from today. It was much wetter, with most
of Northern China being lakes and marshes and central China covered in
colder, arid China of today. The mountains were well forested and there
was a variety of animals.
before this time period began. The process began
in Northern China. It
involved feeding the silkworms mulberry
leaves, helping them molt and
silk. Pottery was also present during this time period. The two main types,
groups of the Neolithic, the Y
angshao and the Lungshan. These two types
of pottery were not for everyday use, rather, a plain course type of pottery
was used that varied between the colors gray, black, red, and white. The
dwellings of this time were in clusters that suggest kinship was important.
pigs and dogs.
angshao lived in the mountainous regions of northern and western
in round or rectangular
houses that were below ground level and
surrounded by little walls of earth. They created Painted Pottery that had
geometric designs on
it. The pottery was fired at 1000-1500°
C, but the
potters wheel was not used. Axes and arrowheads were made of polished
stone and other tools were made of stone chips. Millet was the main crop
of the Y
angshao. They domesticated two main animals, the dog and the
pig, with the pig being the more important..
lived on the plains of eastern China. Their villages were
similar to those of the Y
angshao, but evidence of stamped earth fortresses
is found in some sites. They created Black Pottery. This pottery was of
exceptional quality. It had a polished exterior, was never painted, and is
which continued into the following dynasties, also began during this time.
The Lungshan began to bury their dead facing downwards, which is how
arrowheads and small tools, but used polished stones for axes and sickles.
Their domesticated animals were the pig, dog, sheep, and ox..
For many years, the Xia Dynasty was thought to be a part of a myth that
the Chinese tell as part of their history. The Xia Dynasty was in oral
histories, but no archaeological evidence was found of it until 1959.
Excavations at Erlitous, in the city of Yanshi, uncovered what was most
likely a capital of the Xia Dynasty. The site showed that the people were
direct ancestors of the
and were predecessors of the
Radiocarbon dates from this site indicate that they existed from 2100 to
1800 B.C. Despite this new archaeological evidence of the Xia, they are
not universally accepted as a true dynasty.
The Xia were agrarian people, with bronze weapons and pottery. The
ruling families used elaborate and dramatic rituals to confirm their power
to govern. The rulers often acted as shamans, communicating with spirits
for help and guidance.
The Shang, rather than the
, is considered by most to be the first true
dynasty of China. Like the Xia, the Shang were originally considered to
selling oracle bones the Shang had created; the parmacists sold the bones
as dragon bones. The bones were first noticed in 1899 and by the 1920's
excavated. Excavations were halted in 1937, when Japan attacked China.
Zhengzhou. Traditional Chinese history indicates that the Shang Dynasty
consisted of 30 kings and seven different, successive, capitals. The
the dynasty that followed the Shang, are responsible for the recordings of
the kings and capitals of the Shang Dynasty.
The center of the Shang capitals had the ruler's palace. Surrounding this
were houses of artisans. These houses were rectangular, using a post and
beam construction and were built on stamped earth platforms.
Subterranean pithouses were located near the capital, which may have
been used for storage and service quarters. The Shang people had bronze
weapons, bronze fittings for chariots and harnesses, and bronze vessels
connected with worship. Everyday vessels were of earthenware, rather
than bronze, because metals were scarce in China. The earthenware of
this time was almost porcelain, only missing the glaze that would have
made it porcelain. Despite being agriculturalists, the Shang had rather
primitive implements. They did not use ploughs, favoring hoes instead,
and most of the implements were made of wood and stone. They grew
grains such as millet and some wheat, which were harvested with sickles.
The Shang had a unique form of descent. Rather than passing from father
to son, the Shang form of descent passed from the eldest brother to the
One of the most important technological developments of the Shang was
the invention of writing. They are the first group of people from China of
which written records are found. The most common place these writings
are found is on oracle bones used for divination. The bones used for this
purpose originally came from a number of animals, but were eventually
done exclusively on turtle shells. A question was written on the bone,
which was then fired and a T shaped crack was produced which was
interpreted, and the interpretation was then written on the bone. After the
predicted event occurred, the date of the occurrence was also written on
the bone. Writing is also found on bronze and stone, but the majority of
the records have decayed as they were recorded on bamboo strips. The
Shang may also have written on silk.
The Shang worshipped the
over lesser gods, the sun, the moon, the wind, the rain, and other natural
forces and places. Highly ritualized, ancestor worship became a part of
the Shang religion. Sacrifice to the gods and the ancestors was also a
major part of the Shang religion. When a king died, hundreds of slaves
and prisoners were often sacrificed and buried with him. People were also
sacrificed in lower numbers when important events, such as the founding
of a palace or temple, occurred.
The Shang king had considerable power over his subjects. Public works
were built that required many people. The capital at Zhengzhou, for
example, had a wall of stamped earth around it that was four miles long
and up to 27 feet high in areas. Stamped earth walls were made by
pounding thin layers of earth within a movable wooden frame. The earth
then becomes as hard as cement.
kingdom. Due to their nomadic ways, they
learned how to work
eventually became stronger than the Shang, and in about 1040 B.C. they
defeated the Shang
warfare. They built their capital
Xi'an. Part of
city-states. The Shang were also weakened due to their constant warfare
with people to the north.
Traditional Chinese history says that the Zhou were able to take over the
Shang because the Shang had degenerated morally. Part of this belief may
have been caused by the Zhou themselves, who are credited with the idea
of the Mandate of Heaven. The Zhou used this idea to validate their
takeover and subsequent ruling of the former Shang kingdom. The
Mandate of Heaven says that Heaven, or
places the mandate,
to rule on any family that is morally worthy of the
responsibility. Also, the only way to know if the Mandate of Heaven had
been removed from the ruling family was if they were overthrown. If the
ruler is overthrown, then the victors had the Mandate of Heaven.
The Zhou adopted much of the Shang lifestyle, often importing Shang
families or communities to new towns they built to utilize the knowledge
of the Shang artisans. The bronze vessels of the Zhou are nearly identical
with those of the Shang. The Zhou also adopted much of the Shang
writing system, rituals, and administration techniques. The Zhou however,
began a different form of governing, which was basically feudal. Land
was given to people in elaborate ceremonies. The landowners became
vassals to the king. Descent became patriarchal, from father to son, rather
than from eldest brother to youngest brother as practiced by the Shang.
The Zhou, despite transporting the Shang to their cities for their skills, did
not want to live directly with the Shang. Their capital was divided into
two sections, one for the Zhou, that contained the imperial court, and the
other half for the transported Shang. Other Zhou cities exhibit this same
characteristic. However, this was the only major change in cities from the
Shang Dynasty to the Zhou Dynasty. Otherwise, the houses remained the
same as in the Shang Dynasty.
The Zhou also brought their religion with them. They banned human
sacrifice. They practiced the cult of Heaven. The worship of sun and stars
was the most important thing. Some of the popular Shang gods became
incorporated into this system. They were lesser gods, and served as feudal
lords to the Heaven-god.
The Zhou Dynasty is divided into subperiods. The first is the Western
Zhou, which occurs from the time of their victory over the Shang until
about 771 B.C. when they were forced east by barbarians from the north.
The king was killed but his son was saved and moved east where a new
capital was formed in Loyang. This began the period known as the
Eastern Zhou. The Eastern Zhou is further divided into two time periods,
the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period. The Spring
and Autumn Period occurred from about 770-476 B.C. During this time,
the Zhou emperor steadily lost power due to the realization by the feudal
lords that he was not powerful and could be beaten, which had been
proven by the defeat in the west. The second half, the Warring States
Period, is so named because of the power struggle between the large
states of China that were trying to gain control over the entire area. It
lasted from about 475 - 221 B.C.
This time period of the Warring States is considered the classical age, it
was a time of great philosophers. This cultural flowering is sometimes
called the One Hundred Schools Period. Confucianism, Taoism, and
Legalism developed during this time. Of these three, Legalism had the
most immediate effect, as it was the philosophy that the
, the next
dynasty used as the basis of their rule. Some of the most memorable
poetry and prose was also written during this time. Other advances
included the writing down of the laws, an increase in market places, and a
money economy. The development of iron, and tools made of iron,
greatly increased agriculture and thus population exploded.
The Qin came to power in 221 B.C. They were one of the western states
that existed during the Warring States Period. They conquered the other
unifying China for the first time. Their leader named
himself the First Emperor, or Shi huangdi, thus beginning the tradition of
having emperors for rulers. The Qin, while not the most culturally
advanced of the Warring States was militarily the strongest. They utilized
many new technologies in warfare, especially cavalry. The Qin are
sometimes called the Ch'in, which is probably where the name China
The Qin made many changes that were meant to unify China and aid in
administrative tasks. First, the Qin implemented a Legalist form of
government, which was how the former Qin territory had been governed.
The area was divided up in 36 commanderies which were then subdivided
into counties. These commanderies had a civil governor, a military
commander, and an imperial inspector. The leaders of the commanderies
had to report to the Emperor in writing. The Legalist form of government
involved rewards and punishments to keep order. Also, the state had
absolute control over the people, and the former nobility lost all of their
power. The nobility were also transplanted from their homes to the capital.
Groups were formed of units of five to ten families, which then had a
group responsibility for the wrongdoings of any individual within the
The achievements of the Qin are numerous. They standardized the
language and writing of China, which had varied greatly from area to area
during the Warring States Period. This was done partially out of a need to
have a consistent way to communicate across the country; administrators
had to be able to read the writing of the commandery to which they were
sent. Also, currency became standardized as a circular copper coin with a
square hole in the middle. Measurements and axle length were also made
uniform. This was done because the cartwheels made ruts in the road, and
the ruts had to all be the same width, or carts with a different axle length
could not travel on them. Many public works projects were also
undertaken. A Great Wall was built in the north, to protect against
invasions. Roads and irrigation canals were built throughout the country.
Also, a huge palace was built for Shi huangdi. The Qin are also famous
for the terra cotta army that was found at the burial site for Shi huangdi.
The army consisted of 6,000 pottery soldiers that protected the tomb.
They may be a replacement for the actual people who had previously
been buried with the rulers.
Despite all of these accomplishments, Shi huangdi was not a popular
leader. The public works and taxes were too great a burden to the
population. It seemed that Shi huangdi could not be satisfied. Also, the
nobility disliked him because they were deprived of all their power and
transplanted. Finally, he banned all books that advocated forms of
government other than the current one. The writings of the great
philosophers of the
One Hundred Schools
time were burned and more
than 400 opponents were executed.
The Qin rule came to an end shortly after the First Emperor's death. Shi
huangdi had only ruled for 37 years, when he died suddenly in 210 B.C.
His son took the throne as the Second Emperor, but was quickly
overthrown and the
began in 206 B.C.
The Han empire began in 206 B.C. when Liu Bang, prince of Han,
army in the valley of Wei. The defeat was part of a
larger rebellion that began after the First Emporer's death. The people
were dissatisfied with the tyranny of the Qin leaders and their Legalist
form of government. However, while traditional Chinese history portrays
the Han as implementing immediate changes in government, evidence
shows the Han continued to rule in the tradition of the Qin, and only
gradually incorporated Confucian ideals into their Legalist form of
government. Economic expansion, changing relationships with the people
of the steppes, strengthening of the palace at the expense of the civil
service, weakening of the state's hold on the peasantry, and the rise of the
families of the rich and the gentry were all factors that led to the adoption
of Confucian ideals..
Under this new form of Legalism and Confucianism, rewards and
punishments were still used for common people. However, the
administrators were judged based on Confucian principles with the
justification for these different sets of standards as they were educated.
As a last resort, the ruler could use punishment for both the people and
the officials. It was believed that force alone was not a sufficient way to
rule and so the emperor needed the help of the Confucianists to guide him
morally. Evidence of rulers using their power to punish is found in the
records of officials who were beheaded.
When Liu Bang conquered the Qin, he created his capital at Ch'ang-an.
He kept most of the laws and regulations by the Qin and made many of
his friends nobility and gave them fiefs. However, the land was still
divided up into commanderies and prefectures. Even the fiefs given out
were treated like commanderies. Han power was based on direct control
of people by the state.
Like the Qin before them, the main goal of the Han was the unification of
China. This goal led to the eventual breakup of the fiefs and the downfall
of the imperial nobility. This process was finally complete during Wu Ti's
reign (141-87 B.C.) His reign was a period of great military expansion.
He expanded the borders into Vietnam and Korea and pushed the Hsiung
nu south of the Gobi. Wu Ti transplanted an estimated 2 million people to
the northwestern region in order to colonize these areas.
The expansion also led to trade with the people of inner Asia. Thereafter,
the Silk Road was developed. The Silk Road actually consisted of more
than one possible route through the mountains that the traders followed.
Agriculture grew with the development of better tools. Iron tools were
made of better quality, and oxen drawn ploughs were commonly used.
Irrigation systems were increased to help develop the areas of North
China. Crop rotation was also practiced from 85 B.C. onwards. The state
attempted to monopolize the production of iron and salt, which were the
two biggest sectors of the economy, but succeeded for less than a century.
Silk weaving and copper work were also important activities.
Education became more important during this period, as a new class of
gentry was introduced. A result of this was the compilation of many
encyclopedias. The best known is the
Book of the Mountains and Seas
which contained everything known at the time about geography, natural
philosophy, the animal and plant world, and popular myths. Sima Qian,
considered to be China's greatest historian wrote his famous
the Historian (Shiji)
during this time. This history book became the
model by which all other histories would follow. It was one of the first
attempts in China to make a record of the past in a proper form.
The Han Dynasty is actually two separate dynasties. It is considered one
dynasty by the Chinese because the second dynasty was founded by a
member of the former Han dynasty who declared he had restored the Han
Dynasty. The original Han Dynasty was overthrown when the wealthy
families gained more power than the emperor. The families became allied
with each other through marriages and were responsible for the selection
of officials. The widow of the emperor Yü
an Ti succeeded in placing all
of her relatives in government positions and ruling in place of her son.
Her nephew, Wang Mang eventually declared himself emperor of a new
dynasty, the Hsing (New). His rise to emperor is unusual because he
gained much public support on his rise and he began a ceremony in which
a seal of precious stone was passed to the emperor. From then on,
whoever held this seal was the official emperor. Wang Mang was
overthrown by a secret society of peasants known as the Red Eyebrows,
because they painted their eyebrows red. The descendents of the Han
dynasty eventually joined in the uprising, and, it was the armies of these
nobles, under the leadership of Liu Hsiu, who killed Wang Mang in
22A.D. The fighting continued until 25 A.D., when Liu Hsiu became the
emperor. As an emperor he was called Kuang-wu Ti. Millions of people
died during the fighting, leaving land for the peasants, and often, the
freedom of debt as the lenders had died.
The second Han Dynasty had much success with their foreign policy. Part
of this success was due more to luck than to anything the Han did. The
Hsiung nu who had previously been one of the most dangerous enemies
of the Chinese were defeated by the Hsien-pi and the Wu- huan. Half of
the Hsiung nu moved south, and became part of the Chinese empire. The
in Turkestan. The whole of Turkestan was quickly conquered
Ming Ti died and Chang Ti became emperor. He favored an isolationist
policy so that much of what was gained in Turkestan was now lost. Pan
Turkestan to try and hold onto what had been won, and eventually in 89
A.D. a new emperor came to power with a renewed
Turkestan. Despite this military success, economic and political struggles
arose within China. Internal struggles for power taxed the peasants, until
in 184 A.D. when another peasant uprising occurred. This movement was
begun by the Y
ellow Turbans. This uprising served to unite the factions
unite to defeat the Y
ellow Turbans. Despite conquering them, China did
not return to a united state. Rather,
emerged and the Han
dynasty came to an end.
The end of the
was followed by a long period of disunity
and civil war. It began with the Three Kingdoms. These kingdoms grew
out of the three chief economic areas of the
. The leaders of
the kingdoms strove to reunite the empire and were therefore at constant
warfare. These three kingdoms were the Wei, in northern China, the Shu
to the west, and the Wu in the east. The Three Kingdoms existed from
began to spread throughout China during this
period. It was introduced in the first century A.D. but did not really begin
to spread until after the Han empire collapsed. Tea, although not as
popular as it would be in later times, was discovered in the south during
this period. Porcelain was also developed during this time.
The kingdom of Wei was ruled by Ts'ao Ts'ao. This was the strongest of
the kingdoms, and he had power over the valley of Wei even during the
time of the Han rule. Ts'ao Ts'ao attempted to unify all of China under his
rule, but was defeated by Sun Ch'ü
an and Liu Pei in the battle of the Red
Cliff. This defeat was the beginning of the division into three kingdoms.
The Wei and Shu kingdoms were both centralized, legalist kingdoms,
while the Wu kingdom was ruled by a confederation of the most powerful
families of the area. The Wei kingdom eventually captured the Shu
kingdom in 263 A.D.
Ts'ao Ts'ao instituted many military changes that would have a great
impact on the future of China. His army consisted of both Chinese and
people that were considered barbarians, the Hsiung-nu, the Hsien-pei,
Wu-huan and the Ch'iang. The members of his army who provided the
best troops were the former nomadic herdsmen of the steppes. They were
the most skilled mounted bowmen. The use of people from different
groups resulted in an assimilation among the people which had not
occurred in the past. In the future, these assimilated nomads would form
independent kingdoms in North China. The Ssu-ma was a militant family
that rose to power very quickly, and one of its members, Ssu-ma Yen
founded the new
in 265 A.D.
Ssu-ma Yen began the Chin Dynasty; he ruled from 265-289A.D. As an
emperor, he was called Wu Ti. The Chin managed to reunify China when,
in 280 A.D., they conquered the Wu Kingdom, thus ending the period of
The Three Kingdoms
. Despite this success, they were not a stable empire.
After defeating the Wu, there was no longer a serious danger of being
invaded. Therefore, the emperor declared the armies should be disbanded,
and all the arms returned. However, this did not occur in every region.
The princes, most of whom had been given their titles due to their
relationship to the emperor, declared they needed personal guards. The
discharged soldiers belonged mainly to the state and didn't give up their
weapons either. Instead, they sold them, mainly to the Hsiung-nu and the
Hsien-pi. This was a fatal mistake of the Chin government, as it made
them virtually powerless, while all their rivals and enemies gained power.
After the death of Ssu-ma Yen, there was never again a strong leader. The
leaders and princes were often assassinated in the struggle for power.
During this time, the Chinese people surrounding the capital suffered due
to the fighting and began a migration out from the center of the empire to
the more peaceful frontier regions.
The Chin were eventually defeated by the Huns, who claimed they were
descendents of the
because of the Han princesses given to
them in marriage. However, they never succeeded in forming a true
dynasty and uniting China. Rather, the disunity continued with the
Northern and Southern dynasties
. The defeated Chin fled and from
317-420 they ruled as the Eastern Chin in Nanking.
The Dynasties of the North and South were another lengthy period of
disunity and internal strife for China. It lasted from 317-589A.D. During
this time period, the north and south were split and two separate
successions of dynasties formed. In both the north and the south, there
were different groups of rulers. Many of the dynasties overlapped each
other in terms of time.
The northern dynasties consisted of the Northern Wei (386-533A.D.), the
Eastern Wei (534-540A.D.), the Western Wei (535-557A.D.), the
Northern Qi (550-577A.D.) and the Northern Zhou (557-588). The
southern dynasties consisted of the Song (420-478 A.D.), the Qi (479-501
A.D.), the Liang (502-556 A.D.) and the Chen (557-588 A.D.).
In the north especially,
flourished. This was due partly to the
fact that the nobles who had been the main followers of Confucianism
moved south. The tenets of Buddhism appealed to the country people for
a number of reasons, but especially because of Buddhism's promise of an
afterlife, which is nonexistent in Confucianism. The poor who had
suffered under the wealthy were offered hope in Buddhism's
reincarnation to a better life if one lived their current life well. This meant
the nobles who had oppressed them would come back to a harder life and
they would come back to a better life. Another factor in the spread of
Buddhism was China was ruled by non-Chinese, who were not already
committed to the Confucian religion or the traditional shamanistic
religions of China.
who had been an official of the
. The Sui Dynasty had only
two emperors, Y
ang Chien who was called Emperor Wen Ti and his son
ang. Traditionally, Emperor Y
ang is portrayed as usurping the
power, and is criticized for the amount of money he spent and
simply continuations of his father's policies.
Despite having a short lifetime, the Sui Dynasty accomplished many
things. The Grand Canal was extended north from Hangzhou across the
Yangzi to Yangzhou and then northwest to the region of Louyang. The
internal administration also improved during this time, which is evident
by several things; the building of granaries around the capitals, the
fortification of the Great Wall along the northern borders, the
reconstruction of the two capitals near the Yellow River, and building of
another capital in Yangchow. Confucianism also began to regain
popularity, as the nobles gained importance.
The Sui rulers were interested in expanding their borders and, along with
their public works projects, they began costly military campaigns. They
were largely successful with their efforts at territorial expansion into the
south. However, to the north, in Korea, they did not achieve much. They
attacked Korea four times, and each time were met with defeat. These
defeats in Korea led to an attack by the Khan of the eastern Turks who
surrounded the emperor. Independent governments arose and for five
years, China was again split into smaller states.
The T’ang are closely associated with the
, and are often discussed as
the same dynasty. Their dynasty lasted from 618-907 A.D. Much of their
power was made possible through the canals built by the
canals allowed for communications to all parts of the empire. Also, the
granaries the Sui built alongside the canals helped the T’ang to transport
goods from the south to the north. This especially was important in the
transfer of rice to the north in times of famine. These canals were
important in the econ
omic development of the T’ang empire.
The T’ang expanded on the administrative system that dated from the 4
centuries B.C. and earlier. The administration was comprised of
four main departments: a Department of State Affairs, an Imperial
Chancellory, an Imperial Grand Secretariat, and a Council of State.
Judicially, the T’ang also made many advances. They first compiled the
T’ang Code in 624 A.D. This is the first complete Chinese code that still
exists. It consists of a continuous scale of penalties that are applied based
on both the crime and the degree of relation between the criminal and the
offended person. The degree was based on the amount of time that would
be spent in mourning if the person died. The T’ang Code had more than
five hundred articles divided into twelve sections.
The land distribution program of the T’ang was an important part of both
their agricultural reform and their economic growth. The T’ang
implemented a program where they gave life plots to the peasant families.
as supposed to be an equal distribution of the land. The T’ang
wanted to ensure that the families had enough land to both support
themselves and to pay taxes. Taxes were based therefore, not on how
much land one had, but on the number of people in the family. Each
person was responsible for certain taxes. This system of taxation by