Friday, June 16, 2017

Ancient Chinese Civilization Shang, Zhou, Qin & Han dynasties

Ancient Chinese Civilization
Unlike civilizations further west, Chinese civilization developed in relative isolation from outside influences. This was because China was cut off by its great distance from other centers of civilization, as well as by geographical barriers such as the Gobi desert and the towering mountains of Central Asia.

Their lack of contact with foreigners helped give the Chinese a strong sense of identity and superiority. They regarded their land as the only civilized land and called it Zhonggno, the “Middle Kingdom.” To the Chinese it represented the center of world.

Geographical and cultural influences. As elsewhere, the development of civilization in China was greatly affected by its geography. The heartland of China stretches from the coast up the valleys of the Huang He, Chang Jiang, and Xi Jiang rivers. The valley of the Huang He is particularly fertile due to the rich yellow soil known as loess. So much of this soil washes into the Huang He that it is sometimes called the Yellow River. The river is also prone to flooding, which in turn has led to another nickname, “China’s Sorrow.” In addition to being isolated by mountains and deserts, China itself is divided by the Qinling (CHIN•LING) Shandi, a range of mountains that separates north and south China. These mountains also mark the boundary between two different types of agriculture in the north, wheat was the principal crop, while in the south Chinese farmers primarily grew rice.

This heartland region, sometimes called China Proper, is surrounded by a number of outlying regions: Tibet, Xinjiang (SHIN»JYAHNG), Mongolia, Manchuria, and Korea. From these more forbidding areas, the heartland of China has sometimes been attacked by nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples. Historically, the Chinese have tried to control these areas, either to protect themselves from attack or to gain valuable trade routes. In the process of unifying or controlling all these areas, the Chinese developed a tradition of imperial rule.

The Shang dynasty. China’s first historic dynasty, the Shang, began along the Huang He sometime between 1750 B.C. and 1500 B.C. During the Shang period, many elements of later Chinese civilization began to develop, notably a writing system, and a religious tradition that combined animism a belief that spirits inhabit everything with ancestor worship. The Chinese worshiped gods of the wind, Sun, clouds, and moon. They also believed that the principal god, Shang Ti, was responsible for their destiny and controlled the forces of nature. Shang rulers tried to appeal to Shang Ti through their ancestors.

The Zhou, Qin, and Han dynasties. In 1122 B.C., the Shang were conquered by the Zhou (JOH), a powerful tribe from the northwest frontier. The Zhou claimed that their right to rule was divinely granted because Shang Ti had withdrawn his favor from the Shang dynasty. Instead, the Mandate of Heaven, as they began to call it, had passed to them. Future rulers of China would also argue that they ruled because they had this mandate, and if a dynasty lost the throne it was because they had lost the Mandate of Heaven.

Although they ruled China for about 900 years, the Zhou did not impose a centralized form of government. Instead they granted territories to members of the royal family and their allies to rule as they liked, so long as they provided the Zhou monarch with military service and tribute. Eventually, Zhou power declined and a number of warring states emerged to struggle for control of the country. One of these warring states, the Qin (CHIN), emerged victorious in 221 B.C. and founded a new dynasty.

Although the Qin dynasty only lasted a short time, until 206 B.C., it united China under a strong, central government for the first time in history. The first Qin ruler took the title Shi Huangdi, meaning “first emperor.” The Qin established the first real Chinese empire. They also standardized weights, measures, and coinage; established a uniform system of writing; and imposed a single system of taxation throughout the country. In order to maintain their rule, however, the Qin were harsh in their methods. Discontent soon grew, and in 202 B.C. Liu Bang, a commoner, raised a revolt that overthrew the Qin and established a new dynasty, the Han.

Like the Qin, the Han dynasty maintained a strong centralized government, but it ruled less harshly and more wisely. The Han improved the Qin bureaucracy and built a centralized civil service system, eventually based on an examination system tor prospective officials, to run the empire. They also increased trade, expanded and defended the frontiers, and generally tried to improve the economy of" China. Linder their rule, China prospered and many new tools and luxury goods became available including paper, a Chinese invention that later spread to the West. Eventually, however, the quality of emperors declined and in A.D. 220 the Han dynasty fell. For hundreds of years, nomadic tribes swept across northern China. Not until A.D. 589 did a Chinese general once again unify China and restore the imperial tradition.


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