Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ancient Chinese Life

Chinese life and Culture.
In the uncertain times of the late Zhou period, Chinese philosophers laid the groundwork for the basic philosophical schools that would be influential in later Chinese history. One of their basic ideas was the dualism, or two-sidedness, of nature. They taught that everything in the world results from a balancing of complimentary forces, called yin and yang. Through the balancing of yin and yang, people could achieve harmony. Perhaps the most influential scholar to offer a practical guide to achieving this harmony was Kongzi, known in the West as Confucius. Confucius taught about the importance of family, respect for one’s elders, and reverence for the past. These three concepts formed the basis of Confucian philosophy.

Other philosophies and religious teachings offered other ideas about China’s problems. Daoism, for example, took its name from its central idea, the Dao, or Way of Nature. Daoists believed that people should withdraw and contemplate the natural harmony of the world in order to learn from it and allow it to govern human affairs. Daosim and Confucianism eventually came to complement one another.

Legalism, on the other hand, was a school of philosophy that taught that people were basically selfish and untrustworthy and had to be controlled with harsh measures. The Legalists believed in power, not virtue, and in the importance of having harsh laws. It was in part their adherence to Legalist views that made the Qin under Shi Huangdi so unpopular. The Han, on the other hand, followed a Confucian model in their approach to government.

The family, not the individual, was the most important unit of Chinese society. The father ruled the family and women were subordinate to men although Chinese society also taught great respect for mothers and mothers-in-law. Within the household, these women held considerable power. Until she had born a son, on the other hand, a new wife might be treated almost like a servant in her husband’s family. Respect for one’s aged parents, and especially for one’s father, was an important virtue.

As civilization prospered in China, the Chinese also developed skills in the arts and sciences. The most important works of Chinese literature were the Five Classics: the Book of History; the Book of Poetry; the Book of Divination; the Spring and Autumn Annals; and the Book of Rites. The Five Classics became the basis on which all Chinese scholars were educated. We do not know who wrote these works or when they were written. The Analects of Confucius were also essential reading for all properly brought up young men. Indeed, these works became the mainstay of the imperial civil service examinations and did much to maintain the unity of imperial culture throughout the various regions of China. Most of all, the use of these texts in Chinese education emphasized respect for tradition and knowledge of the past.

In science, Chinese astronomers early on computed the year to be 36514 days long. In 28 B.C., Chinese astronomers first observed sunspots and sometime before A.D. 100 they were building special instruments to observe the movement of planets. Another scientific invention was a primitive seismograph that could detect even the faintest earthquakes. The Chinese developed paper, as well as such things as the sundial, the water clock, and a process of printing.

While China developed in relative isolation in eastern Asia, far to the west new civilizations began to develop around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. These civilizations were the beneficiaries of earlier developments in Mesopotamia and Egypt.


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