The Shang Dynasty
The Shang is considered by most to be the
first true dynasty of China. Traditional Chinese
history indic...
The Zhou Dynasty
The Zhou began as a semi-nomadic (they
moved frequently) tribe that lived to the west of the
Shang kingdo...
The Qin Dynasty
The Qin came to power in 221 B.C. They
were one of the western states that existed during
the Warring Stat...
The Han Dynasty
The Han dynasty, which lasted from
approximately 206 B.C.E. to 220 C.E., was
founded by Liu Bang (pronounc...
Dynasty,
time period,
& “Age”
Government & Social
Structure
Philosophies & Religions
Inventions,
Achievements, &
Discoveri...
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  1. 1. The Shang Dynasty The Shang is considered by most to be the first true dynasty of China. Traditional Chinese history indicates that the Shang Dynasty consisted of 30 kings and seven different, successive, capitals. The Shang Dynasty exited from 1600 BC to 1046 BC and is, due to the extensive use of bronze in weapons and tools, categorized as part of the “Bronze Age.” The Shang civilization resembled the feudal system that arose centuries later in Western Europe. A number of small city-states existed along the Huang He (yellow river) and Yangtze rivers. The clan ruler of each city-state owed his loyalty to the emperor. He paid rent on the land and also provided military support to the emperor when called on. In exchange, the emperor gave the clan ruler absolute power over his own city-state. Within the city-state, the clan ruler protected his people from attack by outsiders in return for their service (farming, military service, special requests, etc.). This type of social structure is called feudalism. The Shang government was hierarchical, which means there were many different levels of government. The King was central to the Shang government with many levels of nobles following in rank and power. 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 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 youngest brother. 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 (predicting the future, fortune telling). 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 "Shang Ti." This god ruled as a supreme god over lesser gods, the sun, the moon, the wind, the rain, and other natural forces and places. This 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.
  2. 2. The Zhou Dynasty The Zhou began as a semi-nomadic (they moved frequently) tribe that lived to the west of the Shang kingdom. Due to their nomadic ways, they learned how to work with people of different cultures. The Zhou eventually became stronger than the Shang, and in about 1040 B.C. they defeated the Shang in warfare. They built their capital in Xi'an and their empire lasted until 256$BC. The Zhou Dynasty is credited with the idea of the Mandate of Heaven. The Mandate of Heaven says that Heaven, or tian, decides what family has the power to rule over China. 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 now 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. Most times, however, the Zhou refused to live with the Shang so cities were divided into two sections – one for each population. The bronze vessels of the Zhou are nearly identical with those of the Shang, however the Zhou ushered in the Iron Age as they started experimenting with iron tools. The Zhou also adopted much of the Shang writing system, rituals, and administration techniques. The Zhou also brought their religion with them. They banned human sacrifice, which was practiced under the Shang. The worship of sun and stars was the most important thing. Some of the popular Shang gods became incorporated into this system. The Zhou also continued (but improved) a new type of social system called feudalism. Under feudalism, the king owned all of the land. In exchange for some of the food produced on the land, and the promise of warriors in times of war, the king would grant nobles large plots of land. Nobles in turn would provide warriors with shelter and weapons in return for a promise to fight for them. The nobles would also give peasants small plots of land to work and live on in return for a percentage of the food they produced each. Late in its history, the Zhou Dynasty can be divided into two periods: the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period. In the Spring and Autumn Period 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, when the Zhou Dynasty eventually crumbled due to a destruction of organization within the empire. The empire had grown too large and communication was so poorly done that other states vied, or competed, for power. Two very significant belief systems emerged during the reign of the Zhou Dynasty – Confucianism and Legalism. Confucian was a philosopher who became known during the Spring and Autumn Period. He believed strongly that human beings could be made “perfect” through personal striving and effort. Confucianism teaches people to become “better human beings” by improving behavior, morals, and decision making. During the Warring States Period Legalism became popular as it advocated strict rules, harsh punishments, and encouraged measures like spying on ones neighbors. Neither of these two religions dealt with “higher beings” or “gods” but more addressed day-to-day living.
  3. 3. The Qin Dynasty The Qin came to power in 221 B.C. They were one of the western states that existed during the Warring States Period in the Zhou period. They conquered the other Warring States, 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 instead of kings. 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 (soldiers fighting on horseback). The Qin are sometimes called the Ch'in, which is probably where the name China originated. The Qin made many changes that were meant to unify China and aid in administrative tasks. First, the Qin implemented a Legalist (very strict rules, harsh punishments) form of government, which was how the former Qin territory had been governed. The area was divided up into 36 commanderies (sections, states), which were then divided again into counties. Each commandery had a governor, a military commander, and an imperial inspector. The Legalist form of government involved rewards and punishments to keep order. Most importantly, the state had absolute control over the people, and the former nobility lost all of their power. Families were grouped together to form units of five to ten families, which then had a group responsibility for the wrongdoings of any individual within the group. Because of the strict legalist form of government, religion was suppressed in many areas as religious leaders feared punishment. Religious beliefs during the short-lived Qin Dynasty continued with an emphasis on shen (or spirits), sacrifices to the gods, and divination, a practice meant to predict or even influence the future. 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 started in the north to protect against invasions from Mongols. It was finished during the Han Dynasty, which immediately followed the Qin. Roads and irrigation canals were built throughout the country. 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. Finally, he banned all books that advocated forms of government other than the current one. The writings many great philosophers 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 Han Dynasty, China’s Golden Age, began in 206 B.C.
  4. 4. The Han Dynasty The Han dynasty, which lasted from approximately 206 B.C.E. to 220 C.E., was founded by Liu Bang (pronounced LEO-BONG), a man born to a peasant family. Liu, the king of the state of Han, rose to power after the Qin dynasty collapsed in 206 B.C.E. The achievements of the Han dynasty so influenced Chinese culture that the Chinese word for "Chinese person" is "a person of Han." During the Han dynasty, China experienced a period of peace, stability, and prosperity. Han emperors established a strong military, which allowed them to conquer new territories, expanding the reach of the empire as far as modern-day Korea and North Vietnam. In addition, they created alliances with neighboring peoples. These alliances were often forged through strategic marriages or the exchange of lavish (very nice, fancy, elaborate) presents. Under the Han, the Chinese also engaged in international trade. Trading such goods as silk, spices, and jade, the Chinese acquired new products and ideas - including Buddhism - from ancient cultures such as India, Central Asia, and Rome. Much of the trade occurred locally in small trade centers throughout Asia that became known collectively as the Silk Road. The Han Dynasty restored the social land system that dominated China for most of its history, feudalism. Under feudalism, the king owned all of the land. In exchange for some of the food produced on the land, and the promise of warriors in times of war, the king would grant nobles large plots of land. Nobles in turn would provide warriors with shelter and weapons in return for a promise to fight for them. The nobles would also give peasants small plots of land to work and live on in return for a percentage of the food they produced each. During the Han dynasty, great achievements were made in the areas of education, culture, and science. Shifting away from the Legalist (strict laws, harsh punishments) philosophy of the Qin dynasty, Han rulers instituted a Confucian system of government under which government officials were selected based on merit (quality, ability), rather than by birth. Scholars who proved their knowledge of Confucian classics and literary talent were appointed as officials (workers who enforced Han laws and collected taxes). In addition, the Han government promoted the development of the arts: paper was invented, painting and calligraphy (the art of writing) flourished, and fine porcelain (white ceramic) was created. The Han period also saw some remarkable advances in science and technology, such as the invention of water clocks (a close that uses the flow of water to measure time), star maps, and compasses. Acupuncture, the piercing of needles into the skin, became popular in the 2nd century C.E. along with herbal medicine as a treatment for common illnesses. The wheelbarrow, a common device most everywhere today, was also invented during the Han reign. The Han is also credited with inventing the iron plow, a durable device used to plant crops in the harsh Asian terrain. This device places the Han squarely in the Iron Age. Arguably the greatest achievement in all of Chinese history continued during the Han dynasty — the construction of the Great Wall of China. Originally begun during the Qin dynasty, the wall was restored under the Han it continued another 300 miles into the Gobi Desert to protect against attacks from central Asia.
  5. 5. Dynasty, time period, & “Age” Government & Social Structure Philosophies & Religions Inventions, Achievements, & Discoveries Other Cultural Details ! ! ! Shang ! ! ______#______! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Zhou ! ! ______#______! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Qin ! ! ______#______! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Han ! ! ______#______! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

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