Ancient Civilizations Project:China
China - Geography
Post-Neolithic Dynasties in ChinaShang Dynasty (1523-1028 BCE)Zhou Dynasty (1027-256 BCE)Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE)Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE)Six Dynasties (220-586)Sui Dynasty (581-618)Tang Dynasty (618-906)Five Dynasties (907-960)Song Dynasty (960-1279)Yuan (1280-1365) Mongol ruleMing Dynasty (1368-1644)Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) Manchu rule
Neolithic China (3000-1500 BCE)
The Shang Dynasty (1523-1028 BCE)
The Zhou Dynasty (1045 221 BCE)
Qin Dynasty (221 206 BCE)
Han Dynasty (206 BCE 220 CE)
Sui Dynasty (581-618)
Tang Dynasty (618-906)
Sung Dynasty (960-1279)
Yuan Dynasty (Mongol) 1280-1365
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
Qing Dynasty (1644-1912)
Origins Chinese CivilizationChinese civilization is the oldest continuous, homogenous major culture in the world today.
Historians have usually dated the beginning of Chinese civilization to the establishment of the Xia dynasty more than 4,000 years ago.
Chinese civilization was the last of the great ancient civilizations to fully flower. By the time the Shang (1523-1028 BCE) began to emerge, societies in Mesopotamia and the Nile River Valley were advanced civilizations.
The earliest Chinese civilization was a river valley civilization like Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India.
Chinese civilization was founded on the Huang He (Yellow) River, the second largest river in China after the Yangtze.
Early Chinese Civilization:The Huang He River
Part I. Belief / Value System
Belief Systems China:Religions and PhilosophiesDuring the Shang, people began to believe in one god, Shang Di, who presided over the forces of nature.
- As time went on, this concept of an anthropomorphic god evolved into the more impersonal symbol of the universe known as Heaven (Tian).
Two elements of religious worship in China:
- ancestor worship- worship of the spirits of nature
Unlike the West, Chinese priests did not enjoy a position of power in society.
Belief Systems China:Religions and PhilosophiesIn China, unlike the West, there is no creation myth, no source of divine law outside of nature.
- Nature contributed to divine ideas- Moral law was represented by human authority: the sage kings, the Zhou founders, and Confucius.
Religion has a practical rather than a mystical concern.
Philosophy has to do primarily with ethical conduct in actual life, not with abstract questions as in the West. Exceptions:
- Buddhism from India- Daoism
Belief Systems China:Religions and PhilosophiesMost of Chinas enduring religions / philosophies emerged by the end of the Zhou Dynasty known as the
Hundred schools of ancient philosophy.
Belief Systems China:Religions and PhilosophiesOne of the earliest ideas was that the universe was divided into two forces Liang Yi:
- good and evil- light and dark- male and female- (yin) and (yang)
Life was a process of interaction between these opposing forces. Harmonious life is when there is a unity of opposites.
ConfucianismConfucianism / Kung Fu-tzu (551-479 BCE)
Wanted to find work as a political adviser in one of Chinas principalities but never found a patron.
His philosophy is found in the Analects in the form of conversations with his disciples
There is no evidence that Confucius wrote anything at all (like Buddha, Socrates and Jesus)
His philosophy was political and ethical. Not very concerned with the cosmos.
- to love others- to honor ones parents (ancestor worship & filial piety)- to do what is right rather than what is advantageous- to lead by example- to rule by moral example and not by force
ConfucianismConfucius / Kung Fu-tzu (551-479 BCE)
Ancestor Worship & Filial Piety
Interconnected and part of the same concept respect for elders = one of the key components of Chinese culture.
Ancestor worship Chinese keep a small shrine in their homes with tablets commemorating all the deceased members of their family.
- They also visit the cemeteries during the warmer months to visit the deceased and clean the graves.
ConfucianismConfucius / Kung Fu-tzu (551-479 BCE)
Filial Piety - Respect for one's parents
For Confucius, it is the starting point of humane behavior.
It is part of everyones Dao (Way).
Filial Piety is at the root of the Six Relationships, the basis for all social connections between people:
Belief Systems China:The Six Relationships
Belief Systems China:The Six RelationshipsIn each relationship, the superior member has the duty of benevolence and care for the subordinate member.
The subordinate member has the duty of obedience.
The only equal relationship is between friends, unless one is older than the other.
Unlike in India, where social relations are absolute (caste and karma determine everything) obedience in China DEPENDS on the fulfillment of the superior persons duty.
Confucianism and Filial PietyWhat are some problems that may result from too much filial piety?
Would you say that Confucianism is a conservative, liberal, or radical belief system?
ConfucianismConfucianism / Kung Fu-tzu
The key to proper, ethical behavior is for everyone to act according to their Dao (Way).
- Even the ruler had his own Dao and if he ignored it he would lose his mandate from heaven to rule.
- A ruler that had to resort to force to subdue his population has already failed in his duty.
Two main elements of the Dao:
- all individuals had to subordinate their personal interests and aspirations to the broader need of the family and the community.
- individuals must possess the idea of humanity compassion and empathy for others / Do NOT do unto others what you WOULD NOT wish do to yourself.
ConfucianismConfucius / Kung Fu-tzu
Confucius believed government should be open to all men of superior quality and not limited to those of noble birth.
- This idea was not accepted immediately but later influenced Chinas introduction of the civil service exam for government officials.
An important disciple of Confucius was Mencius (370290 BCE).
- Believed humans were good by nature - Rulers duty was to rule with compassion.
ConfucianismConfucianism became the ruling philosophy first during the Han Dynasty and later during the:
- Tang- Sung- Yuan (even though the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan was Buddhist)- Ming- Qing
The Sui Dynasty made Buddhism and Daoism the ruling philosophies, expanding Buddhist monasteries and promoting Buddhist monks to key positions as political advisers.
Confucius and Mencius
Confucius and SocratesBoth lived within a century of each other:
- Confucius (551 479 BCE)- Socrates (470 399 BCE)
Both were philosophers who were mainly concerned with questions of moral behavior / both were consultants of better, ethical behavior
Both had an enormous influence on their societies
- Confucius = Eastern Civilization- Socrates = Western Civilization
Neither left their thoughts in writing but their ideas were spread by their disciples
Belief Systems China:Religions and PhilosophiesLegalism
Han Feizi founder of the Legalist school of thought.Disputed Confucius and Mencius view that humans are naturally inclined towards good.
Legalists believed that people are by nature evil and need to be forced to do good by harsh laws and stiff punishments.
Only a strong ruler could create an orderly society / Only firm action by the state could bring about social order.
Belief Systems China:Legalism in PracticeShi Huangdi, leader of the Qin Dynasty made Legalism the first ruling ideology in Chinas history.
Created an authoritarian system:
- non-Legalist political philosophies (including Confucianism) were banned- books offering views contrary to Legalist principles were burned- all disagreements with the government was made a capital crime
The dynasty was overthrown because it was too oppressive
Dynastic Rule and Structure of GovernmentShi Huangdi centralized political power in his hands. His way of ruling became a model for future Chinese dynasties. He did this by:
- Appointing officials at the provincial and county level / they did not inherit their positions like under the Zhou
- Unified the system of weights and measures
- Standardized the money system & the alphabet
- Constructed a system of roads all over the empire
Belief Systems China:Legalism in PracticePeople were conscripted for mandatory state projects:
Irrigation projects Construction of sections of the Great Wall
Legalist Influence on Chinas Leaders
Part II. Government and Politics
Dynastic Rule and Structure of GovernmentSince the Shang, China has been ruled by hereditary dynasties led by Emperors.
The Zhou overthrew the Shang an justified this by the theory of the Mandate of Heaven, the explanation used by all subsequent ruling dynasties of China.
Causes of Dynasties to FallRivalries between different landed aristocratic clans
Corrupt or weak emperors
Crushing tax burden, especially on the peasants > peasant rebellions
Sharp economic inequality
Constant barbarian attacks
Oppressive, authoritarian rule
Dynastic Rule and Structure of GovernmentEver since the Shang, the country was divided into different levels territories:
Beginning with the Shang, the country was divided into territories governed by aristocratic chiefs that the Emperor appointed.
- He could depose each administrator as he pleased.
Under the Tang, the country was divided into provinces, districts and villages.
- The village level government was run by village elders.- Handled local issues and tax collecting for the central government.- Most people had little involvement with government. If they did, it was on the village level.
Dynastic Rule and Structure of Government1. Emperor
2. Grand Council
a. assisted by a secretariat and a chancelleryb. included representatives from all three authorities:
3. Department of State Affairsa. composed of six ministries
- justice / military affairs / personnel / public works / revenue / ritual
The Civil Service ExamFirst given in 165 BCE during the Han dynasty, it was a way to provide well educated and well trained government bureaucrats.
Civil Service Exams under the Han were based on Confucian political & social ethics.
Theoretically, most males were eligible to take the exams except criminals and merchants.
-During the Sung Dynasty, relatives of nobles serving in the imperial court and eunuchs were also not allowed to take the exam. Still, most that took it were landed nobles.
- In reality, most poor males could not afford to sacrifice work time to study in the academy.
Academies were opened under the Han to prepare students for the exams.
The Civil Service ExamUnder the Sung Dynasty, the examination system attained the form it was to retain to the end of the dynastic system:
- 3 levels of exams for different government positions
- Students complained the exams were too difficult or that it was all memorization and irrelevant.
- Many brought cheat sheets with them
The Civil Service ExamThe Qing (Manchu) Dynasty (1644-1912) tried to make the civil service exam more equitable by establishing quotas for each major ethnic group and province.
The Civil Service ExamWith all its imperfections, the exam:
- provided for more efficient government
- more opportunity for upward mobility
It was abolished just before the Ming were overthrown.
Part III. Social Classes
Landed AristocracyThe elites throughout Chinese civilization until the 20th century.
- Played a dominant role in the political and economic life of China.
- The best arable land was concentrated in their hands. Peasants worked as tenant farmers for them.
Shi Huangdi tried to break their power by dividing their estates among the peasants. (like Ivan the Terrible in Russia in the 16th century).
Most attempts by Chinese leaders to break the power of the landed nobility by distributing the land to the poor ended in failure.
- Many revolts in China were caused by the issue of land distribution: the large peasant population was chronically short of land while the landed nobility never wanted its land confiscated and redistributed.
PeasantryUnlike in the West, the peasantry in China did not occupy the lowest rung of society.
Chinese peasants owned their own land since Shang period but were often turned into tenant farmers when the landed aristocracy grabbed their land.
Before the Tang, many peasants were reduced to serfdom or slavery again by aristocratic landowners.
For most of Chinas history, the peasantry was crushed with a host of different taxes. Also forced to work on public works:
- irrigation projects- constructing the Great Wall- military conscription
Chinese peasant rebellions were the largest and most violent of any society.
MerchantsThe mind of a superior man dwells on righteousness; the mind of a little man dwells on profit". - Confucius
Merchants were treated particularly poorly in comparison to other societies.
- During the Zhou dynasty, they were considered the property of the local lord and on occasion could even be bought and sold like chattel.
- Qin rulers viewed them as parasites / private commercial activities were severely restricted and heavily taxed.
MerchantsDuring the Han dynasty, merchants were prohibited from seeking political office, restricted to where they could live, and generally viewed as parasites that do not add value to Chinese society.
The Tang and Song dynasties continued to restrict the merchants.
Other Social Groups: EunuchsShi Huangdi established a class of eunuchs who served as personal attendants of the emperor and female members of his family.
- Why? Since eunuchs could not have children, they would not rise up against the emperor to sieze power for his sons.
To restrict the influence of male courtiers.
Eunuchs became a standard fixture of the Chinese imperial system.
Part IV. Economic Activity
AgricultureFor most of Chinese history, agriculture was the main economic activity and the main source of production.
The predominance of agriculture even led the Ming rulers to suspend forever overseas exploration.
When the Industrial Revolution developed in Europe, China ignored it.
CommerceFrom the days of the Qin, the state directed much trade and manufacturing:
- weapons / operated shipyards, granaries, mines- directed foreign trade with neighboring countries
Chinas trade and prosperity grew greatly under the Han dynasty.
The Tang and Song dynasties relaxed the government monopoly on long-distance trade and encouraged private commerce.
CommerceTrade and foreign contact increased under the Tang and Yuan dynasties.
- The Mongols controlled China under the Yuan / their empire stretched to Europe and south into the Middle East.
The Ming rulers who replaced the Mongols at first strictly curtailed foreign contacts until Muslim eunuch Zheng He was allowed to go on 7 explorations from 1405-1432.
- Afterwards, all maritime expeditions were suspended indefinitely. - This marks the beginning of Chinas stagnation and decline.