When I think of ancient China, I can’t help but feel awe and reverence towards it. China has a mystical aura surrounding it. What probably brings out this feeling, is the tremendous amount of art and culture that can be found in china. The stories of morality and also immorality are told throughout china: of good emperor sages that were mandated by heaven to rule, and angry depraved kings who were overthrown because heaven did not want to be associated with them. Now, these are all just stories, and some have merit… but most are completely fictional. For the people of china though, these stories created a basis for decency; a way to see right from wrong, the good from the bad. For many people the idea of a higher being deciding for them what was good and what was evil was a way to do the right thing and know, for a fact, that it was the right thing to do, because god told them that it was.
Okay, a note on Confucius: A Chinese philosopher. His main idea was quite simple: to live with integrity. He propagated the idea of “ren”: basically to treat people as you would want to be treated. His ideas were mainly based on social interactions, for example: the son had to respect the father. He believed that by following these simple ideas one could become a “junzi” or a gentleman; the ideal man. Emperors, if subscribed to these rules of morality, according to Confucius, were able to run their lands efficiently and keep the mandate of heaven.
So… Let’s get back to what’s important. How did china first start it’s never ending dynastic rule?
Easy, just like Mesopotamia and Egypt: by finding rivers. The Yellow river to be somewhat more exact.
“Is the yellow river really yellow? That’s nuts!”
Well yeah, kind of, the loess sediment in it, gives it the yellow colour. Ok, so now that that’s out of the way we can continue…
So, just like other Neolithic societies, the people of the region started to settle around a river (the yellow river), farming and doing their thing. Each culture around the region can be classified by the type of pottery they made. Some pots were wide, some less so and some were made with jade. They were the cultures of Banshan, Majiayao and Machang.
A famous village was found, dating around that time. It is called the Banpo village.
“Is Banpo the village’s real name that the people living there used? Also why is China called ‘China’?”
No, it’s not the real name, we don’t know the real name. And China got its name from the Chin dynasty, but that is a story for another time.
Anyway… The Banpo village housed a bunch of huts with floors sunk into the ground. It had a trench for protection and a cave to store food. It looked like they knew what they were doing.
So the story goes like this… There were 3 Sovereigns or demigods: Heaven or Fu Xi, Earth or Nuwa and Tai or Shennong. There were also exemplary sage emperors, who were really good at stuff: The Yellow Emperor, Zhuanxu, Emperor Ku, Emperor Yao, and Emperor Shun. They were the ones that basically taught the people how to do things, from planting the “5 Grains” (many different ideas on what those were) to spinning silk. The myth is that the yellow emperor had 4 faces, and that his wife discovered silk and taught the people how to use it. It is believed that the yellow emperor is actually a version of “Shangdi” which was their main god person.
“I don’t believe it. There are no such things as demi-gods. They made that up!”
Maybe (for sure) … But in any case, according to the stories, Emperor Shun, the last of the sages, gave his throne to Yu the great.
Yu the Great established the first dynasty: Xia. He was a good emperor and was obsessed with stopping the flooding of the yellow river. By obsessed I mean absolutely and utterly engulfed by the idea. He spent a great deal of time working on it, not returning home for long periods of time. He did figure it out in the end though.
The Xia dynasty put down the building blocks of the great civilization of china.
Qi (his son) took over after Yu, establishing the hereditary system. The last of the Xia was Jie (not the best guy).
Then came the Shang dynasty. Tang overthrew Jie and took control. He was a good ruler, and the first thing he did was lower taxes (we all know how good that is). Writing was developed under his rule and religion flourished. The people at that time practiced ancestral worship, so when someone died they received divine powers and you were able to call on them for aid.
“So like say, if I was a contestant in “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”. I could call on my great great grandpa for help?”
Nope… not like that at all… you could ask him for help with your next harvest though.
Anyway, that’s why the people built extravagant tombs for the dead. The king at that time played a role as the mediator between the living and the dead.
Then came the Zhou Dynasty. King Wu of Zhou rebelled against Emperor Zhou of Shang (that’s a mouthful). Culture and civilization spread under the Zhou dynasty. Cast Iron, the chariot and crossbow were also introduced at that time.
Enter the “Mandate of Heaven” … Wu’s brother introduced the idea that heaven backed the ruling emperor as long as the emperor acted in a decent way. Only if the emperor acted immorally and heaven turned away from him could he be overthrown.
During the period that is referred to as “Spring and Autumn” the empire’s headquarters were moved to Luoyang. That was the time that Confucius came up with his philosophies, and the “Art of War” was written.
“Art of war… Wesley Snipes was in it right? I watched it, I can’t vouch for it. It kind of sucked”
Nope, The Art of war is a military text written by Sun Tzu. It has 16 chapters, each devoted to different military tactics. His ways were different from other ways of warfare of that time. Usually the people fought only after waiting for their opponent to get ready and arm themselves. It was more like a game of chess. While Sun Tzu prescribed a war where you would use everything at your disposal and win at all costs.
Anyway… After what is called the “Spring and Autumn period” started a time called “Warring States period”. Chu, Han, Qi, Qin, Wei, Yan, and Zhao were all fighting each other. Qin came out on top, thanks to Sun Tzu’s tactics (or so the story goes). And Ying Zheng of Qin named himself Shi Huangdi (The First emperor).
And… that’s all for now.I’m going to put a cork in it…
“What, but we are at the best part!”
It’s time to get back to the Middle East and Europe… The Roman Empire. Remus and Romulus.
The world was buzzing with human life like never before, innovations, culture, religion ever expanding. Civilization after civilization were springing up….