The history of China

Updated: 09/08/29 Source:

China is a country with a very early civilization and a long and rich history. The compass, gunpowder, the art of paper-making and block printing invented by the ancient Chinese have contributed immensely to the progress of mankind. The Great Wall, Grand Canal and other projects built by the Chinese people are regarded as engineering feats in the world.

Man has lived for a very long time in what is now China, according to archaeological finds. In many parts of the country, for instance, fossil remains of primitive ape men have been unearthed. Among them are the fossil remains of the Yuanmou Ape Man who lived in Yunnan Province some 1.7 million years ago.

Research findings show that the Peking Man, who lived about 500,000 years ago, was able to make and use simple implements and knew the use of fire.

Like all other peoples on earth, the Chinese have passed through the primitive, matriarchal and patriarchal communes and the slave and feudal systems.

People in China take pride in calling themselves the offspring of Huang Di or Yellow Emperor, a tribal chief who dwelled in the Yellow River Valley more than four millenniums ago. Prehistorical legends about the Yellow Emperor and other outstanding personages of his time abound in ancient Chinese books. Legend has it that the Yellow Emperor made weapons out of jade to conquer other tribes, while his wife, Lei Zu, introduced the rearing of silkworms. The Yellow Emperor taught tribemen to domesticate wild animals and to grow cereals, and as a result his tribes grew in strength and defeated the tribes under Yan Di(Emperor Yan). Later, the Yellow Emperor and Emperor Yan formed an alliance that conquered all the other tribes in the Yellow River Valley. Today the Yellow Emperor is regarded as the ancestor of the Chinese people, who call themselves the descendants of Yan Di and Huang Di(Emperor Yan and Yellow Emperor).

Society in those bygone times, as reflected in the legends, was based on the primitive communion which private property and the exploitation of man by man was unknown.

After the death of the Yellow Emperor, the primitive tribes in the Yellow River Valley were ruled in succession by such legendary figures as Yao, Shun and Da Yu(Great Yu) who subdued floods and harnessed Rivers.

The Xia Dynasty (21st century BC-16th century BC), the first dynasty that emerged in China 4,100 years ago, was founded by Qi, son of Great Yu who conquered floods and tamed rivers. The Xia dynasty, which was a slave-owning society, was overthrown by warriors commanded by Shang Tang, the founder of the Shang Dynasty(16th century BC-11th century BC)during which the slave-owning system developed with the growth of farm and handicraft production. The art of smelting and casting bronze reached a higher level of development in this period during which recorded history commenced in China. As paper was then unknown, some of the writings in Shang time were cast in bronze, and some inscribed on tortoise shells or animal bones.

The Shang Dynasty was superseded by the Western Zhou Dynasty(11th century BC-771BC)during which the slave-owning system grew more prosperous. The Western Zhou rulers instituted an enfeoffment system under which nobles were invested with hereditary titles as well as land along with the slaves working on it. Introduced then was the "9-square pattern" of farming in which a tract of land was partitioned into nine squares. The eight outer squares were allocated to slaves who had to work the central square gratis for their masters.

The Spring and Autumn Period (770BC-476BC) witnessed the advent of the ox as a draught animal and the use of iron implements on the farm. This boosted farm output and made it possible for the opening up of more land for crop cultivation. As a result, more farmland came under private ownership and the disintegration of the slave system commenced to give way for a feudal society.

The up-and-coming land-owning or landlord class introduced reforms to change the land ownership system to its own advantage at the beginning of the Warring States Period(475BC-221BC). There were then seven vassal states contending with one another for hegemony. In the struggle for supremacy, the state of Qin based in Shaanxi Province, which had become powerful because of the fact that it had adopted drastic measures to reform the land ownership system, conquered all the other states to establish the Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC), the first centralized, autocratic feudal empire in China. This was a signal victory for the new landlord class.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin Dynasty carried out a lot of reform measures, including standardization of weights and measures and the initiation of a single currency and a unitary script, etc. While building a network of roads across the land, he conscripted 300,000 laborers to build the Great Wall and dispatched 500,000 warriors to garrison Lingnan(present-day Guangdong Province)and 700,000 men to erect his mausoleum. The Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum along with a big army of life-sized terra cotta warriors and battle steeds, which have been unearthed in the city of Xi'an, are a big attraction for tourists from all over the world.

Pauperized by such extravagances, the peasant masses rose up in arms and overthrew the Qin rulers to set up the Western Han Dynasty (202BC-AD8).

During this dynastic period agriculture and handicraft made marked progress along with the flourishing of science, culture and the arts. Links between the different ethnic groups in the country were strengthened and exchanges with the outside world broadened. Zhang Qian, a diplomat of that time, who was dispatched as envoy to the Western Regions, opened the world-famous Silk Road.

As the Western Han Dynasty was later weakened by corruption, Liu Xiu, taking advantage of the strength of peasant uprisers, replaced the Western Han Dynasty with the Eastern Han Dynasty founded in AD25. From this time onward economy, science and culture continued to progress. However, contradictions within the ruling class flared up later and the uprisings of the Yellow Turbans led by Zhang Jiao hastened the disintegration of the Eastern Han Dynasty. There followed tangled warfare among various separatist regimes until three rival kingdoms Wei, Shu Han and Wu, came to the fore.

In AD265 Sima Yan, an influential official of the Kingdom of Wei, dethroned its ruler and established the Western Jin Dynasty. He annexed the Kingdom of Wu in 280. So, with the Kingdom of Shu Han toppled by the Kingdom of Wei earlier in 263, the Three Kingdoms came to an end. Soon afterwards, nevertheless, tangled warfare broke out among various ethnic groups, resulting in the emergence of 16 small kingdoms in northern China and the downfall of the Western Jin Dynasty. In 317, the year that the Western Jin Dynasty was brought down, Sima Rui, a member of the royal house, set up the Eastern Jin Dynasty in the south.

A Brief Chinese Chronology [Chinese Culture]