Rise of Civilization in China

Geography Influences Civilization

Geographic Barriers Set China Apart
To the west and southwest of China, brutal deserts and high mountain ranges—the Tian Shan (tyen shahn) and the Himalayas—blocked the easy movement of people. To the southeast, thick rainforests divided China from Southeast Asia. To the north awaited a forbidding desert, the Gobi. To the east lay the vast Pacific Ocean.

Despite these formidable barriers, the Chinese did have contact with the outside world. They traded with neighboring people and, in time, Chinese goods reached the Middle East and beyond. More often, the outsiders whom the Chinese encountered were nomadic invaders. Such conquerors, however, were usually absorbed into the advanced Chinese civilization.

China Includes Varied Regions
The earliest civilization in China grew along the Huang River. This river carries loess, or fine windblown yellow soil, which raises the water level.
Shang Artists were famous for their bronze works.
People suffered from the river’s frequent floods. The need to control the water likely led to the rise of government.

China Begins to Take Shape Under the Shang Dynasty

Formation of Government
The Shang dynasty began about 1766 B.C. Kings ruled along with princes. The princes were probably the heads of clans, or groups of families claiming a common ancestor.

Social Classes Develop
Shang warriors used leather armor, bronze weapons, and horse-drawn chariots. They may have learned of chariots as they interacted with other Asian peoples.

Shang and Zhou Civilizations

The Zhou Dynasty Further Defines China
The Dynastic Cycle

Receiving the Mandate of Heaven
The Zhou people overthrew the Shang in 1122 B.C. They promoted the Mandate of Heaven, or divine right to rule. This idea later expanded to explain the dynastic cycle, or rise and fall of dynasties. If rulers became corrupt, heaven would withdraw support and dynasties would fail.

Establishing a Feudal State
The Zhou established feudalism, where lords governed their own land but owed military service and support to a ruler.

Spurring Economic Growth
In the 600s B.C., iron tools made farming more productive and the population increased.

Zhou Dynasty Ends
By 256 B.C., the Zhou dynasty ended when fighting feudal lords could not be controlled.

Religious Beliefs Develop in Early China
During the Shang dynasty, the Chinese prayed to many gods and nature spirits.

Two Major Belief Systems Take Root in Zhou China

During the Zhou dynasty, two great thinkers emerged: Confucius and Laozi.

Confucius Spreads His Wisdom
Confucius developed a philosophy, or system of ideas, that greatly influenced Chinese civilization. Confucius was concerned with social order and good government.

Five Relationships Shape Behavior
Confucius emphasized five key relationships between people. He stressed five key relationships: ruler to subject, parent to child, husband to wife, elder brother to younger brother, and friend to friend. Filial piety, or respect for parents, was everyone’s highest duty.

Daoism Teaches Harmony With Nature
Laozi founded Daoism. It emphasized that people should live in harmony with nature. They should look beyond everyday cares and focus on the Dao, or “the way.”

Achievements Abound in Early China

Discovering the Secret of Silk-making
One great achievement of early China was silk-making. The Chinese kept the technique a secret for many years.

Establishing a Complex System of Writing
They also developed a system of writing at least 4,000 years ago. Questions were written on oracle bones. After heating the bones, priests interpreted the answers. Later, a writing system evolved that included thousands of characters, or written symbols. The Chinese then turned writing into an art called calligraphy.

Strong Rulers Unite China

Shi Huangdi Unifies China
The Qin Dynasty began in 221 B.C. when the leader of the Qin took over the Zhou and declared himself Shi Huangdi, which means First Emperor.

Legalism Establishes Harsh Rule
Shi Huangdi focused his power by adhering to Legalism, a philosophy that stated that strength, not goodness, was a ruler’s greatest virtue and ability. He tortured and killed anyone who stood in his way.

Unity Imposed
Shi Huangdi replaced feudal states with 36 military districts ruled by loyal officials. To promote unity, he standardized weights and measures, coins, and Chinese writing. In order to strengthen the transportation system, workers patched and extended canals and roads.

Constructing the Great Wall
Under Shi Huangdi’s orders, thousands of people worked to connect many shorter walls to form the one Great Wall to protect against invaders from the north. This showed the emperors’ ability to generate China’s vast resources.

Qin Dynasty Collapses
In 206 B.C., Qin’s power collapsed because of forced labor, anger over heavy taxes, and brutal policies spreading into revolts. The Han Dynasty started in 202 B.C.
Qin and Han Empires

The Han Dynasty Strengthens China

Emperor Wudi Makes Improvements
The most famous Han emperor, Wudi, ruled from 141 B.C. to 87 B.C. Instead of Legalism, Wudi made Confucianism, the official belief of the state. He improved transportation, controlled prices, and made a government monopoly on iron and salt. His belief in expansionism increased the land ruled by the Chinese drastically.

China Selects Scholar-Officials
Han rulers chose Confucian scholars as government officials and civil servants.

Founding the Civil Service System
Young men could advance in government through skill, instead of family influence. They might be tested on their knowledge of the Five Classics, a collection of histories, poems, and handbooks compiled from the works of Confucius and others like him.

Han Empire Overthrown
As the Han dynasty continued to age, emperors could no longer control upstart warlords, which were local military rulers. Peasants rebelled as well. The last emperor was finally overthrown in A.D. 220, which was after more than 400 years of rule by the Han.

Achievements of the Han Golden Age
The Han dynasty was a golden age for Chinese culture and industry.

Advancing Science and Medicine
Han scientists wrote texts on chemistry, zoology, and botany. The Han invented the seismograph to measure and detect earthquakes. Medical treatment included acupuncture to relieve pain or treat illness.

Forging Ahead With Technology and Engineering
Han China was the most technologically advanced civilization in the world. The Han invented the suspension bridge, rudder, and paper from wood pulp as well. Some of these ideas slowly headed west, reaching Europe later on.

Expanding the Arts
Artisans created products from jade, ceramics, bronze, and silk. Poets and historians wrote about the wonder and beauty of Han cities.

The Chinese Accept Buddhism
Buddhism had spread from India to China by about A.D. 100. It became increasingly popular during times of crisis that came after the fall of the Han, and by A.D. 400 it had spread throughout China completely.

Two Golden Ages of China

The Tang Dynasty Reunifies China
After the Han dynasty collapsed, China broke apart. During the Sui dynasty (589–618), the emperor Sui Wendi reunited north and south.
Empress Wu Zhao

The Tang Build an Empire
In 618, the general Li Yuan and his son Li Shimin led a revolt and established the Tang dynasty. Eight years later, Li Shimin compelled his aging father to step down. Li Shimin then took the throne under the name Tang Taizong. Later Tang rulers conquered many territories and forced Vietnam, Tibet, and Korea to become tributary states, or self-governing states that sent tribute.

The Government and Economy Grow
Other Tang rulers, such as Empress Wu Zhao, restored the Han system of uniform government. Tang emperors also undertook land reform in which they redistributed land to peasants.

The Tang Dynasty Declines
However, the Tang eventually weakened. In 907, the last Tang emperor was overthrown.

The Song Dynasty
In 960, Zhao Kuangyin founded the Song dynasty. The Song ruled for 319 years. They faced the constant threat of invaders from the north. Nonetheless, the Song period was a time of great achievement. A new type of faster-growing rice was imported from Southeast Asia. The rise in productivity created food surpluses, freeing more people to pursue commerce, learning, or the arts.

China's Ordered Society
Under the Tang and Song, China was a well-ordered society. At its head was the emperor.

The Gentry Value Education
Scholar-officials had the highest social status. Most of them came from the gentry, or wealthy, landowning class.

Peasants Work the Land
The vast majority of Chinese were poor peasant farmers. Drought and famine were a constant threat, but new tools and crops did improve the lives of many peasants.

Merchants Have Lowest Status
Merchants had the lowest status because their riches came from the labor of others.

The Statues of Women
Women had higher status during this period than they did later. However, when a woman married, she could not keep her dowry, the payment that a woman brings to a marriage. She could also never remarry.
Li Bo, Chinese Poet

The Tang and Song Develop a Rich Culture
The Tang and Song developed a rich culture.

Artists Paint Harmony
Song landscape painting was influenced by Daoist beliefs.

Architecture and Porcelain
Buddhist themes influenced Chinese sculpture and architecture. The Indian stupa evolved into the Chinese pagoda. The Chinese also perfected the making of porcelain.

Chinese Writing
Among the gentry, poetry was the most respected form of literature. Probably the greatest Tang poet was Li Bo, who wrote some 2,000 poems.