Ancient Chinese Culture

Ancient Chinese culture dates back to 1776 BCE, with the Shang Dynasty, all the way till the Han Dynasty in 220 CE. The beginning of Chinese culture itself is obscure, but contact with other cultures over hundreds of years has played a huge hand in defining Chinese culture as we know it today.

While the Shang Dynasty traditionally marks the beginning of Ancient China, there is strong evidence to support a dynasty that pre-dates even this one, the semi-legendary Xia Dynasty. This dynasty dates back to 2070 BCE, and until excavations in the 1960s and 70s that unearthed ancient cities that pre-dated the Shang Dynasty, the Xia Dynasty was considered to be nothing more than a myth.

The Xia Dynasty is believed to mark the end of primitive society, and was approximately 500 years long. It marked the beginning of succession, where emperors would pass on the throne to their kin. Society in the Xia Dynasty was agricultural, and people fashioned tools out of bones or stone.

The Shang Dynasty started with a tribe living near the south of the Yellow River, and by the time it ended in the 17th Century BC, it was among Ancient China’s most revered dynasties. This was a group of people that worshipped a God, as well as their ancestors, the sun, the moon, the river and the earth, and held grand ceremonies for sacrifice. Alongside agriculture, fishing became a major industry during this time. The handicraft industry also took off, with the invention of porcelain wares, jade carving technique and woven silk fabrics. Improvements in bronze casting techniques that facilitated the advancement of the handicraft industry during this time allowed for musical instruments to be developed during this era. Instruments discovered from this era include cymbals, drums, and a type of ocarina known as the Xun. Great advancements were also made in written language. There have been carvings discovered on tortoise shells, animal bones and bronze wares. These characters are considered to be the oldest written form of communication in Chinese.

The Zhou Dynasty ((1046–256 BCE) marked a key period in the development of Chinese civilization. This time period is notable for the bureaucratic system of government, and the great beliefs system — Legalism, Daoism and Confucianism. The Zhou Dynasty is divided into two periods: the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771–256 BCE), and the Western Zhou Dynasty (1122–771 BCE). A major development during this time was the introduction of the use of iron, which even led to a start in decoration through a combination of crafts and metal work. A bronze industry surged as well, and court ritual practices now demanded identical bronze pieces, that the ruling class had a major demand for.

The Qin Dynasty (221 BC to 207 BC) only lasted 15 short years, but is largely considered to be the first unified, multi-national and power-centralized state in the Chinese history. This dynasty is known for its advancements in engineering, such as a complex system of over 4,000 miles of road and one superhighway, the Straight Road. it is also famously known for being the dynasty that unified China.

The Han Dynasty (202 BC to 220 AD) is the final dynasty with which Ancient China is associated. It is divided into three time periods: the Western Han (206 BC — 9 AD), the Xin Dynasty (9–23 AD), and the Eastern Han (25–220 AD). It is most known for the Silk Road Trade. Due to economic and social stability, people’s standard of living during the Han Dynasty improved significantly. The Silk Road Trade allowed for cultural changes, and it is through this trade that Buddhism became popular in China. A standardized written language had been utilized by the state during the Han dynasty. The first biographical book was written in this era, Records of the Grand Historian written by Sima Qian, and this marks the most famous cultural achievement of this time.

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