Great Wall OF CHINA
. HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL CONTINUITY
A significant aspect of China is its long cultural and national history. The Chinese people have shared a common culture longer than any other group on Earth. The Chinese writing system, for example, dates back almost 4,000 years. The imperial dynastic system of government, which continued for centuries, was established as early as 221 BC. Although specific dynasties were overturned, the dynastic system survived. China was even ruled at times by foreign invaders, such as the Mongols during the Yuan Dynasty, from AD 1279 to 1368, and the Manchus during the Ch'ing Dynasty, from AD 1644 to 1911, but the foreigners were largely absorbed into the culture they governed. It is as if the Roman Empire had lasted from the time of the Caesars to the 20th century, and during that time had evolved a cultural system and written language shared by all the peoples of Europe.
The dynastic system was overturned in 1911, and a weak republican form of government existed until 1949. In that year, after a long civil war, the People's Republic of China, with a Communist government, was proclaimed. This government and the ruling Communist party have controlled China ever since. Although the dynastic system has disappeared, the People's Republic occupies essentially the same territory and governs the same people. If anything, the culture and power of China seem stronger in the late 20th century than at almost any other period in history. Under the People's Republic, China's role in world economic and political affairs has grown increasingly more important.
BEGINNINGS AND EARLY HISTORY
Archaeological evidence suggests that China is one of the cradles of the human race. The earliest known human in China, whose fossilized skull was unearthed in Shanxi Province in 1963, is believed to date back to 600,000 BC. The remains of Sinanthropus pekinensis, known as Peking Man and dating back to 400,000 BC, were excavated in 1923 at Zhoukoudianzhen near Peking. Peking Man was closely related to Pithecanthropus of Java and lived during the Old Stone Age. In the upper caves of Zhoukoudianzhen are found artifacts of a late Old Stone Age man (50,000-35,000 BC), who ranks in age with the Cro-Magnon of Europe. This was an early form of Homo sapiens, or modern man, who made tools out of bones as well as stones, made clothes out of animal hides, and knew how to make fire.
Around the 4th or 3rd millennium BC, in the New Stone Age, great changes occurred in the lives of the ancient Chinese. Larger numbers of people began living together at settled places, cultivating land, and domesticating animals. These people made polished stone tools and built shelters in pit dwellings and beehive huts that were covered with reed roofs. Such villages were found mostly in the area of the great bend of the Huang He on the North China Plain. Despite its severe winters, this area was well suited to agriculture. In fact, it closely resembled the other cradles of ancient civilizations, such as the valley of the Nile in Egypt.
The people of this period (3000-2000 BC) also developed the art of making pottery for storing food and drink. Two distinct types have been discovered: red clay pots with swirling black designs in the northwest near Yangshao village, and smooth black pottery in northeast China near Lungshan, a site in Shandong Province.
3. SHANG DYNASTY
The Chinese had settled in the Huang He, or Yellow River, valley of northern China by 3000 BC. By then they had pottery, wheels, farms, and silk, but they had not yet discovered writing or the uses of metals.
The Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 BC) is the first documented era of ancient China. The highly developed hierarchy consisted of a king, nobles, commoners, and slaves. The capital city was Anyang, in north Henan Province. Some scholars have suggested that travelers from Mesopotamia and from Southeast Asia brought agricultural methods to China, which stimulated the growth of ancient Chinese civilization. The Shang peoples were known for their use of jade, bronze, horse-drawn chariots, ancestor worship, and highly organized armies.
Like other ancient peoples, the Chinese developed unique attributes. Their form of writing, developed by 2000 BC, was a complex system of picture writing using forms called ideograms, pictograms, and phonograms. Such early forms of Chinese became known through the discovery by archaeologists of oracle bones, which were bones with writings inscribed on them. They were used for fortune-telling and record keeping in ancient China.
Bone libraries and others: ancient times. The earliest known libraries were connected with palaces and temples. In China, records of the Shang dynasty (1767?-1123? BC) were written on animal bones and tortoise shells. An early library called "The Healing Place of the Soul," in the palace of Egypt's King Ramses II (1304?-1237 BC) at Thebes, consisted of thousands of papyrus scrolls. Among the most important libraries in the ancient Near East was the palace library of Ashurbanipal (668?-627? BC) at Nineveh in Assyria. This early type of national library, collected "for the sake of distant days," consisted of over 30,000 clay tablets. Early librarians were usually priests, teachers, or scholars. The first known Chinese librarian was the philosopher Lao Tse, who was appointed keeper of the royal historical records for the Chou rulers about 550 BC.
CH'IN EMPIRE (221-206 BC)
After nearly 900 years, the Chou Dynasty came to an end when the state of Ch'in, the strongest of the seven surviving states, unified China and established the first empire in 221 BC. The Ch'in empire did not last long, but it left two enduring legacies: the name China and the idea and structure of the empire. This heritage outlasted the Ch'in Dynasty itself by more than 2,000 years. (See Ch'in Dynasty)
The first Ch'in emperor was called Ch'in Shih Huang Ti. The title of emperor was used for the first time in Chinese history to set the Ch'in ruler apart--as the ruler of the unified land--from the kings, the heads of the earlier, smaller states. The construction of massive palaces and the ceremony of the court further enhanced the power of the emperor by inspiring awe in the people.
A centralized bureaucracy replaced the old feudal system. The empire was divided into provinces and counties, which were governed by centrally appointed governors and magistrates. The former ruling families who had inherited their places in the aristocracy were uprooted and forced to live in the capital of Xianyang. Other centralizing policies included census taking and standardization of the writing system and weights and measures.
The Ch'in army conducted massive military campaigns to complete the unification of the empire and expand its territory. The Ch'in empire stretched from the Mongolian plateau in the north to Vietnam in the south. As with rulers before and after him, the first emperor was preoccupied with defending his territory against northern nomads. After waging several successful campaigns, the emperor ordered the building of the wall of "ten thousand li" (a li is a Chinese unit of distance) to protect the empire. This task involved connecting the separate walls that were built by former northern states to form the famous Great Wall. The Ten Thousand Li Wall, as it is known in China, is 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) long, from 15 to 50 feet (5 to 15 meters) high, and from 15 to 25 feet (5 to 8 meters) wide. Although closely linked with the first ruler of the Ch'in Empire, the wall as it stands today dates mainly from the later Ming Dynasty.
Ch'in Shih Huang Ti's harsh rule provoked much opposition. The emperor feared the scholars most. He had them rounded up and put them to death or sent them into exile. Many went into hiding. Moreover, all books, except technical ones, were confiscated and burned. In the last years of his life, Ch'in Shih Huang Ti became fearful of threats on his life and lived in complete secrecy. He also became obsessed with obtaining immortality. He died in 210 BC in Shandong Province, far from the capital of Xianyang, during one of his long quests to find the elixir of life.
The Ch'in empire disintegrated rapidly after the death of the first emperor. The legitimate heir was killed in a palace intrigue, and a less able prince was put on the throne. Conditions worsened throughout the empire. In 209 BC, rebellions erupted all over China. Two men had the largest following. Hsiang Yu was a general of aristocratic background; Liu Pang was a minor official from a peasant family. By 206 BC rebels had subdued the Ch'in army and destroyed the capital. The struggle between Hsiang Yu and Liu Pang continued for the next four years, however, until Liu Pang emerged as the victor in 202 BC. Taking the title of Kao Tsu, High Progenitor, he established the Han Dynasty.
The Chinese show their pride in Han accomplishments by calling themselves the Han people. Philosophies and institutions that began in the Chou and Ch'in periods reached maturity under the Han. During Han times, the Chinese distinguished themselves in making scientific discoveries, many of which were not known to Westerners until centuries later. The Chinese were most advanced in astronomy. They invented sundials and water clocks, divided the day equally into ten and then into 12 periods, devised the lunar calendar that continued to be used until 1912, and recorded sunspots regularly. In mathematics, the Chinese were the first to use the place value system, whereby the value of a component of a number is indicated by its placement. Other innovations were of a more practical nature: wheelbarrows, locks to control water levels in streams and canals, and compasses.
The Han Chinese were especially distinguished in the field of art. The famous sculpture of the "Han flying horse" and the carving of the jade burial suit found in Han period tombs are only two superb examples. The technique of making lacquer ware was also highly developed. The Chinese are proudest of the tradition of historical writing that began in the Han period. Ssu-ma Ch'ien (145?-85? BC) was grand historian (an office that combined the duties of court recorder and astronomer) during the time of Wu Ti. His `Historical Records', which took ten years to complete, established the pattern and style followed by subsequent histories. In the Later Han, the historical tradition was continued by the Pan family. Pan Piao, the father, started to bring Ssu-ma Ch'ien's `Records' up to date. The work was continued by his son Pan Ku (twin brother of the general Pan Ch'ao) and was completed by his daughter Pan Chao, China's earliest and most famous woman scholar. Unlike Ssu-ma Ch'ien, the Pan family limited their work to 230 years of the Early Han. This was the first of the dynastic histories, subsequently written for every dynasty. Pan Chao also wrote a highly influential work on the education of women, `Lessons for Women'. `Lessons' emphasized the "virtues" of women, which restricted women's activities. The Confucianism that the Han Dynasty restored differed from the original teachings of Confucius. The leading Han philosophers, Tung Chung-shu and others, used principles derived from the early Chinese philosophy of nature to interpret the ancient texts. The Chinese philosophy of nature explained the workings of the universe by the alternating forces of yin and yang--dark and light--and the five elements: earth, wood, metal, fire, and water. The Han period was marked by a broad eclecticism. Many Han emperors favored Taoism, especially the Taoist idea of immortality.