Zhou Dynasty

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  • The Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE) was the longest-lasting of ancient China’s dynasties. It followed the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BCE) and it finished when the army of the state of Qin captured the city of Chengzhou in 256 BCE. The long history of the Zhou Dynasty is normally divided in two different periods: Western Zhou (1046-771 BCE) and Eastern Zhou (770-256 BCE), so-called following the move of the Zhou capital eastwards where it was safer from invasion.  ( source: https://www.ancient.eu/Zhou_Dynasty/ )
  • For more than two centuries, the Zhou dynasty seemed to enjoy heaven’s blessing. The kingdom expanded to cover a vast area, from well north of the Yellow river to the south of the Yangtze river. The Zhou led a rebellion against the Shang at around 1100 B.C. and founded the Zhou dynasty. The Zhou rulers claimed that they had a mandate from heaven to govern China as long as they did so wisely and justly.

The Zhou dynasty was divided into 2 periods:

Western Zhou

  • The Zhou Dynasty was never a wholly unified realm. The Zhou court extended its power over the eastern plain by granting authority to members of the royal family and in some cases to favoured adherents, who established walled forts supported by garrison troops among the original habitants of the east. In some cases, local chiefs were accepted as Zhou supporters. Hence, there came into existence a network of city-states on the plain, from which military and political control spread over the surrounding farming villages. Any local leader who challenged the Zhou order was quickly punished by the army and the regional delegates were closely watched.
  • During the Western Zhou period, goods circulated mostly through tribute and gift rather than trade, cities were noble fortresses, artisans were a hereditary caste of serfs attached to states or courts, and ministers and court members were chosen based on birth rather than talent. Battles between regional leaders were relatively short and, for the nobles, restrained by a code of chivalry.  (source: https://www.ancient.eu/Zhou_Dynasty/)

Eastern Zhou

  • After the barbarian invasion drove the Zhou rulers eastwards, the state of Qin became responsible for guarding the western frontier and they gradually moved eastward and eventually occupied the original Zhou domains. Thus the Qin became a close ally to the Zhou and they also had marriage relations with the Zhou ruling class. The city states slowly emerged as powerful independent fiefs and the real Zhou power disintegrated. The states located on the peripheries grew into major territorial powers, and its rulers normally had greater military and economic strength than the king, who was now dependent on a small royal domain around Luoyang. By 700 BCE, the state of Qin in the west, Jin in the north, Qi in the east and Chu in the south were the main centres of power in China. The royal Zhou domain on the central Yellow River plain was powerless in comparison to the peripheric realms.
  • As a result of this growing conflict, rulers could no longer afford to hire their ministers on the basis of birth as talent become far more important. Trade expanded, money and goods circulated mostly through commerce, and rich merchants sometimes won high office. Thinkers competed for the ruler’s patronage, moving from one court to the other explaining their social, economic, military and political views in search for employment. The main intellectual focus was practical political and social concerns while metaphysical speculations remained secondary. Arts and philosophy flourished in China like never before: Thinkers belonging to the diverse Hundred Schools of thought developed many different ideological traditions. (source: https://www.ancient.eu/Zhou_Dynasty/)
  • The Eastern Zhou rulers had even less authority over the local rulers than their Western Zhou predecessors. As the kingdom slowly fragmented into rival states, some people longed for the return of strong rulers who would govern China.
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Shang Dynasty

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  • In 1750 B.C rulers of the Shang dynasty had asserted control over much of the Yellow River Valley. Chieftains loyal to the Shang ruled the kingdom’s provinces with an iron hand and paid their ruler tribute in the form of troops and taxes.
  • In China, rulers claimed kinship with the gods and were offered human sacrifices when they died. In one royal burial at the last Shang capital, Anyang, along the Huan River, more than 60 bound captives were put to death. Among the burial treasures were carved objects of jade (which had religious significance for the Chinese).
  • Shang kings had a large entourage that included dozens of wives and scribes. The only surviving writings from this period were inscribed on bronze vessels or oracle bones such as tortoise shells.
  • During the Shang dynasty, cities grew larger and more elaborate. Anyang extended for more than three miles. Villages and workshops for artisans and other commoners surrounded the royal district.
  • The dynasty came to an end with the reign of Di Xin, who hiked taxes to support his extravagant lifestyle and tortured his opponents.

Yu the Great

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  • Yu the Great or Yu the Engineer was the legendary founder of China’s first dynasty, the Xia dynasty. According to the legend, Yu sacrificed his self and stopped the flood for 13 years. After stopping the deluge, it is said that he established and led the Xia dynasty.
  • Yu’s father Gun is the first known member of the Xia clan and during his life it is understood that the family slowly began to gain ascendancy, a path that would eventually lead to it becoming China’s first dynasty.
  • The origins of the Xia clan originate from Gun’s migration of people to the middle peak of Mount Song in Henan Province, thus leading us to believe that Yu grew up on the slopes of the mountain just south of the Yellow River. (source: https://www.thechairmansbao.com/chinese-emperors-and-empresses-yu-the-great-founder-of-the-xia-dynasty/)

Xia Dynasty

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  • The Xia Dynasty established around 2200 B.C. was the first Chinese dynasty to be recorded in Chinese annals but it lacks archaeological evidences to be deemed true.
  • The Xia Dynasty was founded by Yu the Great or Yu the Engineer who, according to legends, tamed the floodplain along the Yellow river.

Yellow River (Huang He) and Yangtze River

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Yellow River (Huang He/Ho River) 

  • The civilization of ancient China first developed in the Yellow River so called for the yellow loess deposited along its banks by winds from the Gobi. Loess provided fertile soil for the cultivation of millet, a highly nutritious cereal crop.
  • By 5000 B.C., people were living in villages along the middle Yellow River and farming on its terraces.

Yangtze River

  • The Yangtze River basin is one of the longest-inhabited regions in China. Although much of China’s political history has centred around North China and the Huang He basin, the Yangtze region always was of great economic importance to successive dynasties for its agricultural potential. (source: https://www.britannica.com/place/Yangtze-River#ref48051)
  • In the wetlands along the Yangtze to the south, villagers began cultivating rice for their main agricultural crop. Politically, the Yangtze Valley lagged behind the Yellow River region, where people from the first settlements banded together under strong leadership to dig ditches and drainage canals for irrigation and flood control.

Buddhism

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  • Buddhism was inspired by the life and teachings of Siddharta Gautama, born into a ruling family in the foothills of the Himalaya around 560 B.C. and known to his followers as Buddha, or the Enlightened One. After seeking salvation through extreme acts of self denial like Mahavira, he chose a path called the Middle Way, involving good conduct and moderation in all things. Ultimately, Buddha achieved a state of enlightenment called nirvana- the release from earthly desires and longings.
  • Buddhism believed in the Noble Eightfold Path which are Right View, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Mindfulness, and Right Samadhi (meditation). Following these path can lead to spiritual liberation or Nirvana.

Jainism

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  • Jainism emerged in 6th-century BCE India, the same time Buddhism was developing. The faith is named for the jinas, spiritual conquerors who have achieved liberation and perfection. Included among these are the 24 spiritual leaders called “ford-makers” or tirthankaras. The last of the tirthankaras was Mahavira (599-527 BCE), a contemporary of the Buddha who is generally considered the founder of Jainism. (source: http://www.religionfacts.com/jainism
  • Jainism was inspired by the teachings of a holy man named Mahavira, born in India around 540 B.C. Mahavira was known to his followers as Jina, or the Conqueror because he freed his soul by practicing self-denial and conquering the cravings of the body. He believed that all living things had souls and those who harmed other souls would not achieve salvation. His followers practiced nonviolence, refused to eat meat, and would not even harvest crops.
  • Mahavira, like the Buddha, was the son of a chieftain of the Kshatriya(warrior) class. At age 30 he renounced his princely status to take up the ascetic life. Although he was accompanied for a time by the eventual founder of the Ajivika sect, Goshala Maskariputra. (Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Jainism)

Hinduism

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  • Hinduism combined sacred teachings of the Aryans (who took control of the Indus Valley around 1500 B.C) with the beliefs of the local people the Aryans interacted with.
  • From the beginning, Hindus worshiped many gods, some of them Aryan in origin and others native to India. Their principal gods were Brahma, the creator who embodied the universal spirit called Brahman; Vishnu, who watched over the world from the heaven and preserved life; and Shiva, the destroyer of evil.
  • Hindus believed that some people were closer to salvation than others. Those who were lowly and unholy could rise to a higher level by performing good deeds that improved their karma (the consequences of their actions).
  • Even animals had souls, and the soul of an animal might be reborn in human form and ultimately reach salvation. Some animals in particular were regarded by Hindus as precious or sacred. Cows, for example were no longer sacrificed to the gods as in Aryan times, but were protected from harm.
  • Respect for all creatures- beast or human- was the golden rule of Hinduism, which remain India’s dominant faith.

Upanishads

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  • By the 6th century B.C., India was in the midst of a great religious ferment that produced 3 faiths: Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. That ferment began when Indian teachers questioned Aryan beliefs and reinterpreted them in sacred texts called the Upanishads.
  • Beginning around 700 B.C, Indian teachers known as gurus composed scriptures called as the Upanishads meaning to “sit down near” as students did before their teachers. Unlike Aryan priests who serve as intermediaries between the people and some gods, gurus taught that everyone had a soul that could commune with the universal spirit called Brahman.
  • The Upanishads offered an individual of any rank the hope of attaining holiness and salvation by freeing his soul and allowing him to become one with Brahman.
  • Hinduism grew out of the Upanishads and combined the worship of various gods with the quest for salvation.