The History of China Part I
It is not possible to set a geographical boundary for China that is valid for all the epochs in the country’s history. Looking at the historical development from 2000 BCE. to this day, one can see that the country’s borders have changed a lot over time. Some dynasties have ruled over large parts of the East Asian continent, while others have ruled only parts of the area we know today as China.
Historically, however, the North China Plain can be considered the cradle of Chinese culture. Since then it has mainly spread west and south, especially along the two largest rivers, the Yellow River and the Yangtze River. The greatest extent had landed during the Qing Dynasty.
According to Shoefrantics, China’s history is usually divided into dynasties, that is, periods when the country was ruled by a particular ruler family.
China’s history can be roughly divided into three periods:
- The Early Chinese Civilization (before 221 BCE)
- Imperial China (221 BCE – 1911)
- Republican China (1911–)
In general, no dynasties in China have existed for more than about 400 years, but an important common denominator for them is that they have always given the impression of building on each other. The basis for this has been a history- writing tradition that dates back to the time before Confucius. Twenty-four official historical works on the different dynasties have been handed down in whole or in part. Each dynasty’s story was written during the subsequent dynasty, based on a motive to legitimize the dynasty that was in power when the work was written.
In addition, there is a varied collection of unofficial stories about smaller geographical areas, families or with other themes. These works are an important source material for historians.
Origins of Chinese Civilization (10,000-1000 BCE)
It was around 100,000 years after homo sapiens first came to what we today call China before the development of regional cultures we can trace archaeologically. The first signs of these are found around 10,000 BCE. This was not a unified and unified culture. Instead, regional differences are found along the axes east-west and north-south, which is particularly prominent around the year 5000 BCE.
A few thousand years later, these cultures were in contact with each other. This contact also marked the beginning of a more complex and coherent culture and state formation. It is during this period that the Chinese writing system emerged.
The First Dynasties (1600–221 BCE)
The first dynasties were not rich, as they were in the period called imperial China. Rather, these dynasties have given names to periods because of their dominant position in contemporary times. The myth tells that Xia was the first dynasty, but the first one to have actual sources is Shang (1600-1000 BCE). These are mainly archaeological finds, but also a few written sources. Better quality is found in the written sources from the Zhou Dynasty (1000–221 BCE).
Zhou was a society based on a kind of feudal system. Initially, the Zhou kings were powerful, but as time went on, the princes of the other states grew stronger. This evolved into the time of the warring states, where the princes fought among themselves for real power, and the king of Zhou had only religious significance.
In the time preceding this war period, the cultural foundations of Chinese civilization are found. This time is called the time of the hundred philosophers.
Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BCE – 220 BCE)
It was the state of Qin that emerged victorious from the time of the warring states and founded the Qin dynasty. China was now for the first time gathered in a centralized empire under the first emperor of Qin. The feudal structures of the Zhou era were replaced by an administrative board. The emperor pursued a strict regime inspired by legalistic ideals. In 206 BCE the kingdom went down and the Han Dynasty came to power five years later.
The Han dynasty portrayed itself as a different empire, but in effect continued the same strict regime. Later, the Han Dynasty took up more of the Confucian state philosophy with which it has subsequently been identified.
In the period around year 0, rebellion broke out and the Han Dynasty was replaced for a short time by Wang Mang’s Xin dynasty. The Han Dynasty was re-established as the Eastern Han Dynasty. Towards the end of Han, Taoist currents and movements became ever stronger, and it is during this time that the first signs of Buddhist thought and practice are found in the region.
A Divided China (220-589)
After about 400 years of total governance, there followed a period of political and geographical fragmentation. First, the kingdom was divided into the Three Kingdoms (sán guó三國), and after a brief gathering under West Jin (Xī Jìn西晋) followed a long period of north-south division. In the north, a number of small kingdoms emerged under nomadic rule (the most important of which is Nordre Wei), while in the south a refined nobility culture developed in which elites who had fled south interacted with the local population. Daoism and Buddhism became increasingly important during this period.
Sui and Tang Dynasties (589–907)
The Sui dynasty reassembled China, but it was the subsequent Tang Dynasty that consolidated the new empire.
Sui arose as a result of a coup in the northern Zhou Dynasty, one of the successors of the Northern Wei. It succeeded in a short time to conquer the southern Chen dynasty, thus bringing China into one kingdom again. The dynasty soon collapsed due to tyrannical rule, overambitious projects and the emperor’s private exile
The Tang Dynasty was in many respects a heyday in China’s history. Ruled largely by military power, and with a less civilian administration, the Chinese foreign policy position was regained in the middle of the seventh century, a position that lasted for a hundred years.
Confucianism gained a place in the ideology of the state, since it promoted the position of the elite in the state. Nevertheless, during the Tang Dynasty, China was a period characterized by cultural and political diversity, where Buddhism stood strong, and other Central Asian religions gained entry.
Some inventions came during this period, of the more well-known being the Chinese printmaking art.