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THE ORIGINS OF CHINESE CIVILIZATION


Chinese legends say that the first man, called P’an-ku, lived 18,000 years, and that he spent his lifetime creating the earth and the sky. He kept growing, according to legend, until his tears were so heavy that they became the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, his breath the wind and his words the thunder. Upon his death, the parts of his body became the Five Sacred Mountain of China, his flesh the streams and seas, his hair the plants, and his eyes the sun and the moon.

The legends assert that three equally awesome rulers followed P’an-ku: the lords of the heaven, earth, and man. The first two also lived 18,000 years; each had twelve heads the bodies of serpents, and the feet of beasts. They served to prop up the sky with the mountains of Tibet, and to prepare the earth for the coming of man.

With their introduction of the Lord of Man, China’s legends give more clues to the country’s pre-history. They state that during the ten epochs of his 45,600-year rule, the major problems of civilization in China were solved. During the first half of his reign, the flying beasts and then the dragons were slain; next, humans were taught to wear clothing and to build houses high in trees, above floods. From these houses they were able to fish; they also learned a from of writing- the Eight Trigrams, or written symbols for heaven ,earth, fire, water, wind, thunder, marsh, and mountain.

During the tenth and last epoch of the Lord of Man’s reign, an emperor began the division of China into provinces and districts. This ruler, the so-called Yellow Emperor, appointed administrators for these divisions and so revealed a Chinese passion that has never ceased- the desire for social order. In addition, he and his empress are said to have been the first to make silk in China, and to have introduced calendars, coins, canoes, and chariots. The Chinese honor the Yellow Emperor and Empress even today as founders of their high civilization.

The China region shares with several other areas of Asia and Africa the distinction of being one of the oldest inhibited places on earth. Though archaeologists began excavations in China only in recent years, their discoveries have yielded important information. They have uncovered vital clues in the complicated story of man’s advance toward civilized life.

According to legend, the Hsia was China’s first dynasty. But the first dynasty for which archaeologists have found actual physical evidence is that of the Shang .The people of Shang times had advanced beyond hunting and herding to an economy based on agriculture and trade. They practiced religious divination and had developed a system of writing. The Shang were especially noted their skill in bronze working.

The Shang dynasty was replaced by the Chou. In Chinese history the 850-years-long Chou period is known as an age of feudalism. It was also an era of great ferment. One extremely important development that took place was the introduction of the use of iron. But the Chou period is memorable, above all, as the age of great philosophers.

Among the many thinkers(Zhuang zi, Xun zi, Mo zi, Mencius) of the Chou period, Confucius was outstanding. His ideals were the establishment of social harmony and the perfection of individual behavior. He sought to instruct his fellow men to behave properly in their family and social relationships and always to conduct themselves in accordance with high ethical standards. Though Confucius had little influence during his lifetime, his teachings ultimately became the standard for Chinese society.

As a social philosophy, Confucianism had many competitors, Taolism, with its stress on harmony with nature, had a powerful appeal. Its ideas and outlook continued to influence the Chinese people for centuries. Tough-minded rulers, notably the princes of the state of Ch’in, were attracted by the ideas of the Legalists. Following Legalist teachings, the Ch’in sovereigns introduced practices which greatly strengthened their realms .As a result, they were able not only overwhelm rulers of neighboring states but even to overthrow and replace the Chou dynasty. With the rise of the Ch’in to supreme power, the Chinese Empire was born.

During the thousand years after the foundation of the Ch’in dynasty, the Chinese Emperor emerged as a powerful state. During these centuries Chinese civilization and authority, which had developed in the north, gradually extended southward. Meanwhile, Chinese might was felt in borderland to the north and west. Though the Chinese Empire fell apart during the age of Disunity, it was reconstructed, stronger than ever before by the Tang dynasty.

Statesmen of the Han and Tang dynasties succeeded in devising a workable system of administration for the empire. Turning to the Confucian scholars, they gradually developed the civil service examination. These rigorous tests assured the state of an adequate supply of highly educated professional administrators. Since the examination were based on Confucian philosophy and related fields, Chinese education concentrated on mastery of the teachings of Confucius and his disciples.

The Confucian devised a model of society that assigned men to four classes. The highest rank was held by the scholar, who was followed in order of prestige by the peasant, the artisan, and the merchant. Actually Chinese society never so was neatly arranged, nor were people “frozen” in their classes at time of birth. Moreover, some elements of the population- most notably, soldiers and aristocrats-did not fit into this social scheme.

Buddhism came into China from Central Asia during the first centuries of the Early Imperial Age. It won many followers. During the late years of the Tang dynasty, however, Confucian became alarmed by the growth of Buddhism and initiated a perpetuation of the followers of this faith. Though Buddhism was not outlawed, property owned by the monasteries was seized and priests and nuns were forced to leave the religious life. Nevertheless, Buddhist ideals permanently influenced many of Chinese life.

Other foreign religious-Islam, Judaism, and Christianity-were introduced into China during the Tang dynasty. However, only Islam developed permanent roots in China.

Tang age was characterized by brilliant cultural achievements. Great poets and writer lived during these years. The work of such poets as LI PO ranks high among the masterpieces of world literature.

“Barbarian” invasions were a persistent problem for the Chinese throughout the Late Imperial Age. Years of conflict followed the downfall of the Tang Empire. A new dynasty- the Song- was founded, but it eventually fell to the overwhelming force of invading Mongol armies. Under Kublai Khan, China became the center of huge Mongol empire. But the Chinese regained control of their own hand when the founders of the Ming dynasty ousted the Mongols.

During these centuries of changing control, barbarian invasions in the north forced many Chinese to migrate to areas south of the Yangtze. New cities and towns flourished in the coastal regions. With handsome profits from overseas trade, the Chinese became the leading sea power of East and Southeast Asia.

The Chinese of the Late Imperial Age made many notable scientific and technological discoveries and inventions. Among their achievements was the use of the compass in navigation, the development of new oceangoing vessels, the uses of gunpowder in war, the invention of printing, and the production of paper, Silk and porcelain were Chinese products that were especially prized by other peoples in both Asia and Europe.

This period of Chinese civilization was also marked by achievements in philosophy, literature and painting, and art. The development of Neo-Confucianism had a profound influence on Chinese government and society. In the realm of literature and painting, the work of Sung and Ming writers and artists has rarely been excelled.

During the 1500’s and 1600’s the Ming rulers had to face new pressures from outsides. Japanese pirates captured Chinese shipping and raided coastal settlement, and a Japanese warrior-ruler threatened to raid China. European seamen insisted on opening trade with China, and Catholic missionaries sought unsuccessfully to win Chinese converts. The climax of these pressures was the invasion by the Manchus, who conquered China and established a new dynasty.

The Manchus were probably the shrewdest of the conquerors of the Chinese Empire. Though relatively few in number, they retained control of China and its millions of inhabitants for almost three centuries. They managed to preserve many aspects of their own way of life while respecting and encouraging Chinese culture. By permitting Chinese scholars to participate in the administration of the empire, the Manchus gained strong support for their Ch’ing dynasty. The Manchu rulers rarely interfered in the affairs of the countless villages of China. In these tradition-bound communities the villagers themselves handled most of the problems of government.

During Manchu times China’s population grew rapidly. The early part of this period was characterized by good government, the maintenance of law and order, and the efficient operation of public works. The introduction of new crops and the cultivation of more land increased the supply of food. But as tillable land grew scarce and expensive, and the government became more corrupt, peasant rebellions began to break out.

The Manchus succeeded in extending the power and influence of the Chinese Empire throughout much of East, Central, and Southeast Asia. In keeping with tradition Chinese practice, the Manchus made use of the tributary system in their relations with other states. This arrangement, which assumed the superiority of the Chinese state and civilization, served the empire’s need and desire for security and prestige.

China’ traditional way of dealing with foreign states was under pressures by increasing trade with Western countries. 

Moreover, while Chinese goods were in great demand in the West, European goods found no market in China. With the growth of the opium trade in China, however, the balance of trade turned in favor of the European merchants. Chinese efforts to halt the traffic in opium led to war with Great Britain. The British victory in this war drastically altered China’s altered China’s relations with Western countries

The Chinese Empire was severely shaken by peasant uprisings in the mid-1800. In fact, the Taping rebels almost succeeded in topping the Ch’ing dynasty. The Taping program of reform enjoyed wide appeal, but it angered the scholar-bureaucrats and landlords. With the help of these groups, the Manchus crushed the Taping Rebellion and also survived the challenge of other rebels.

In the late nineteenth century the empire was dominated by the Empress Dowager. Though she allowed some reforms to be made, her main interest was to preserve the Manchu dynasty and her own power. At a critical time in its modern history the Chinese Empire suffered from narrow-minded leadership.

There are many internal difficulties in the late 1800’s in China provided opportunities for the Western empire-building nations. The settlement of the Opium War in 1842 had been the first of a long series of “unequal treaties”. For years China was forced to yield to Western demands for special privileges. Many of these violated China’s sovereign rights.

Japan’s victory in the First Sino-Japanese War was a disaster for China and the Manchu dynasty. The exposure of China’s much weakness encouraged the Western powers and Japan to scramble for even more concessions from the Chinese resentment of foreign  Influence in China touched off the Boxer Uprising in 1900. By the opening of the twentieth century it seemed that China’s fate was to be decided by foreign contenders for power, though the Unite states in the Open Door notes asked other nations to stop seeking special privileges in China and to respect its independence.

The Manchus made feeble efforts to initiate reforms during the final decade of their rule, but the dynasty could not be saved. In 1911 a revolution was to bring the two-thousand- year –old empire to an end.

 
 

 

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