- 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 write 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 the 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 Sinathropus 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 red roofs. Such villages were found mostly in the area of the great bend of the Huan He on the North China Plain. Despite 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.
- 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 place 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 philospher Lao Tse, who was appointed keeper of the royal historical records for the Chou rulers about 550 BC.
- CHOU DYNASTY (1122-221 BC)
(THERE IS MUCH MUCH MORE TO COME, PLEASE CHECK BACK IN TO READ MORE ABOUT THE 4,000 YEAR LONG POLITICAL HISTORY OF CHINA…it's just a lot to type, and it takes time 🙂