Traditional China Term Paper

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Chinese History

Zhou (or Chou) dynasty, arising to power after defeating the Shang Dynasty in China in the mid-1000's BC, was the first dynasty to move the people groups which lived in the area currently known as modern china toward a common civilization.

Under the Shang, the Chinese people were no more than a collection of family tribes scattered throughout the region. At the beginning of the Chou dynastry, the region still felt little cohesive cultural unity. It wasn't until the 6th and 7th centuries BC that archeological designations begin to appear that signify the people were collecting under a common identity. The early forms of collectivism appeared in the form of tribal heads marrying daughters of neighboring tribes. At this time, the term Hsia appeared, and was used as a designation for the people of the region who had the common experiences of living under a number of dynasties. The term Hua was added to the cultural moniker, giving birth to Hua-Hsia. This term is the source word for the modern designation 'Chinese.'

As the context of civilized china began to change for the Hua-Hsia peoples to include a collective identity, rather than the practice of remaining segregated in individual tribes, the people remained connected to their ancestors by developing a religious system which included great importance placed on ancestory, and the evolution of ancestor worship. As the peoples moved toward advancing civil order, their barbarian past was a continued source of family pride. As the territory of the central tribed expanded, they gave credit to their deceased ancestors for their victoyr, which gradually came to be known as a 'celestial empire,' extending past geographic and metaphysical boundaries.

The Chinese, under the Chou dynasty, were known for its use of jade, bronze, horse-drawn chariots, ancestor worship, highly organized armies, and human sacrifice. Cities were organized and built enclosed by protective walls rather than allowing the people to continue to exist as loosly knit tribes. Archeological records have found one city surrounded by a wall 30 feet high, 65 feet thick, and 4 1/2 miles long. The greatness of the architectural achievements was a drastic change for a mostly agrarian society. The feudal lifestyle of 1000 BCE china were typified by military squabbles over natural resources and land. By organizing large portions of Chinese citizens inside the walls of a city, the life in daily life in china changed significantly, and changed for the first time in many centuries. Inside the walled cities lived the rulers, priests, and warriors. Similar to the medieval societal structure which evolved in Europe almost 2000 years later, merchants and craftsmen lived in houses built up against the outside walls of the cities. Farmers lived near their fields in nearby villages which afforded them the protection of the city. During the Zhou dynasty, chopsticks were invented, which changed the way people ate their food.

Throughout Chinese history, the family unit was all important. The oldest living male was considered the head of the family. If one member of a family did something wrong, the entire family carried the disgrace. In the noble families, marriages were arranged to strengthen or to create a union between two clans or families. The young obeyed their parents without a fuss, and this concept was carried on past the grave. The Chinese tradition of ancestor worship created social order, and continuity of culture. To keep their ancestors happy, Chinese brought gifts of food and wine to special places or temples. The cultural and industrial advances were made possible in part because of the stability of the social fabric of the country under the Zhou dynasty. The role of the woman in Chinese society was to be gentle, calm, respectful, and to obey her husband. They held many celebrations to honor their ancestors.

Zhou kings and nobles lived in large homes and palaces made of mud and wood. They filled their houses with tall bronze candlesticks, and used bronze drinking cups. They also loved to hunt. The Zhou dynasty created bronze weapons, and they were decorated with elaborate designs. Horseback riding was very popular during this time, both as a sport and, in late Zhou times, as a means of travel during war. The nobles typically wore elaborate gowns of silk and lived in large, brick homes with tiled roofs within the walls. Their homes were lavishly decorated and furnished including jugs of wine lining the walkways. The air was scented with flowers in the gardens and spices from pots of food left steaming on stoves. Like the Egyptian Pharaoh's, they were buried in lavish tombs. However, unlike the ancient Egyptians, the Zhou nobles were buried with living people. In their tombs, archaeologists have found entire chariots, objects of art, and the remains of guards and dogs that accompanied kings to their graves, and thereby kept their personal honor vows.

By comparing the advances of the Zhou dynasty to the decades which preceded them, one can easily understand the belief among the Chinese at this time that they had reached a pinnacle of civilization. The presence of powerful horses allowed travel, and war to occur with great success. The walled citied created protection and the amount of wealth within the city walls was a source of prejudicial pride regarding the quality of their lives, and the lack of the same for those who lived outside the protective shadow of the Chinese power brokers. While the rest of the world lived in tribes, as farmers, China had developed a society which would not be matched by the West until the European Middle Ages.

The Han Dynasty rose to power for a short time, and continued to build the Chinese civilization. Although their family came from outside the Zhou dynasty, and they did not contribute archeological relics to the country, the Han built social order on the political and economic stability which the Zhou had created. Fundamental changes happened during this time and helped to create what is now called the Chinese culture. The governmental system with its bureaucracy took more shape. Also the widespread of Confucianism as the main state ideology wove the people together like a watertight basket. This combination of contributions of the Zhou and the Han made it possible for the T'ang dynasty to create China's Golden age.

Because of the military conquests which occurred between the dynasties, and the level of intra-family loyalty which helped define each dynasty, each successive ruling family considered those who had gone before as irrelevant. After all, to the victor go the spoils, and the victor also gets to write the current version of history. So as the golden age emerged, the foundational contributions which were made by the Zhou and the Han were ignored. But the advances in elegant Furniture, creation of ceramics and spoons, as well as the introduction of amber, turquoise, gold, silver, and other social improvements which entered the Chinese culture could not have occurred if the Zhou and Han had not built a solid and unchallenged political and economic basis. According to Tung, (2000) the people and customs of the empire were the vibrant center of all Asia. . . Tang China was the center of cosmopolitan civilization.

From about 600-900 CE, the T'ang managed to pull China together and under T'ang leadership, ancient China entered her Golden Age. China was the wonder of the world, and was a center of prosperity and gaiety and experimentation. A famous poet of T'ang period is Po Chu-I (772-846)

Po, like many Chinese, liked the simple things of life, and became famous for his ability to capture Chinese culture. His writings also give insight into the growing arrogance of the Chinese people. The Chinese people had developed a reciprocal relationship with their deities. They believe that while they were dependant on the deities for protection and oversight, the gods were dependant on them for the sacrifices and homage. In his poems, Po berated the deity called the Black Dragon of the North, criticizing him for his reluctance to send rain. His prayer says "We are asking you for a favor, but you depend on us for your divinity. Creature are not divine on their own account, it is their worshippers that make them so. If within three days there is a real down pour, we shall give your holy powers credit for it."

Further evidence of the advancing arrogance of the Chinese culture was seen in the teachings about the food, and feasts of T'ang china. In the late 8th century, a general was quoted as saying "there is nothing that cannot be eaten. Making things edible is only a question of skillfully blending sweet, sour, bitter, salty and peppery flavors while cooking."

The T'ang Empire was famous for its brilliant literature, and creative stories put to dancing, music, and performing arts. A special room was set aside in the imperial palace for training royal singers and dancers. Talented dancers and singers came to study singing and dancing in China from…[continue]

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