Chapter 2- Classical Civilization: China

In this chapter we will mainly focus on the Zhou, Qin, and Han dynasty and their risings and fallings. We will also discuss the ways the dynasties and the rulers shaped classical  China. We also be talking about the impact of Confucianism on the people of classical China. 

 (First 6 key terms)

Development and Interaction of Cultures: Although some rulers in the Zhou dynasty worshipped god(s), most just stressed the importance of harmonious earthly life and balance between earth and heaven. Mandarin Chinese was created and chopsticks were used during the Zhou dynasty. Mandarin Chinese served as a standard language for all of China, making things easier to understand and collect. (Calligraphy)Chopsticks promoted a code of politeness and etiquette during meals. Confucianism rose during the Zhou dynasty. Confucius stressed ethics, obedience, respect, and family relations. (Five Classics) Daoism arose around the time Confucianism arose. Daoism, “the way of the nature”, stressed harmony with nature.  During the Qin and early Han dynasties, Legalism arose. However, Legalism was a little bit more extreme and emphasized restraint and discipline; it never captured the widespread popularity like Confucianism did.  Many Chinese artists painted, worked in bronze and pottery, carved jade and ivory, and wove silk screens.  The Great Wall was built during the Qin dynasty. In the fields of science, many new things were discovered and created:  an accurate calendar, calculations of the movement of Saturn and Jupiter, observations of sunspots, development of anatomical knowledge, and development of improved scientific instruments. 

State Building, Expansion and Conflict: The Zhou, Qin, and Han dynasty all degenerated because of nomadic enemies along the borders of China. The Zhou dynasty relied on alliances with regional princes and noble families to follow the emperor’s orders and run their assigned territory loyally. However, this could be easily destroyed because of unfaithful followers and such. In the Qin dynasty, Shi Huangdi was a little bit smarter. He chose specifically those from poorer classes to run his feudal states. He knew that the poor would have a lower chance of rebelling and that they would be grateful for this responsibility. Shi Huangdi emphasized centralization of his power by establishing a single law code for the whole of China instead of relying on a myriad of small independent governments. The Han dynasty continued the type of government Shi Huangdi ran but he made sure his bureaucrats were well educated. Therefore the government would be more efficient. 

Zhou dynasty lasted from 1029 to 258 B.C.E. The Zhou extended China’s territory by advocating settler movement to the Yangtze River Valley, a place that later became China’s core- called the “Middle Kingdom”. The Zhou also promoted a linguistic unity by starting a standard spoken language called 

Mandarin Chinese. The Zhou’s downfall was partly due to the decline in political infrastructure and frequent invasions by nomadic people. The Zhou was not able to establish a strong central government because of China’s vast amount of land. Instead, the Zhou ruled through alliances with regional princes and noble families and solely on their loyalty. 


 Qin Shi Huangdi came into power after the fall of the Zhou dynasty and created the Qin dynasty. Shi Huangdi named himself the “First Emperor”. He was a brutal leader that was smart in selecting officials to maintain parts of the China. He chose members of nonaristocratic groups to maintain parts of China, knowing that they would dare not rebel against him. This helped him centralized his power in China. Shi Huangdi is known to have built the Great Wall of China to protect China from outside invasions. He also ordered a national census so that he could precisely determine the use of the nation’s resources and obtain data for the calculation of tax revenues and labor service. Despite achieving great things for China, Shi Huangdi was not very popular among his subjects. His subjects saw him as a man with “the heart of a tiger and a wolf”, because of his constant action of raising taxes for the construction of the Great Wall. Therefore after Shi Huangdi’s death, massive revolts broke out and ended the Qin dynasty. 

 After the fall of Qin dynasty, came the rise of the Han dynasty, which lasted over 400 years from 202 B.C.E. to 220 C.E. The Han continued the centralized administration of the Qin but in a less brutal way. Man Han rulers expanded the dynasty’s territory into Korea. Indochina, and central Asia. This helped introduced trade with the Middle East and later, the Roman Empire. One of the Han rulers, Wu Ti, greatly stressed the importance of peace throughout the kingdom, allowing China to prosper greatly during his rule. Unlike the Qin, the Han supported Confucianism and established shrines to worship this great philosopher. However, the centralized government of the Han dynasty soon declined and China fell into the hands of the Huns, spearheaded nomadic people. 

The Great Wall is located in northern China. The Great Wall was originally built to protect the norther borders from intruders.

Legalism is originated from the Han Dynasty during the Era of Warring States. This is a philosophy that didn't question the higher being or the purpose of life. 

Mandarin was the bureaucrat in China where the system of imperial examination and scholar bureaucrats were adopted under the Chinese influence. 

The three significant dynasties in China were Zhou, Han, and Qin dynasty.

Mandate of Heaven is a concept where people thought the the gods in heaven chose the rulers.

During the Era of Warring States (402 - 201 B.C.E), there were many endless brutal wars between the seven states: Han, Wu, Zhao, Chu Qi, Yan, and Qin. The Qin dynasty in the end that won. The cause of this era was due to the friction between the seven states.

“Mean People”:

A group of people who performed rough transport and other unskilled jobs, and suffered from the lowest possible status.  Mean people were punished for crime more harshly than other groups and were required to wear identifying green scarves.  This group included performing artists, household slaves, etc. 


Patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property.  This social system was common in most agricultural civilizations, including China, because men frequently took over the most productive work—craft production and political leadership.  Many women internalized patriarchal culture, believing that they should obey and please men and agreeing that they were inferior.  Patriarchal family structure rested on men’s control of most or all property.

Confucius, a.k.a. Kung Fuzi: (c. 551-478B.C.E.)

He devoted he life to teaching and he traveled through many parts of China preaching his ideas of political virtue and good government.  He believed in a divine order but refused to speculate about it.  He maintained that if people could be taught to emphasize personal virtue, which included a reverence for tradition, a solid political life would naturally result.  He believed that only a man who demonstrated proper family virtues, including respect for parents and compassion for children and other inferiors, should be considered for political service. “When the ruler excels as a father, a son, and a brother, then the people imitate him.”  He urged a political system that would not base rank simply on birth but would make education accessible to all talented and intelligent members of society.  He also emphasized that rulers should be humble and sincere, for people will grow rebellious under hypocrisy and arrogance.  Confucius stressed that true happiness rested in doing good for all, not individual gain.  

Daoism (“The Way of Nature”):

The belief system, founded by Laozi(Lao-tsu), is based on an elusive concept regarding an eternal principle governing all the workings of the world.  Daoism embraced traditional Chinese beliefs in nature’s harmony and added a sense of nature’s mystery.  The Dao is passive and yielding; it accomplishes everything yet does nothing.  As a spiritual alternative to Confucianism, Daoism produced a durable division in China’s religious and philosophical culture.  Although Confucian scholars disagreed vigorously with Daoist thinking, Daoism became to be favored by many emperors.  

Silk Road:

The Silk Road was a network of roads through central Asia generated by the trade in silk and other luxury products, and most trade along the Silk Road was carried by nomadic merchants.  China’s silk was unusually high quality, and the product was valued highly elsewhere, in India, the Middle East, and even the distant Mediterranean during the Roman Empire.

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