three main dtynasties of China


The Shang Dynasty had a powerful army.  The reason it was so powerful was because they discovered how to make and use bronze.  New weapons forged included arrowheads, helmets, spearheads, and ax heads.  This is an important fact because it helped them defend themselves.

Many scholars believed the Shang built the first cities in China.  Anyang is one of those cities and it had a palace, a temple, houses and workshops.  The workshops were for artisans who created things from metals, pottery, stone, and jade.

The Shang believed in ancestor worship.  This is probably why vases containing food and valuable items such as jade carvings were found in the tombs of kings.  Bones of the dead, servants, slaves and animals were found in the tombs also.  This is because they believed in life after death and that the king must still be served even after death.

Shang Kings were thought to inherit the right to rule from their ancestors.  Kings used oracle bones to seek their ancestors advice.  They would have holy man ask questions to the bones (made of something like a turtle shell or shoulder bone of cow) and put a hot needle to the bone.  The pattern it cracked would tell the holy man or king the answer.  Inscriptions on these bones are thought to be the earliest examples of Chinese writing.

The downfall of the Shang Dynasty was due to constant warfare and corruption.  Corruption weakened the economy in addition to excessive spending by the king for everything from furnishings for his palace to his tomb. Constant warfare weakened the army which was eventually over thrown by the Zhou Dynasty in a surprise attack in 1045 B.C.  The dynasty lasted over 500 years.


The Zhou Dynasty, started by Wu Wang, believed in a Mandate from Heaven and this was the reason they could overthrow the Shang.  The mandate stated a king was given right to rule from the heaven.  If the king treated his people badly signs of displeasure from heaven would occur such as earthquakes, floods, and droughts.  If this happened, the dynasty could be overthrown with the will or heaven.

The Zhou ruled for over 800 years and used the much the same system as the Shang had used.  That is they divided the territory up into smaller groups and had trusted aristocrats govern them.  A territory was passed from father to son or another relative.

Notable achievements of the Zhou Dynasty included irrigation and flood control systems.  They learned to make and use iron weapons, built catapults and had the first calvary in China.  These advances allowed the population to grow.  Coins and chopsticks were also introduced during this time.

The downfall of the Zhou Dynasty happened because of the "warring states".  Powerful territory aristocrats stopped obeying the king and this lead to the overthrow of the dynasty.  The states fought for over 200 years until being conquered by Qin Shihuangdi, ruler of the Qin Dynasty.


The Qin Dynasty began about 200 B.C. with the use of legalism.  Everyone who opposed the king ideas was punished or killed, books were burned if they did not conform to the king's ideas, and a stronger central government was created.  

Government officials were appointed to oversee other government officials creating an accountability.  Also, rule of provinces and counties were no longer passed from father to son as with the Zhou Dynasty.  Qin himself, appointed the new ruler.  Qin kept aristocrats under tight control requiring them to live in the capital city were they could be watched.

Qin was the ruler who unified the empires currency as well as built roads and a huge canal.  The canal was used to ship supplies to far off territories.  Qin also connected walls built through out northern China to create a defense against Nomads.  This is what is know as the Great Wall of China but it is not the wall we see today but piled stones, rubble and sand.  The Great Wall of China we see today was created about 1500 years later.

Emperor Qin ruled for just over 10 years.  The cause of death is unknown but some believe he was poisoned by a potion he used trying to become immortal.  Qin feared death and spent his time trying to find a magic potion that would allow him to live forever.  He was over 600 miles from the capital when he died.

Qin was not a beloved ruler.  Farmers hated him because he made them leave the fields. Scholars hated him for burning their books.  Aristocrats hate him because he took away their power.   When the people learned of Qin's death war broke out and members of royal families from conquered states joined the revolt.  400 years after the death of Qin  Shihuangdi a new dynasty was in place.

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