Chinese History: Foundations Era-Early Modern Era

Essay by daniel_510High School, 12th gradeA-, April 2008

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Most of China's long history as a civilization is measured in dynasties or successions of emperors. Being a major world power and a strong influential force in Asia, the Chinese have played a profound role in world history through many aspects. Many historians view China as a country alternating between periods of political unity and disunity and occasionally becoming dominated by foreign people. When examining Chinese history from the foundations era to the early industrial era, it is clear that the political, social and economic changes took place due to emerging dynasties that constantly took power, molded China into their own way and ruled through periods of political centralization and disintegration; yet they also stayed the same due to the fact that silk continued as the backbone of the Chinese economy, Confucianism guided society for a vast period of time and political power at many times was exerted by an emperor.

Being the first historically verifiable dynasty, the Shang dynasty is considered the bedrock of Chinese civilization. The Shang dynasty emerged around 1750 BCE and expanded gradually by conquest until 1027 BCE. Economically, the Shang dynasty was very strong as its trading network, driven by jade, ivory and silk, expanded as far as the Middle East. Politically speaking, the Shang dynasty was ruled by a warrior aristocracy, which established somewhat of a social paradigm of hierarchy for the years to come. Following the Shang was the Zhou, the longest lasting dynasty that lasted until 221 BCE. The Zhou appeared to have begun their rule under a semi-feudal system in which the king of Zhou at this time invoked the concept of the Mandate of Heaven to legitimize his rule, a concept that would be influential for almost every successive dynasty. During this dynasty the Chinese learned how to make iron...