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Central Plains of Yellow River
• Yangshao farming
villages 5200-3000
Kilns and
Marks on pots similar to later written characters
Layout of the Jiangzhai settlement (Shi 2001:62),
one of few fully excavated Yangshao settlements .
Communal burial, lineages, elite tombs
Longshan Culture, Yellow River
• between 3000-2000 BC, development of Longshan farming
cultures, a patchwork of chiefdoms or small kingdoms
• critical role of religious personnel increased dramatically
• use of divination to communicate with ancestors, including early
inscribed oracle bones
• evidence of status differentiation in burials
• craft specialization in jade-carving and ceramics and rare copper
and later bronze metallurgy; increased trade (interaction spheres)
• construction of “stamped-earth” town walls and fortifications – some
fairly large (38 ha; 94 acres)
• also evidence of trauma in skeletons and increase in artifacts
associated with armed conflict
• sacrificed adults and children
• warring and trading elites trying to get upper hand
Hongshan platform with central burial at Niuheliang
Northeastern China, 4700-2900 BC
from Drennan and Peterson 2005
Lower Xiajiadian Culture,
NE China/Inner Mongolia
• Follows Hongshan culture in this area north of
the lower Yellow River, which shows that
complex societies were developing in regions
remote from the central plains of Yellow River
• Large (10 ha/25 acres) walled sites, with smaller
defended and those without defensive walls
clustered around major centers
• Constructed large, richly endowed elite graves,
with wooden coffins, up to 8.9 m (29 ft) deep
• Liangzhu culture, in
lower Yangzi River,
• Strong ritual element in
elite graves, including
tombs with wooden
coffins in platforms and
• Craft specialists wove
silk, made laquerware
and other beautiful
ceramic vessels, and are
particularly known for
their outstanding jades
• Large settlements within
thick “rammed-earth”
walls, between four and
six meters (13 and 20
feet) thick
3300-2250 BC
Early Dynastic China in the Central
Plains of Yellow River
• China’s first true urban civilization
• Xia Dynasty (1700-1500 BC), Shang
Dynasty (1500-1045 BC), and Zhou
Dynasty (1045-221 BC)
• marked by appearance of cities, states,
and full-fledged writing
• The first dynasty of China, Xia, is
mentioned in early historical sources, the
Shi Ji (“Records of the Grand Historian”),
written by Sima Quin (145-86 BC)
• It describes a remote period (Longshan),
the early Xia dynasty, composed of
many kings over two centuries, and
later Shang Dynasty, including repressive
government typical of early Chinese
dynastic civilization
Palace compound at
Erlitou, Xia Dynasty
(1700-1500 BC)
Shang Capitals
• The oracle bones suggest
multiple Shang capitals in
middle Yellow River, 15001045 BCE , representing
specific ruling lineages;
• ancient capital of Yin
(Anyang), for instance, was
ruled by 12 successive kings,
• throughout Chinese history the
nobility lived apart from
commoners, clearly expressed
in noble/royal palaces and
tombs located in city centers,
commoners lived in outlying
towns and villages (e.g., the
forbidden city in Beijing).
Zhengzhou (Ao)
Central precinct
Palace of Ao
Ao, Zhengzhou, was discovered in 1955.
The town had a massive earthen wall for
defense, elite and worker houses in areas
for specialized areas devoted to working
bronze, clay and bone.
The oracle bone pit at Yinxu
Among the inscriptions on the oracle bones
was the name of Wu Ding, once thought legendary, but now
documented as a real Shang king.
Oracle Bones
Early symbols on turtle carapace from
Jiahu (6500 BC)
Between 2,500 -1900 BC, the practice of
scapulimancy, became a hallmark of
Chinese civilization and by Shang Dynasty
developed into full-fledged writing system
ox shoulder blades and turtle carapaces
were cracked with hot metal and
interpreted as messages from ancestors
provides wealth of information about
activities of early kings
later, ideographic writing of Shang
developed from this, marked on Bronze
ritual vessels (Zhou dynasty), bamboo slips
(Warring States period), and silk
This World Heritage site with numerous Shang palaces, religious structures
and ritual places, tombs, and workshops. Over 100,000 inscribed
oracle bones discovered in 1899.
Yinxu ("Ruins of Yin") was the last capital
of China's Shang Dynasty, the seat of 12
kings over 250 years. In was discovered
archaeologically in 1899 on the outskirts of
Anyang. The combination of history and
archaeology, particularly the many oracle
bones recovered from the site give a
particularly detailed record of statecraft
and life in Shang time
Royal Tombs
• Each major ruler had a
great cruciform burial
• King in center and four
cardinally oriented
ramps leading down
• Elite buried with much
wealth and sacrificial
Burial remains of beheaded
people sacrificed at death of
member of royal class
• Early Chinese rulers
stayed in power by
having a strong army
• kings were frequently
at war defending
their realm and
conquering others
• through kinship
obligation all subjects
were expected to aid
their kings
Human sacrifice common in Shang,
including slaves or captives killed or or
buried alive as offerings. Even the living
wives sometimes also joined their
husbands, dogs, horses, and other animals
were also sacrificed.
Tomb of Fu Hao
Fu Hao Tomb
• Fu Hao mentioned in oracle bones as consort of Shang
ruler Wu Ding. She was also a military leader, presided
over important sacrificial ceremonies and controlled her
own estate. Her tomb contained:
– 468 bronze objects (130 weapons, 23 bells, 27 knives, 4 mirrors,
and 4 tigers or tiger heads)
– 755 jade objects
– 63 stone objects
– 5 ivory objects
– 564 bone objects (500 hairpins and 20+ arrowheads)
– 11 pottery objects
– 6,900 pieces of cowry shell
Bronze, the wealth of kings and nobles
The agency of things: wealth & personification
Sanxingdui, southwestern China
(Yangzi) – 1700-1200 BCE
Larger than Life Bronzes
Changjiang culture,
1700-1200 BC, was a
complex state society
that rivaled the Shang
culture in SW China
Craftspeople made
spectacular bronze
sculptures, such as
trees and heads
Sanxingdui was a walled
city 450 ha (1112 acres),
with surrounding occupied
area at least 15 square km
Лњ2000 m
Sanxingdui, discovered in 1987, reached its apogee ca.
1300-1200 BCE, with 400 ha of walled city
The city was partitioned into religious, residential
and industrial neighborhoods, with major tombs
on several terraces along the central axis. Canals
were constructed for irrigation, inland
navigation, defense, and flood control. The city
was divided into residential, industrial and
religious districts organized around a dominant
central axis. It is along this axis that most of the
pit burial have been found on four terraces.
• The first empires, the Zhou, were fairly
• The unification of China in the Qin (Chin)
dynasty was a radically different form of
empire-building, establishing a new
trajectory of centralized, authoritarian rule
that continued throughout later Chinese
Zhou Dynasty, 1045-221 BCE
Western Zhou Dynasty (1045-771 BC): The Shang
Dynasty ended in 1045 BC, when the powerful
and ambitious king of the state of Zhou sent his
chariots and Tiger warrior infantry north to
defeat the Shang
To legitimize their rule after overthrow of Shang
rulers, Zhou emperors introduced the idea of a
“mandate from heaven” (king was considered son
of heaven), which legitimized political overthrow
Zhou was a decentralized feudal state, divided
into fiefs governed by leaders chosen from among
the king’s relatives and allies
Only the royal capital was directly controlled by
Zhou emperor;
Eastern (late) Zhou Dynasty is divided into two
periods: the Summer and Autumn period (770481 BC) and Warring States Period (480-221 BC),
when emperor’s authority waned and feudal
rulers essentially became leaders of independent
states, waging constant war against one another
1500-1045 BCE
221-206 BCE
1045-771 BCE
770-221 BCE
206 BCE – 220 CE
Silk manuscript from
late first millennium BCE
The Qin Empire and Unification
• Qin Shi huangdi, “August emperor
of Qin,” unified China after a series
of ruthless military campaigns (221
• Ascended throne in 246 BC at age
of 13, conquered the Zhou Dynasty,
and then continued campaigns
throughout China
• immense burial mound begun soon
after his ascension 1000 ft. on a
side, 140 ft. tall
• work - conducted by over 700,000
conscripts (based on written
records) - intensified after
unification in 221 BC
• regiment of terra cotta soldiers at
the mounds side
Confucius (551-479 BC) strongly disapproved of the
absolutism and self-interest of rulers during the
Warring States period
Buddhism in imperial China by
Qin empire, but apparently
suppressed by emperor, Qin Shi
Huang Di
SiddhДЃrtha Gautama
(Buddha), 563-483
1) Mausoleum
2) Terra Cotta army
3) Bronze Chariots
6) Kiln
9) builder’s cemetery
Beijing means
Northern capital
Many secondary states developed through trade, benefiting from
their location between East and West, such as Khotan along the
Silk Road in Tarim Basin
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