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Early China

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Chinese society is believed to have had its beginnings sometime around 3000 BCE. Legend has it that from about 2700 to about 2400 BCE,there reigned a series of five emperors. According to various accounts they were all incredibly exemplary beings and moral exemplars. One of them, the Yellow Emperor is claimed to be the ancestor of all Chinese people.

The rest of China's early history, like that of Early Egypt is general broken up into periods of dynasties. Beginning with the Xia Dynasty.

Xia Dynasty Edit

Believed to have begun round about 2000 BCE. Early markings from this period, found on pottery and shells, have been alleged to be ancestors of modern Chinese characters. Proof of Xia's existence still requires further archaeological discovery. At present little is known of this period.

Shang Dynasty Edit

Suspected to begun around 1750 BCE, it does not appear to have had much political control over China. Rather it importance seems to have been religious in that the "Son of Heaven" offered sacrifices for all Chinese. Before it finally came to an end, the next dynasty, the Zhou Dynasty had already formed.

Zhou Dynasty Edit

By the end of the 2nd millennium BCE, the Zhou Dynasty began to emerge in the Huang He valley, overrunning the Shang. The Zhou appear to have begun their rule under a semi-feudal system. Near the end of this dynasty, power became decentralized during the Spring and Autumn Period when regional feudal lords began to assert their power, absorb smaller powers, and vie for hegemony. The Hundred Schools of Thought of Chinese philosophy blossomed during this period and such influential intellectual movements as Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism and Mohism were founded. After further political consolidation, seven prominent states remained by the end of 5th century BC, and the years in which these few states battled each other is known as the Warring States period. Though there remained a nominal Zhou king until 256 BC, he was largely a figurehead and held little real power.

As neighboring territories of these warring states, including areas of modern Sichuan and Liaoning, were annexed, they were governed under the new local administrative system of commandery and prefecture. This system had been in use since the Spring and Autumn Period and parts can still be seen in the modern system of Sheng & Xian (province and county).

Qin Dynasty: The first Chinese Empire Edit

Though the unified reign of the Qin Emperor lasted only twelve years, he managed to subdue great parts of what constitutes the core of the Han Chinese homeland and to unite them under a tightly centralized Legalist government seated at Xianyang (in modern Xi'an).

His sons, however, were not as successful; as soon as the Qin reign ended, the Qin imperial structure collapsed. The Qin Dynasty is well known for building the Great Wall of China, which would later be augmented and enhanced during the Ming Dynasty.

Han Dynasty: A period of prosperity Edit

The Han Dynasty emerged in 202 BC. It was the first dynasty to embrace the philosophy of Confucianism, which became the ideological underpinning of all regimes until the end of imperial China. Under the Han Dynasty, China made great advances in many areas of the arts and sciences. Emperor Wu consolidated and extended the Chinese empire by pushing back the Xiongnu (sometimes identified with the Huns) into the steppes of modern Inner Mongolia, wresting from them the modern areas of Gansu, Ningxia and Qinghai. This enabled the first opening of trading connections between China and the West.

Nevertheless, land acquisitions by elite families gradually drained the tax base. In AD 9, the usurper Wang Mang founded the short-lived Xin ("New") Dynasty and started an extensive program of land and other economic reforms. These programs, however, were never supported by the land-holding families, for they favored the peasant and lesser gentry, and the instability they produced brought on chaos and uprisings.

Emperor Guangwu reinstated the Han Dynasty with the support of land-holding and merchant families at Luoyang, east of Xi'an. This new era would be termed the Eastern Han Dynasty. Han power declined again amidst land acquisitions, invasions, and feuding between consort clans and eunuchs. The Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out in 184, ushering in an era of warlords. In the ensuing turmoil, three states tried to gain predominance in the Period of the Three Kingdoms. This time period has been greatly romanticized in works such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

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