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Posted on May 5th, 2014, by

In traditional Chinese historiography, the history of the country is divided into dynastic era – the reign of the representatives of the same reigning family. All dynasties have their own names. There were used most often the names or nationalities, or specific estates, where the founders of dynasties came from. There were also used names that were the ideological determination of the dynasty. In addition, archaeological excavations have shown that people lived a million years ago in modern China. Thus, we are going to give a very brief introduction to the Shang and Zhou dynasties of early China, dwelling on their distinctive features.

To begin, according to various evidences, it is considered that the Shang dynasty was the first Chinese dynasty, but some researchers suppose that it can be the heir of the semi-mythical Xia dynasty. In such a way, the Shang dynasty occupied the first place in the official sources, and it was changed by the Zhou dynasty several centuries later. Written information about the era of the Shang dynasty has been obtained by deciphering the inscriptions on oracle bone tablets or bronze ritual vessels.

Considering the main distinctive features of the Shang dynasty, we can see that the period of the reign of the Shang dynasty was characterized by the development of an aristocratic society, where exactly the family was the foundation of the social structure. In addition, the Shang civilization was based on agriculture, hunting and breeding animals. Bronze was used extensively. In fact, bronze-making was a symbolic feature of the Shang dynasty. Exactly the bronze represented the power and class superiority, because it was used only by the upper classes, and mainly for religious ceremonies. Thus, the Shang dynasty was also known as the Bronze dynasty. Bronze was used for ships, goods, and weapons, while people also used nephrite and porcelain objects for their everyday needs; an interesting detail is also hidden in the fact that the Chinese already knew how to raise silkworms and to produce silk fabric during this period.

The next Chinese dynasty was the Zhou dynasty, which occupied its position by the conquest of the Shang. The Zhou rulers justified their conquest of the Shang on the base of the Mandate of Heaven, which was considered to be the code of rules for the ancient Chinese people. Thus, according to Xiu and Davis, “The Mandate of Heaven established the Zhou’s assumed divine ancestor, the Tian-Huang-Shangdi, above the Shang’s divine ancestor, the Shangdi. The doctrine explained and justified the demise of the Xia and Shang and at the same time supported the legitimacy of present and future rulers”¯ (Xiu and Davis, 2004). But despite maintaining the continuity of the ruling dynasty, the Zhou era was not a single integral period in the history of the ancient China. In this era occurred, consolidated and developed the many changes that have affected all spheres of life.

Discussing the main events of the two stages of the Zhou dynasty, we can note that the rulers of the Zhou dynasty not only preserved the achievements of the system created by the Shang era, but also implemented a number of important innovations. There was established feudal structure, which had the emperor as the supreme head to effectively manage the vast territory. The emperor singled out the land to the members of his clan, to tribal leaders and dedicated members of the throne of the aristocracy, and the latter were owed to pay taxes, and to support the imperial court for these privileges in a case of war.

To sum up, of course, the Zhou dynasty rule over much territory of modern China for a surprisingly long time. However, the power of the emperors over actually independent public entities has been rated and all attempts at centralization were generally unsuccessful. In such a way, the history of the Zhou dynasty ended by a long period of “warring kingdoms”¯.

Thus, taking everything into consideration, we can conclude that both the Shang and Zhou dynasties have changed the destiny of the ancient China forever because the Shang dynasty was one of the greatest civilizations of the ancient China, while the Zhou dynasty also developed all the innovations made by the Shang dynasty and even improved some of them.

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