Humanities 210 MIC/WIC- Cora Agatucci
Cultures & Literatures of Asia

China Timeline 1:
Early China (to 3rd c. BCE)

Asian Timelines Table of Contents Literary & Cultural History
Learn more about selected Chinese topics by clicking the links embedded in these timelines.
And if you find inaccuracies, bugs, or other relevant websites, please let me know:
The timeline pages are under construction and probably always will be...


8000-4000 Transition to sedentary agriculture and silkweaving
Ca. 5000-
Yangshao emerge in northern China in fertile loess region of Yellow River plains; hunting, fishing predominate. From the legendary pre-literate times of the Yangshao culture come heroes such as Yu (*see Xia Kingdom below) who was able to control the great rivers with dikes. Evidence suggests that the Yangshao also buried their dead in extensive burial mounds and cemeteries, and may have had seers who divined by animal bones--scholars speculate on whether ancestor veneration began with the Yangshao.


Of Gods, Mythological Sage-Emperors,
and Cultural Heroes

Chinese civilization, as described in mythology, begins with Pan Gu, the creator of the universe. Born from the egg of Chaos simultaneously with the initial separation of heavy and light elements (yin and yang) into the earth and heavens, he is said to have lived for 18,000 years. Components of his body transformed into the sun and moon, mountains, rivers and seas, and trees and plants, while the fleas on his body became the human race. sustenance, clothing, and shelter. (See Painted pottery bowl of the Neolithic Age 10,000-4,000 years ago)

From the "Mythological Era (5000-2200 BC)" also come "The Age of the Three Divine Rulers," who taught the ancient Chinese to communicate and to find sustenance, clothing, and shelter.
1. The pre-historic ruler Sui Jen, "Producer of Fire," was believed to have been the man who brought down fire from heaven for the first time and employed it in the preparation of food. Before his time the people lived like wild beasts and ate their food raw.
Fu Hsi, or "Conqueror of Animals." He taught his subjects how to catch animals and fish with nets and to rear domestic animals for food. He is also the originator of the writing system which, with their improvements and modifications of ages, has been handed down to us in the form of the modern Chinese characters.
3. Some 1300 years after Fu Hsi, the throne fell to
Shen Nung, or "God of Agriculture," who taught the people the art of agriculture and the use of herbs as medicine.

The legendary pre-literate cultures of ancient China also produced a succession of sage-emperors and culture heroes, including Yao, Yu the Great, and Shun. Yao, one of the legendary "Five Emperors, and, along with Shun and Yu, one of the "Three Model Emperors," is associated with China's early "golden age." Yao was noted for the benevolence of his rule despite his failed attempts to control the Yellow River, and his decision to set aside his sons and abdicate the throne to the virtuous Shun."

Yao and Shun (2400-2200 BCE) "are regarded as the ideal rulers in China. Much of their unrivaled popularity is undoubtedly due to the [later] eulogies of Confucius and Confucian scholars, who have endowed them with every virtue known to human. They are worshipped not because of the deeds they performed, but because of the spotless lives they led. They are models as humans and rulers, and their days are generally accepted as the Golden Age in Chinese history. No greater honor can be paid to a Chinese emperor than to compare him to Yao and Shun....Chinese historians generally regard the accession of Yao as the dawn of authentic history. The first official act of Yao was to give his people a more correct calendar than that which had previously existed. The prosperity of the nation was, however, temporarily disturbed by a thirteen-year flood which began in the sixty-first year of Yao's reign. It was a terrible disaster, and Yao was greatly grieved by the sufferings of his people." The task of controlling the floods fell eventually to Yu (Yoder). "It took Yu eight years to finish the work. Instead of building high embankments as his father had done, he deepened the beds of existing rivers and cut as many channels as were necessary to carry the water off to the sea. By his great engineering success, he soon became the idol of the nation. 'We would have been fish but for Yu,' is a saying which has come down to us from those days."

Yu the Great, legendary founder of the Xia (Hsia) dynasty), later succeeded Shun and "moved his capital to An-I, and adopted the name of his former principality, Xia, as the name of the dynasty he now founded. Yu, as ruler, desired to maintain the closest relations with his people, and caused to be hung at the entrance to his court five instruments---a drum, a gong, a stone instrument, a bell, and a rattle. The drum was to announce the coming of a caller who desired to discourse with him upon any of the virtues which should adorn a monarch. By beating the gong, he who disapproved of the king's conduct could be admitted to audience. If any one had important news, or personal grievances to communicate, he had but to strike the stone instrument, or ring the bell, as the case might be, in order to gain admittance; while the king was always ready to hear any appeal from the judicial decisions of his judges whenever he heard the sound of the rattle. These instruments kept Yu so very busy that, as historians inform us, he was always late at his midday meal."

From Outlines of Early Chinese History, by Li Ung Bing (eds. Joseph Whiteside, Soochow University, and Snow N. Snow).

Huangdi (Huang-ti), the Yellow Emperor, "ruled for 100 years and is considered an early founder of the Chinese nation due to his suppression of the southern barbarian tribes. He is associated with the invention of wheeled vehicles, ships, armor, pottery, and sericulture (silk-making). He is further identified with the investigation of natural phenomena, especially minerals and plants, and therefore with the early growth
of alchemy and medicine."
Lecture 20: Zhou (Chou), Qin (Ch'in) & Han Dynasties--with images!--Paul Brians, Washington State Univ.)

See The Queen Mother of the West, considered leader of all the celestial maidens of the western region, she was respected as a mother -- the mother of all Living creatures. Perhaps the name "Queen Mother of the West" is derived from these legendary aspects.

"White clouds in the sky,
The forest grows on
its own accord,
The road is endless,
Between the mountains and the water,
She who will never die,
Can still return."
--a song included in Biographies of the Immortals, by Wang Shizhen of the Ming Dynasty, penned in her honor when she attended the feasts hosted by King Mu. Modern tales have portray her both as a majestic and an unreasonable woman. But in ancient books, she appears as an intriguing beauty and remains forever in the first flush of youth due to her discovery of the pill of immortality.

XIA DYNASTY ca. 2200-1500 BCE

Little is known of Xia Dynasty and until recently it was thought a myth; now the Xia Dynasty is believed to have existed, descended from a widespread Yellow River Neolithic culture known as Longshan, with millet cultivation, domesticated pigs, cattle, and sheep; silkmaking, and famous for black-lacquered pottery. Though no known examples of Xia era writing survive, historians now believe these peoples had a writing system, a precursor of the Shang dynasty’s "oracle bones."

Until scientific excavations were made at early bronze-age sites at Anyang, Henan Province, in 1928, it was difficult to separate myth from reality in regard to the Xia. But since then, and especially in the 1960s and 1970s, archaeologists have uncovered urban sites, bronze implements, and tombs that point to the existence of Xia civilization in the same locations cited in ancient Chinese historical texts. (See photo of excavation of a site associated with the "legendary" Xia capital, Yangcheng, at Taosi in western Henan.) At minimum, the Xia period marked an evolutionary stage between the late neolithic cultures and the typical Chinese urban civilization of the Shang dynasty.

Centuries of migration, amalgamation, and development brought about a distinctive system of writing, philosophy, art, and political organization that came to be recognizable as Chinese civilization. What makes Chinese civilization unique in world history is its continuity through over 4,000 years to the present century.

The geography of China (see map) has greatly impacted its history: intersecting sets of roughly parallel mountain chains divide China into distinct geographical regions. Two great rivers flow eastward: the Yellow River (Huanghe), 2700 miles long and largely non-navigable, and the Yangtze (Changjiang, or Ch'ang Chiang), 3200 miles long and navigable in its lower reaches.

SHANG DYNASTY 1750 –1040/1027 BCE

The Shang (or Yin) was the most advanced bronze-making civilization in the world at this time. The Shang, believed to have been led by a rebel leader who overthrew the last Xia ruler, were warlike nomads under strong kings, with bronze weapons and horses, who conquered most other linguistic/ethnic groups of northern Yellow River region. (See Shang era bronze ceremonial weapons.) Thousands of archaeological finds in the Huang He (Yellow River), Henan Valley--the apparent cradle of Chinese civilization--provide evidence about the Shang Dynasty. It was an agricultural civilization, augmented by hunting and animal husbandry. The Shang left evidence of cooking vessels and cuisine; domesticated silkworm (serioculture) for fabric making, and fortified cities. See A Vessel from the Shang Dynasty

Chinese Writing: Under the Shang (1523-1027), a distinctive Chinese culture emerged, esp. through the important development of a writing system, leaving the most complete record of Chinese writing to date. Using standardized pictographic ideographs, the Shang had developed 3,000 characters by end of their era, able to convey complex ideas. These archaic inscriptions have been found on "oracle" or divining bones. e.g., carved into the shoulder blades of pigs, tortoise shells, and flat cattle bones, as well as bronze vessels (later bamboo slips, silk scrolls, and wooden plates would be used for writing). The workmanship on the Shang bronzes attest to a high level of civilization.

Shang shamans (priests) performed rituals, "read" cracked animal divining bones, had a religious pantheon of nature sky gods, worshipped ancestors, and lived in patrilineal-patrilocal extended family compounds. The capitals, one of which was at the site of the modern city of Anyang, were centers of glittering court life. Court rituals to propitiate spirits and to honor sacred ancestors were highly developed. In addition to his secular position, the king was the head of the ancestor- and spirit-worship cult. Evidence from the royal tombs indicates that royal personages were buried with articles of value, presumably for use in the afterlife. The Shang were known for widespread human sacrifice (if a king died, more than 100 slaves, some beheaded, some thrown in alive, might have to join him in his grave); and kingship succession passed to brothers, rather than from father to eldest son.

Some scholars believe that the Xia, the Shang, and the Zhou (see below) were three different cultures that emerged at the about the same time in different parts of the Yellow River Valley, the Shang arising to conquer the Xia, and the Zhou eventually arising to the west of the Shang heartland to conquer the Shang.

The last Shang ruler, a despot according to standard Chinese accounts, was overthrown by a chieftain of a frontier tribe called Zhou, which had settled in the Wei Valley in modern Shaanxi Province: see image of Zhou Wen Wang, the father of Wu Wang, first sovereign of the Zhou dynasty. According to Chinese tradition, Wen Wang ("literate," or "accomplished king") had become Count of the West with military responsibility for protecting the Shang frontier, but he was wrongfully imprisoned by the evil last emperor of the Shang. In prison he occupied himself with a study of the Yjing (I Ching, or the Book of Changes) until he was released as a result of the outcries of his people. In later tradition, Wen Wang was considered an ideal monarch, intelligent and benevolent. The Zhou dynasty had its capital at Hao, near the city of Xi'an (or Chang'an). Sharing the language and culture of the Shang, the early Zhou rulers, through conquest and colonization, gradually "sinicized," that is, extended Shang culture through much of China Proper north of the Chang Jiang (or Yangtze River).


Ca 1020 –
771 BCE
Western (or Early) Zhou (or Chou) Kingdom (see map): Zhou peoples may have been Turkic speaking nomads expanding their rule from the north into east and south China. China at the time was a number of quasi-independent principalities, but the Zhou were the most powerful of these and subjugated less powerful indigenous "black-haired people," though the Zhou were not as accomplished at working bronze as the Shang. Zhou location, ruling from the middle of this region of principalities, gave rise to the Chinese calling their country "the Middle Kingdom." The Zhou dynasty lasted longer than any other, from 1027 to 221 B.C. It was philosophers of this period who first enunciated the doctrine of the "mandate of heaven" (tianming), the notion that the ruler (the "son of heaven") governed by divine right but that his dethronement would prove that he had lost the mandate. The doctrine explained and justified the demise of the two earlier dynasties and at the same time supported the legitimacy of present and future rulers.

The Zhou Dynasty used a father to son succession system, established elaborate state rituals, and began developing a professional bureaucracy of educated men for service as administrators, scribes, clerks, and advisors. The term feudal has often been applied to the Zhou period because the Zhou's early decentralized rule invites comparison with medieval rule in Europe. At most, however, the early Zhou system was proto-feudal, being a more sophisticated version of earlier tribal organization, in which effective control depended more on familial ties than on feudal legal bonds. Whatever feudal elements there may have been decreased as time went on. The Zhou amalgam of city-states became progressively centralized and established increasingly impersonal political and economic institutions. These developments, which probably occurred in the latter Zhou period, were manifested in greater central control over local governments and a more routinized agricultural taxation. (See map and essay on The Zhou Period.)

After ca.1000

771 BCE

Iron technology weakens bronze age empires.

The Zhou capital was sacked by barbarians from the west, the Zhou king killed, and the Zhou moved East, to Luoyang in present day Henan Province—because of this shift, historians divide the Zhou dynasty into the earlier "Western" (1100-771 BCE) and the later "Eastern" (771-256 BCE) periods
. With the royal line broken, the power of the Zhou court gradually diminished and the fragmentation of the kingdom accelerated. (See also Lecture 20: Zhou (Chou), Qin (Ch'in) & Han Dynasties, Paul Brians, Washington State Univ.)
Respect for the old: "The government of the Zhou Dynasty may be described as follows: a father was supreme in a family, a king in a state, and old age in a village. Every three years the people of each village met, when a banquet was given, presided over by a representative of the Crown and with guests of honor seated according to their ages. This was one of the most solemn occasions and detailed rituals were prescribed and followed."

Eunuchs and their origin: "The Zhou Dynasty is commonly credited with having introduced the custom of keeping eunuchs. The fact is, eunuchs had existed for centuries before the family became supreme in China. 'This class of men seems to have originated with the law's severity rather than from the callous desire on the part of any reigning house to secure a craven and helpless medium and means for pandering to, and enjoying the pleasures of the harem without fear of sexual intrigue. Criminals whose feet were cut off were usually employed as park-keepers, simply because there could be no inclination on their part to gad about and chase the game.... It is sufficiently obvious why the castrated were specially charged with the duty of serving females in a menial capacity. Eunuchs were so employed because they were already eunuchs by law.' Since the abolition of the law, 197 BC, however, men have been purposely made eunuchs in order that their services as menials could be conveniently rendered."
Outlines of Early Chinese History, by Li Ung Bing (eds. Joseph Whiteside, Soochow University, and Snow N. Snow).


Zhou Classic of Poetry
(10th – 7th c. BCE)
Shi-jing (or Shih Ching, trans. Classic of Poetry), growing to a body of some 300 ritual hymns and ballads, marks the beginning of the vernacular or folk tradition in Chinese poetry, characterized by simplicity of language and emotion. Orally composed in four word verses, and passed down orally from generation to generation, many the ancient poems, especially the "Airs" (Feng), sing of the daily life of peasants, , their sorrows and joys, their occupations and festivities—unlike the custom of glorifying gods and heroes dominant in many other cultures. Chinese poetry and music were closely linked from earliest times. The Shi-jing grew and changed over time with oral transmission, so the poems are difficult to date.

The Classic of Poetry has four major sections: the Hymns (Song), the "Great Odes" (Da-ya), the "Lesser Odes" (Xiao-ya), and the "Airs" (Feng).

1. The Hymns, the oldest dating from 10th century BCE, were used in dynastic rituals to address the deified spirits of the founders of the Zhou Dynasty, Kings Wen and Wu. Ritualistic naming of things and actions and formal declaration in words to describe orderly systems of relations were necessary to make it so and serve its proper function in a system of ritual.

2. The "Great Odes" are public poetry of the dynasty, recounting crucial episodes in the founding of the Zhou Dynasty. A number of these celebrate the dynasty’s foundation by right of receiving Heaven’s charge, and bringing order and peace to the land and to the king’s heart.

3. The "Lesser Odes" spoke less publicly for the official political lines; they might speak, not for the Zhou king, but for the officers and soldiers of the Zhou. Or they might declare more problematic exchanges and correspondences than in the obvious ritual and political order presented in the Hymns and "Greater Odes."

4. The "Airs" constitute more than half the 300 poems of the Classic of Poetry, and they may be the latest poems to be added. The "Airs" represent regional song traditions, and the points of view of the common folk and of the feudal courts of the many regions under the Zhou monarchy.

"Burial of companions to the dead...was almost universal during the sixth and seventh centuries BC. In the Book of Odes [The Classic of Poetry], we read an account of the funeral of Duke Mu of Qin. Before his death, he had decreed that three of the ablest ministers of the time (brothers) should be interred with him. Although the nation did not approve of the choice thus made, yet the decree was faithfully carried out, and the three "good men of Qin" accompanied the remains of Duke Mu to their last resting place."
Silk was universally known [at this time]. That the women were mostly engaged in rearing silkworms, the Book of Odes [The classic of Poetry] abundantly testifies. Even the queen had to set an example in this industry at appointed times each year if she did not have to do the actual work. No cotton was known, so the poorer classes wore garments of hempen materials. In the cold weather, furs were used. Dyeing too was largely practiced."
From Li Ung Bing, Outlines of Early Chinese History (eds. Joseph Whiteside, Soochow University, and Snow N. Snow).

Later Zhou Period (8th century – 221 BCE)

8th century to 551 Eastern (or Later) Zhou (or Chou) Dynasty was a weaker and much reduced kingdom with iron technology. Migration and population growth gradually shifted power over the regions of the two great Chinese river systems: Yellow and Yantgze Rivers. Professional shi bureaucrats gained considerable influence, but the Eastern Zhou period was one of increasing instability and uncertainty breaking down social and political control.

The declining Later (or Eastern) Zhou era is further subdivided into the Spring and Autumn period (722-481) and the Warring States period (403-221) - see below.

770/722 – 476/481 "Spring and Autumn Period," named for one of the 5 Classics of Chinese literature (the Ch’un Ch’iu [Spring and Autumn Annals], a history of the state of Lu from 722 to 481 BCE), is culturally important, for its rulers traced their ancestry back to Zhou Gong, or the Duke of Zhou, the brother of King Wu, the founder of the Zhou Dynasty. As founder of the ducal line in the state of Lu, the later birthplace of Confucius, Zhou Gong was also considered the "familiar spirit" of Confucius. Lu prided itself on preserving proper Zhou customs. This era was violent and aristocratic, with constant power struggles; and spawned new ideas and philosophies, especially Taoism (or Daoism) and Confucianism.


Zhou The Five Classics (to 221 BCE)

The high "literary" tradition in Chinese literature is rooted in the Five "Classics":

(1) Shih Ching or Shi-jing (trans.Classic of Poetry - see above) purportedly collected and written down by Confucius, reached its final form ca. 600 BCE.

(2) I Ching, or Yi Ching (trans. Classic or Book of Changes), a divination text;

(3) Shu Ching, or Shu-jing (trans. Classic of Documents or Book of History), a miscellanea of ancient state documents, some probably dating from very early in the Zhou period (see Selections from the Shu Jing [The Classic of History] c. 6th Century BCE);

(4) Li Chi (trans. Book of Rites), a collection of ritual and governmental codes; and

(5) Ch'un Ch'iu, or Chun-qiu (Spring and Autumn Annals), a history of the state of Lu from 722 to 481 BCE., also reportedly edited by Confucius (552-479 BCE).


Zhou Great Era of Chinese Philosophy (551 – 233 BCE)

"In the early days three groups of divinities were recognized---those of the heaven, the earth, and human. Besides these, ancestral worship was largely practiced. Various kinds of sacrifices were offered according to strictly enforced rituals at appointed times. Oracles were consulted before even the smallest undertakings." (Faber's "China ill the Light of History." [sic]) The belief in astrology, fortune telling, and dreams was almost universal; but by the time of the Spring and Autumn Classic" [the Ch'un Ch'iu], the intellectual temper of the times was changing, as illustrated by these quotations:

"'The nation that listeneth to human is bound to rise;
that which listeneth to gods is doomed to ruin.'

"'The will of heaven is far off, but that of human near;
how can one claim knowledge of that which is beyond one's reach?"
(From Outlines of Early Chinese History, by Li Ung Bing (eds. Joseph Whiteside, Soochow University, and Snow N. Snow).

The great era of Chinese philosophy, or Period of "100 philosophers," was stimulated by the desire to try to end widespread conflicts and turmoil, and to stabilize and strengthen a unified political system (see map of 6th century China).

"Confucius cared most about people and
was perhaps the first great humanist in history."
--Sanderson Beck

K'ung Fu-tzi (K'ung the master) or Confucius (551 – 478?): his search for ideal ruler and right administration shaped Chinese society for next 2,000 years. The Analects (Lun-yu) of Confucius were aphoristic sayings complied by his disciples. The Analects argue for proper proportion, humane conduct, admonish people to conduct themselves with decorum, propriety, ethical principles. Confucius considered it his task to restore the way (tao or dao) of the ancients (particularly, of the early Zhou period) through emphasis upon the preservation and practice of the ceremonies and rituals known as li, which could serve to regulate society and human conduct. He also stressed the primary virtue of ren ("benevolence," "human-heartedness," or "love"). As practiced by the cultivated, perfect man, li and ren included the concepts of loyalty, reciprocity, filial piety, courtesy, and faithful friendship, and together they constituted the underpinning of the natural moral order" (Paul Brians, Lecture 20: Zhou (Chou), Qin (Ch'in) & Han Dynasties, Washington State Univ.). Confucius believed that moral men make good rules, and that virtue, attained through right and proper behavior, is the most important quality an official can have. Confucius also argued that that the Chinese Emperor was the Son of "Heaven," a divine/natural force, and ruled by the Mandate of Heaven. "Among the virtues demanded by the Confucian ethics, propriety, reverence for tradition, and filial piety are the most important. The last especially is the foundation upon which have stood the social life and security of the Chinese government. Filial piety not only means dutiful behavior of children towards parents, but it also includes loyalty to the government and respect for authority....He sought to guide his fellows by holding up to them the wisdom and virtue of the ancients. His teaching was purely ethical and practical, confined to the daily life of humans as members of the state and of their family. He spoke little of God, and he avoided talking about the supernatural. For this reason it is often said that he cannot be called a religious teacher, but only a moral philosopher, and that Confucianism is rather a system of morality than religion." (From Li Ung Bing, Outlines of Early Chinese History [eds. Joseph Whiteside, Soochow University, and Snow N. Snow]). While Confucius’ ideas were not instituted in his lifetime, he acquired a large following of disciples, and through the development of the "Confucian school" of thought, his precepts have molded Chinese society for more than two thousand years.

"Whoever loves the world as his self
may be entrusted to care for the world."

Laozi (or Lao-tzu, 7th or 5th century?), founder of Taoism, or Daoism and reputedly the author of the Tao Te Ching (or Dao de Jing, trans."Classic of the Way")--though scholars dispute whether Laozi ever really existed and, if so, whether he alone authored the Tao Te Ching. " According to legend, when in old age Lao Tzu was leaving Ch'u he was stopped by the guardian of the pass into the state of
Ch'in and asked to write down his wisdom. After three days he produced the book of about 5,250 characters known as the Tao Te Ching. Tradition makes Laotze a librarian of the royal court of Zhou. After the completion of his philosophical work, he retired to an unknown place...." Another legend has it that Confucius met and studied under Laozi .Taoism's first premise is that Tao cannot be explained in words, but many try, nevertheless. "Tao probably means impersonal Nature which permeates all things, and from which all things are evolved. According to the teaching of Laotze, true peace comes from ceasing to strive and by living in harmony with the leadings of the 'Tao.' The cause of disorder in the world is the development of what is artificial and unnatural, and the only remedy is a return to 'Tao.'" (Pott's "A Sketch of Chinese History," quotations from Li Ung Bing, Outlines of Early Chinese History [eds. Joseph Whiteside, Soochow University, and Snow N. Snow]). Taoism profoundly influenced the later development of Ch’an (also known as Zen) Buddhism. See also Chinese Sages: Lao-tzu, Confucius, Mo-tzu, and Mencius

"If men were to regard the states of others as they regard their own,
then who would raise up his state to attack the state of another?"

Mo-tzu: "Confucius died in 479 BC, and about ten years later Mo-ti was born in the same state of Lu; he probably died about twenty years before Mencius was born in 371. According to the Huai-nan-tzu..., Mo-tzu had the same kind of traditional education in the six classics as Confucius but was critical of some Confucian ideas such as elaborate funerals and therefore rejected Chou [Zhou] traditions in favor of the older Hsia [Xia]. Judging by the wagon-load of books Mo-tzu took with him when he went to Wei as an envoy, he was quite a scholar. Since the purpose of his learning was to practice justice and teach others to do so also, Mo-tzu became a minister in the state of Sung and also traveled to different states to advise rulers on how they could apply his teachings. The Huai-nan-tzu stated that Mo-tzu never stayed anywhere long enough to make the seat warm. It goes on to say that for sages no mountains are too high and no rivers too wide; they bear shame and humiliation to advise rulers, not for wealth or position but merely to benefit the world and eliminate human catastrophes. Mo-tzu was such a man" (Sanderson Beck, Mo-tzu).

Menicus (or Meng-tzu, 371? to 289? BCE): Most of what we understand as Confucianism was written down by Mencius, a disciple of Confucius, who also believed that all men were basically good. "This inborn goodness could be developed by self-cultivation and education. Likewise, government was primarily a matter of ethics, and a truly moral ruler would receive the spontaneous support of his people while an immoral ruler would lose the support of heaven, as manifested by the revolt of his people. In the 12th century A D., the book of his writings known as the Mengzi was elevated to the status of a classic, and mastery of it was required for success in official examinations" (Paul Brians, Lecture 20: Zhou (Chou), Qin (Ch'in) & Han Dynasties, Washington State Univ.).

The Legalists: another disciple of Confucius named Xun-zi led the Legalist school of thought, believing that humans were basically evil and would look out for themselves first. Therefore, Legalists advocated a severe set of laws (e.g., under Qin Huang-di--see below--burning seditious books, burning dissenters alive, maintaining a secret police, having neighbors spy on one another) to create a general atmosphere of fear and make the state easier to control. And since the Emperor is the Son of Heaven and rules by the Mandate of Heaven, Legalists argued that there is no such thing as legitimate dissent.


While earlier warfare tended to be short and armies small, during the Warring States Period massive armies (up to half a million), long battles and sieges were common. Rulers and ministers each seeking his own advantage fostered a culture of contending philosophies—the so-called "100 schools" or period of "100 philosophers."

Though with different approaches, both Confucianism (through virtue and natural order) and Legalism (by ruling with an iron fist) aimed for the same goal: the re-unification of a divided China. The situation became increasingly dark during the "Warring States Period."

Polygamy "has not only existed in China, but has been legalized by Confucianism. During the fifth and sixth centuries BC, it was customary for a feudal chief to marry his daughter to another chief with many of her cousins or other relatives as maids (the number went up as high as nineteen), so that in case [if] she should die one of them would succeed her at the head of the harem. The practice of making concubines wives was almost universal among the states. For over two thousand years no one seems to have regarded this evil as sin, and much less, as a crime, until one Li Kuei, a legalist and statesman of Wei in the time of the Seven States, saw fit to declare polygamy a crime punishable by death. While this has been the basis of later legislation, law had never been stronger than Confucianism. The reason why Confucianism sanctions polygamy lies in the...belief that death without an heir is a sin unpardonable."
"Divorce: The ancients sanctioned seven reasons why a husband could divorce his wife, including inability to bear a child. How far divorce was actually effected on this ground, we are not informed. It must not be understood that divorce in those days required legal proceedings as it now does. All the husband had to do to get rid of an undesirable wife was to expel her by force. On the other hand, no ground ever existed in law for a wife to break away from a wretch![that is, her husband]"
From Outlines of Early Chinese History, by Li Ung Bing (eds. Joseph Whiteside, Soochow University, and Snow N. Snow).

Classical Prose (6th to 3rd centuries)

In addition to the work of Confucius, Laotze, and other philosophers, prose works of this period admired for their style as well as their philosophic import, are the essays of Mo-tzu, Hsün-tzu (flourished 3rd century BC), and Han-fei-tzuhe Shih Chi (Records of the Historian) of Ssu-ma Ch'ien (this last a monumental work dealing with all Chinese history up to the Han dynasty), provided a pattern for a long series of dynastic histories compiled over a period of about 2000 years.

In political and moral philosophy, the Confucian scholars set the precedent for the literary tradition in Chinese prose. A standard literary language was adopted, which gradually became divorced from the spoken language. The Confucian school conserved older traditions, such as the rituals of Zhou, the Shih Ching, the Shu Ching, and the Ch'un Ch'iu. With the exception of the Shijing (The Classic of Poetry), reportedly collected and written down by Confucius himself, the folk tradition was long considered beneath the notice of the scholar-official class, who were the arbiters of literary taste. The folk tradition later grew to include drama and fiction, histories and popular stories and tales.

China Timelines Introduction 
China Timeline 1:  Early China (to 3rd c. BCE)
URL of this webpage:
China Timeline 2:  Qin & Han Dynasties & "Time of Troubles"  (3rd c. BCE - CE 7th c.)
China Timeline 3: Tang, Song, Yuan & Ming Dynasties (7th - 17th c.)
China Timeline 4: Qing Dynasty & Clashes with the West (1644-1911)
China Timeline 5: Republican & Communist China (20th c.) & China Timelines Sources

Asian Timelines: India China Japan
  were first prepared by Cora Agatucci, in 1998. 
They are slowly being updated in Winter 2001.  Please bear with me.
Other Online HUM 210 Course Resources:
HUM 210 Syllabus Course Plan Assignments Student Writing 
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If you're interested in other world literatures and cultures, visit these course websites:
Hum 211 - Culture and Literature of Africa 
Eng 109 - Western World Literatures (late 18th-late 20th centuries)