Chinese Civilization Essay
The land here is broad and diverse. Among this immense piece of earth, one can find both farmer and businessman; mountain and plain; drought and rainfall; wasteland and farmland. It is vast, it is multifaceted. And yet these collections of disparate and dissimilar presences are bound as one, side by side with each other. They are together, they are connected. They are united, united under one name: China. It is impossible to choose a single word that exactly represents all the land of China.
The Himalayan Mountains might have “majesty,” or the Forbidden City might have “opulence,” but certainly the two are quite different and cannot be swapped. Yet there is a word that can describe all the land of China: the cities, the mountains, the villages, the plains, the towns, the rivers, the deserts. That word is Beauty. China’s cultural sphere has extended across East Asia as a whole, with Chinese religion, customs, and writing systems being adapted to varying degrees by neighbors such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
The first evidence of human presence in the region was found at the Zhoukoudian cave. It is one of the first known specimens of Homo erectus, now commonly known as the Peking Man, estimated to have lived from 300,000 to 780,000 years ago China ranges from mostly plateaus and mountains in the west to lower lands in the east. Principal rivers flow from west to east, including the Yangtze (central), the Huang He (Yellow river, north-central), and the Amur (northeast), and sometimes toward the south (including the Pearl River, Mekong River, and Brahmaputra), with most Chinese rivers emptying
into the Pacific Ocean. In the east, along the shores of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea there are extensive and densely populated alluvial plains. On the edges of the Inner Mongolian plateau in the north, grasslands can be seen. Southern China is dominated by hills and low mountain ranges. In the central-east are the deltas of China’s two major rivers, the Huang Heand Yangtze River. Most of China’s arable lands lie along these rivers, and they were the centers of China’s major ancient civilizations.
Other major rivers include the Pearl River, Mekong, Brahmaputra and Amur. Yunnan Province is considered a part of the Greater Mekong Subregion, which also includes Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.  In the west, the north has a great alluvial plain, and the south has a vast calcareous tableland traversed by hill ranges of moderate elevation, and the Himalayas, containing Earth’s highest point, Mount Everest. The northwest also has high plateaus with more arid desert landscapes such as the Takla-Makan and the Gobi Desert, which has been expanding.
During many dynasties, the southwestern border of China has been the high mountains and deep valleys of Yunnan, which separate modern China from Burma, Laos and Vietnam. The Paleozoic formations of China, excepting only the upper part of the Carboniferous system, are marine, while the Mesozoic and Tertiary deposits are estuarine and freshwater, or else of terrestrial origin. Groups of volcanic cones occur in the Great Plain of north China. In the Liaodong and Shandong Peninsulas, there are basaltic plateaus. Part II CONTRIBUTIONS Society.
Hundreds of ethnic groups have existed in China throughout its history. The largest ethnic group in China by far is the Han. This group, however, is internally diverse and can be further divided into smaller ethnic groups that share similar traits. Over the last three millennia, many previously distinct ethnic groups in China have been Sinicized into a Han identity, which over time dramatically expanded the size of the Han population. However, these assimilations were usually incomplete, and vestiges of indigenous language and culture still often remain in various regions of China.
Because of this, many within the Han identity have maintained distinct linguistic and cultural traditions while still identifying as Han. Several ethnicities have also dramatically shaped Han culture, e. g. the Manchurian clothing called the qipao became the new “Chinese” fashion after the 17th century, replacing earlier Han styles of clothing such as the Hanfu. The modern term Chinese nation (Zhonghua Minzu) is now used to describe a notion of a Chinese nationality that transcends ethnic divisions. China has over 50 minority groups.
Each group has different languages, customs, and traditions. Gap between the Rich and the Poor. The Chinese society was structurally complex and not much is known about it. Research is still on. Life in old Chinese society on a normal working day was hard and industrious for the farmers while luxurious and laid back for nobles and merchants. There was a wide demographic gap between the farmers and kings and nobles. The farmers were far more in population as compared to nobles. They were economically exploited and were made to work very hard.
The nobles lived in luxurious palaces while the farmers in China survived in small huts. Naturally the nobles were highly regarded and lived with great riches. Religion. There are three main religions in China. They are Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. They were suppressed by the CCP during the 20th century, but they are still alive and penetrating the minds of Chinese today. These religions are all widespread, and aside from other world religions, they all originated in China.
Confucianism was the official philosophy throughout most of Imperial China’s history, and mastery of Confucian texts was the primary criterion for entry into the imperial bureaucracy. China’s traditional values were derived from various versions of Confucianism. A number of more authoritarian strains of thought have also been influential, such as Legalism. There was often conflict between the ideas and philosophies, for example, the Song Dynasty Neo-Confucians believed Legalism departed from the original spirit of Confucianism. Examinations and a culture of merit remain greatly valued in China today.
In recent years, a number of New Confucians (not to be confused with Neo-Confucianism) have advocated that democratic ideals and human rights are quite compatible with traditional Confucian “Asian values”. With the rise of European economic and military power beginning in the mid-19th century, non-Chinese systems of social and political organization gained adherents in China. Some of these would-be reformers totally rejected China’s cultural legacy, while others sought to combine the strengths of Chinese and European cultures.
In essence, the history of 20th-century China is one of experimentation with new systems of social, political, and economic organization that would allow for the reintegration of the nation in the wake of dynastic collapse. Economics. By roughly 10,000 BCE, in the Neolithic Era, agriculture was practiced in China. Stratified bronze-age cultures, such as Erlitou, emerged by the third millennium BCE. Under the Shang (ca. 1600–1045 BCE) and Zhou (1045–771 BCE), a dependent labor force worked in large-scale foundries and workshops to produce bronzes and silk for the elite.
The agricultural surpluses produced by the manorial economy supported these early handicraft industries as well as urban centers and considerable armies. This system began to disintegrate after the collapse of the Western Zhou Dynasty in 771 BCE, preceding the Spring and Autumn and Warring states eras. As the feudal system collapsed, much legislative power was transferred from the nobility to local kings. A merchant class emerged during the Warring States Period, resulting in increased trade. The new kings established an
elaborate bureaucracy, using it to wage wars, build large temples, and perform public works projects. This new system rewarded talent over birthright; important positions were no longer occupied solely by nobility. The adoption of new iron tools revolutionized agriculture and led to a large population increase during this period. By 221 BCE, the state of Qin, which embraced reform more than other states, unified China, built the Great Wall, and set consistent standards of government.  Although its draconian laws led to its overthrow in 206 BCE, the Qin institutions survived.
During the Han Dynasty, China became a strong, unified, and centralized empire of self-sufficient farmers and artisans, though limited local autonomy remained. The Song Dynasty (960–1279 CE) brought additional economic reforms. Paper money, movable type, the compass, and other technological advances facilitated communication on a large scale and the widespread circulation of books. The state control of the economy diminished, allowing private merchants to prosper and a large increase in investment and profit.
Despite disruptions during the Mongol conquest of 1279, the Ming Dynasty continued the Song’s economic development. However, when the isolationist Qing Dynasty came into power, China’s economic development began to slow. Europe’s rapid development during the Industrial Revolution enabled it to surpass China—an event known as the great divergence. Trade with foreign nations on a large scale began during the reign of Emperor Wu, when he sent the explorer Zhang Yi to contact nations west of China in search of allies to fight the Xiongnu.
After the defeat of the Xiongnu, however, Chinese armies established themselves in Central Asia, starting the famed Silk Road, which became a major avenue of international trade Paper and Printing. The greatest Chinese discoveries of all times which the whole world accepts even today are the art of paper making, printing, gun powder and magnetic compass. Paper making was an art which developed in ancient China and they used silk, cloth, bark, fiber and hemp. Later during the Han Dynasty, about 1800 years ago, paper making was refined and was being made from hemp and bark and later from bamboo.
Printing technology was invented in ancient China as far back as the 8th century and by 868 they were using wood block printing which was used to print the first book in the world. Advancement in the technology came by 11th century when movable ceramic printer was invented during the rule of the Song Dynasty. By the time the Tang dynasty came to power in ancient China, printing and paper making techniques had prompted the invention of books and book shops in the cities. Compass and Gun Powder. The invention of these two had put ancient China in the fore front in terms of scientific discovery and development.
The compass was extremely useful for trade and sea travel. Here they used magnets to magnetize a pointer made of iron. Later the western world borrowed the technique for the navigation on the sea. Gun powder was invented by accident when the ancient Chinese found that throwing some types of mineral powders in the fire produces color and sparkling flame. They used the technology for making fireworks. Later the same gunpowder changed the art of modern warfare when it was used by the European powers against their enemies. Politics and Government.
Ancient China had monarchy, i. e. government headed by an emperor and a royal family. Chinese rulers also called monarchs based their government on the Confucian model, which taught that the ruler was a virtuous man who led by example… Despotic leadership. China like many other countries at that time was an agriculture based country with the river Yangtze as its lifeline. During the ancient period the king would be the leader and would be more of a dictator than a king for the people who would take decisions beneficial to them.
He has un-surpassing power in all areas be it economy or governance or agriculture which was the livelihood of the people. Earliest incident of despotic leadership could probably be traced back to the Hsia dynasty (2200 – 1750 BC) when the emperor Yao picked Shun as his successor to help his people who were burdened by the regular floods. Enlightened Leadership. Shun can be given credit for being an enlightened leader, but he was very harsh on his people. He could put any of his people to death if they did not agree with his leadership. Other punishments
included using whip, stick and fines for small offences. He was succeeded by Yu, who founded Hsia, the first dynasty. During this dynasty the Chinese government or the emperor employed huge labor to work under four groups: military, farming, construction workers and textile labor. Textile labor were given the task of weaving silk thread by hand to make clothes for the royal family, construction work included public work such as building wall, enlarging canals for agriculture etc. Military. Ancient China was most of the time caught in battles against the Huns or the invaders.
In military the casualty was very high, because at that time it was quiet common to have mass warfare killing thousands at the same time; ordinary soldiers were simply treated as pawns by the king and other leaders. Shan Dynasty (1750-1040 BC) was ruthless when it came to battles, they even made the whole family fight in battles together because he believed they would fight better with each other. Position of Women. The Shan Dynasty followed the philosophy of Yin and Yan and believed in giving lesser role to women in the society as compared to men.
Women were not given opportunities and were treated as inferior. Efforts to reform the Chinese Government. The Chou Dynasty (1040 -256 BC) tried to bring improvements in the government after the corrupt Shan Dynasty and tried to employ the feudal system. This new form of government in ancient China collapsed and ended up with Warring states period (403- 221 BC). Furthermore, corrupt emperors caused the country to fall apart into a continuous war like situation. It was after these that the enlightened Qin Dynasty ruled, which tried to reform and unified the country and builds the Great Wall of China.
The Ancient Chinese Government was more of Despotism rather than Enlightened Monarchy which works for the betterment of the people. Legal Systems. Many of the ancient legal systems were considered to be harsh by modern day standards. When societies were beginning to establish civil order and a government hierarchy often many premises seemed extreme; for example, Hammurabi’s Code and the eye for an eye principle or the torture practices common in Medieval Europe. Although, modern China may be suspected of human rights abuses, Ancient China’s legal system was based on morals and the inherent good of the citizens.
The Ancient Chinese legal system evolved through the principles of Confucianism and Legalism along with the traditions and morals of Ancient Chinese life. Confucianism. Confucianism as a philosophy gained prominence in the early existence of Ancient China. The Confucian philosophy believed that social control and social order could only be created through education. Confucianism influenced the Ancient Chinese legal system as it believed that humans were inherently good and that order was based on respect for the King and one’s fellow man.
The early legal system of Ancient China was as a result, hesitant to utilize codified or written law. This was because codified laws served to tell people what to do without explaining the reasoning. Instead of codified law, the legal system of Ancient China was initially intended to be secondary to moral reasoning. It was believed under Confucianism that by ruling through traditions, norms, and morals that those who broke the accepted conditions would be ashamed and ostracized from society. Over time however, it became clear that in some circumstances people’s self-interest would differ from society.
It was because of this that the premises of Confucianism were mixed with those of Legalism to form the first codified law in Ancient China. Legalism. Legalism in contrast to Confucianism was based on the concept that humans were predisposed to evil or wrongdoing. This belief led to the understanding that codified law and punishments were needed in order to maintain order in society. When Ancient China began to incorporate these principles into their legal system a focus was placed on the ruler. It was important to these principles that the ruler remained above the law so that his word could act as a guide.
It was also important to Legalism that a ruler was respected so that his laws and punishments were seen as just. As Ancient China’s legal system evolved it remained important that the law had the respect of the people and that the people understood the traditions. Important Principles. Ancient China’s legal system is one of the oldest legal traditions and yet unlike modern day systems there was no separation between civil and criminal law. The legal system of Ancient China was structured around the ruler being able to unify society’s interests while maintaining respect.
This premise is why any crimes against the ruler received no mercy. After the ruler in Ancient China the family was held in the highest regard; this is why crimes against the family were considered one of the greatest offences. In general Ancient China’s legal system attempted to enforce filial piety, to uphold the respect of family ancestors, to avoid legal action when possible, to create deterrents to actions and to control outbursts. In comparison, to many other early legal systems, China’s system was relatively relaxed and centered on the citizens rather than government mandates.
Ancient China’s legal system was founded on the traditions of the society it was meant to control allowing the system to evolve into the present day Culture. Daily life in Ancient China is as mysterious as it is old. The ancient Chinese were master creators, artists, craftsmen and warlords. They created paper, gunpowder for battles, matches, cannons, compass, umbrellas and many more. They created many artifacts. They developed many martial arts and other art forms such as calligraphy. They used coins with holes in them. As there were no banks at that time they used to collect the money through strings in the coins.
Ancient China was ruled by many dynasties and was constantly plagued with war. The peasants celebrated spring which was a very important festival in their life. It was celebrated during spring to welcome a good harvest and good fortune. Usually young men and women paired up and sang and danced. Like today, even in ancient China the Dragon was a sign of good luck. Chinese art is well known throughout the world. Its painting and calligraphy established the guiding principals by which other civilizations would emulate. In Chinese art, each object has its own subjective meaning, and can be interpreted in many ways.
To the Chinese, color and form are not just words, but are a part of what makes them a unique people; there ability to surround themselves with beautiful architecture and lavish technique know no bounds. People around the world love Chinese food, and so they should. Lots of tradition and care has gone into some of today’s finest and most famous dishes. In addition, Chinese medicine has been around for centuries, but only recently has it become a new, and almost baseline treatment, for common ailments such as headaches and fevers.
Ancient Chinese Paintings. There are very few remains of paintings of ancient times except on ceramic and tiles, a clear historic development can be traced only after 5th century AD. Hundreds of caves of Buddhist wall paintings and scrolls dating back to late 5th century AD have been discovered. A highly organized system of representing objects was discovered different from the western perspective; the greatest strength of this art is its incomparable mastery of lines and silhouette.
The art of figure painting reached it’s height during the Tang Dynasty, which also saw the rise of the great art of landscape painting executed as brush drawings with color washes Chinese Music and Poetry. Ancient Chinese music can be traced back to Neolithic age based on the discovery of bone flutes. Poetry and Music were influenced by the Book of Song, Confucius and the Chinese poet and statesman Qu Yuan. In the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties music was only for the royal families and dignitaries, entering the mainstream only in the Tang Dynasty.
In the Song Dynasty ,Kunqu, the oldest form of Chinese opera developed and it was during this time that the writers and artists came up with new form of lyric poetry –Ci. Other Art Forms. There were other forms of art apart from the ones mentioned above during ancient times in China like Seals, Calligraphy, Embroidery, kite making, paper cutting and shadow puppetry. Ancient Chinese culture boasts of glorious forms of Art and traditional crafts which are just two of the many jewels in China’s 5000 year history.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 1 January 2017
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