Ideas and Concepts of Ancient China

Section 3


The origin of the Chinese people remains undetermined, though it is likely that many different ethnic groups and separate centres of primitive culture gradually merged to form the civilization which has become China. The oldest reliable text extends no further back than the 1st millennium BC and much of it is by no means uncontested.


The earliest Chinese legends are not of much historical value as they come from late literature and thus are possibly modified for political or social reasons. There are 3 legends of real significance: Fu Hsi, shen Nung, and Huang Ti. All were sages and rulers. Fu Hsi taught the people to hunt. Shen Nung cultivated the 5 grains, invented the plow, and established markets. Huang Ti, the most prominent of the three and revered as the primal ancestor, invented boats, oars, and the fire drill. He also instituted music among his officials.

Shang, or Yin (18th -12th century BC):

The 1st capital of the Shang was in Cheng-chou. In the 14th century BC, a Shang ruler named Pan-keng moved the capital to Yin, near modern An-yang, where he and his successors remained for more than 250 years. They created magnificent tombs and were quite advanced in areas such as pottery and bronze working. The succession was irregular, usually being either from father to son or elder to younger brother. The calendar was important to the Shang which was divided into lunar months with a 360-day year. A 13th moth was added when necessary. Warfare usually consisted of 3,000 to 5,000 men led by a noble, armed with bronze weapons and armor and riding a chariot. The troops often carried composite bows. Chinese characters of the Shang consisted of pictographs, ideograms, and phonograms.

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