Changes in terms of history and power review

power of China from the Shang Dynasty to the Western Han. There are eight references used for this paper.

China has seen a number of changes in terms of history and power over the years. It is interesting to examine the changing nature of the association as well as explore the relationship between history and political authority from the Shang Dynasty to the Western Han.

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Political Power

China’s history has been documented in a number of ancient writings.

Centuries of migration, amalgamation, and development brought about a distinctive system of writing, philosophy, art, and political organization that came to be recognized as Chinese civilization (Shinn, 1991).”

The fact that this civilization has continued over 4,000 years provides it with a unique position in world history.

Until the twentieth century, members of the ruling scholar-official class were responsible for documenting the history of China, which was “meant to provide the ruler with precedents to guide or justify his policies. These accounts focused on dynastic politics and colorful court histories and included developments among the commoners only as backdrops (Shinn, 1991).” The Chinese political pattern of dynasties was a cycle of “ascent, achievement, decay, and rebirth under a new family (Shinn, 1991).”

Until the nineteenth century, the people enjoyed an undisturbed view of the world that was China-centered. However, “superior Western weaponry and technology and imminent territorial dismemberment, forced China to reassess its position with respect to Western civilization (Shinn, 1991).” The 2,000-year-old dynastic system of imperial government fell in 1911 when China was unable to adjust to the changes effectively.

The Shang Dynasty

The Shang dynasty was founded when the last Xia ruler was overthrown by a rebel leader and was based on agriculture, hunting and animal husbandry.

During this period, two major events occurred, “the development of a writing system and the use of bronze metallurgy. Ceremonial bronze vessels with inscriptions attested to the workmanship and high level of civilization (Shinn, 1991).”

The Xia cast bronze tripods with images of animals on them “so that living people would realize which animals were helping people to cross from earth to heaven and which animals were unhelpful and even harmful ( These images were not shamanistic in commonly understood terms, nor associated with daoist knowledge of spirit life and movement. Nine administrative districts each presented their best commodities to Great Yu as a show of gratitude for taming the floods of their lands. Great Yu created nine tripods out of the bronze he received, each carved with rare and precious animals, which became a symbol of rule over the nine districts. Later during this dynasty the tripods were decreed to “be handed down as national treasures from generation to generation and became a symbol of state and power (

The capitals were the center of court life where highly developed rituals were performed to appease spirits and to honor revered ancestors. The king held a high secular position and was the “head of the ancestor- and spirit-worship cult (Shinn, 1991).”

The ancient capital city of the Shang Dynasty was located in Henan Province, central China, near the Yin Ruins. Anyang City, which existed over 3,300 years ago, was the “largest of the Shang Dynasty (16-11 century BC), covering more than four million square meters (unknown, ruins).” The last capital city of the Shang dynasty was Yin Xu Ruins, however the larger city provided greater insight into the history and culture of ancient China.

The ancient city contained “tombs, houses, wells, pottery and bronze ware. Some inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells, China’s earliest written characters, were discovered in the city (unknown, 2000).”

These bones known as Oracle bones, “were used for divination by kings of the Shang Dynasty. Oracle bone inscriptions were like the cuneiform writing of the ancient Near East and hieroglyphic writing of ancient Egypt. (unknown, 2002).” Some of the inscriptions also carried vermilion, which is a “bright red mercuric sulfide used as a pigment (”

Forms of the early inscriptions continue to be used by one fourth of the world’s population today.

Daoism, or the study of nature’s patterns, has been in existence since the earliest Chinese eras.

Historians and scholars dispute the concept that “these ideas did not evolve with time like human beings are supposed to have, but that they sprung, full-formed, in a culture that long preceded the historical land of ‘China,’ even the early China that scratched their versions of these earlier ideas into the famous ‘oracle bones’ (”

Feudal governments in North China, which existed during the era of the oracle bones, were different from the original daoists. During this era, fortune telling was popular among kings and queens, and their court sorcerers were educated in rumor.

Western and Eastern Zhou Dynasties

The Zhou dynasty came to power when a ruler from a frontier tribe overthrew the last Shang ruler and established Hao as the capital city.

The early Zhou rulers were able to utilize the language and culture of the Shang to conquer, colonize and extend their range north of the Chang Jiang, or Yangtze River, which was China Proper. The Zhou lasted from 1027 to 221 BC, making it longest dynasty in China’s history.

The doctrine of the “mandate of heaven,” which was the notion that “the ruler governed by divine right but that his dethronement would prove that he had lost the mandate (” was detailed by the philosophers during this time.

This 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’s initial decentralized rule was compared with feudal rule of the Europeans, however the Zhou dynasty was “proto-feudal, being a more sophisticated version of the earlier tribal organization, in which effective control depended more on familial ties than on feudal legal bonds (”

The mixture of city-states became centralized, which increased the political and economic traditions. The changes which occurred during the latter Zhou era “were manifested in greater central control over local governments and a more routinized agricultural taxation (”

Barbarians invaded the Zhou court and killed the king in 771 BC, and moved the capital to Louyang.

The move of the capital led historians “to divide the Zhou era into Western Zhou (1027-771 BC) and Eastern Zhou (770-221 BC). With the royal line broken, the power of the Zhou court gradually diminished and the fragmentation of the kingdom accelerated (” The Eastern Zhou dynasty was divided into two sub-periods, known as the Spring and Autumn Period which lasted from 770 to 476 BC and the Warring States Period which was between 475 and 221 BC.

First Imperial Period

In 221 BC, China Proper was unified, and “the western frontier state of Qin, the most aggressive of the Warring States, subjugated the last of its rival states (Shinn, 1991).”

It is believe that the English China was derived from Ch’in, which is Qin in Wade-Giles Romanization (Shinn, 1991). The king of Qin integrated his power, took the title Shi Huangdi, or First Emperor, “a formulation previously reserved for deities and the mythological sage-emperors, and imposed Qin’s centralized, nonhereditary bureaucratic system on his new empire (Shinn, 1991).”

When the Qin kings conquered the six major states of Eastern Zhou, they had utilized the resources of Legalist scholar-advisers. The ruthlessly achieved centralization focused on “standardizing legal codes and bureaucratic procedures, the forms of writing and coinage, and the pattern of thought and scholarship (Shinn, 1991).” The kings executed or exiled the rebellious Confucian scholars and destroyed their books in an effort to quell imperial rule criticism. The warring states built walls which were connected in order to prevent barbarian intrusion known as the Great Wall, which is 5,000 kilometers long. The Great Wall is “actually four great walls rebuilt or extended during the Western Han, Sui, Jin, and Ming periods, rather than a single continuous wall (Shinn, 1991).”

Although the Qin dynasty lasted less than twenty years, it initiated the imperial system which developed over the next 2,000 years.

The Han Dynasty

The Han dynasty came to power after a brief civil war, with its capital at Chang’an. Although it kept many of the Qin administrative structures, the Han dynasty withdrew from “the centralized rule by establishing vassal principalities in some areas for the sake of political convenience (Shinn, 1991).” Confucian ideals of government and scholars became prominent, initiating a civil service examination system. Paper and porcelain were invented by the Chinese during the Han dynasty, while “intellectual, literary, and artistic endeavors were revived and flourished (Shinn, 1991).” Sima Qian, China’s most famous historian, lived during the Han period and wrote the Shiji, a detailed record of the era from a celebrated Xia emperor to the Han emperor Wu Di.

The Han dynasty had a thirteen year interruption in power after 200 years of rule, after which the power was returned for 200 more years. The Han rules had difficulty with increasing populations and wealth, complex political institutions brought on by centralization, and corruption often noted in dynastic cycles, leading to the end of Han rule in 220 AD.

Daoism during the Han dynasty was instrumental in creating the 60-year Chinese calendar.

In later years, “daoist thought proliferated, communities of latter-day Han daoists formed, eventually accumulating into a massive church organization (”

Shamans and Ancient China

During the Shang period, shamans may have connected forms of medical philosophy with the political and social environment. In the late Zhou era, “Chinese philosophers of different schools used medical terms in a metaphorical sense, and they began making some physiological-political correlations (Birdwhistell, 1995).”

During the Han dynasty, the developments of correlative thinking and science combined political and medical ideas. An example of this was “the body was correlated with macrocosm as well as with the political-administrative system (Birdwhistell, 1995).”


The period of time in Ancient China between the Shang dynasty and the Western Han saw a number of changes in power and history. While changes occurred in the political-administrative area of China’s history, many of the philosophies established were instrumental in setting a pattern for future empires.

Works Cited

Ancient Dynasties. (accessed 06 October, 2003) ).

Birdwhistell, Anne D. 1995. Medicine and history as theoretical tools in a Confucian

Pragmatism. Vol. 45, Philosophy East and West. 01 January. Pp. 1 (28).


Inner History of China. (accessed 06 October, 2003)>).

Shinn, Rinn-Sup and Robert L. Worden. 1991. Chinese History: Chapter 1A.

Historical Setting. Countries of the World. 01 January.

Unknown. 2000. 3,300-YEAR-old ANCIENT CITY FOUND NEAR YIN

RUINS. Xinhua News Agency. 07 January.


Xinhua News Agency. 29 July.

Vermilion. (accessed 06 October, 2003)

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