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Study Guide for Early China GOVERNMENT TARGETS Government Type

TARGET: I can compare the source of power in this government to other governments. Shang dynasty: Anyang was China's first capital. The Shang kings ruled over most of the Huang He valley. Later, Shang kings chose warlords to govern the kingdom's territories. Warlords are military leaders who command their own armies. However, the king controlled even larger armies who defended the kingdom's borders and helped him stay in power. Shang religion and government were closely linked, just as they were in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Shang kings believed that they received power and wisdom from the gods, the spirits, and their ancestors, and it was their duty to contact them before making important decisions. During the rule of the Shang, a great gap existed between the rich and the poor. As a result, they lost the support of the people in their kingdom. In 1045 B.C. an aristocrat named Wu Wang led a rebellion against the Shang. After defeating the Shang, Wu began a new dynasty called the Zhou (JOH). Zhou dynasty: The Zhou dynasty ruled for more than 800 years—longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history. The Zhou king was at the head of the government. Under him was a large bureaucracy. A bureaucracy is made up of appointed officials who are responsible for different areas of government. Like the Shang rulers, the Zhou king was in charge of defending the kingdom. The Zhou kings copied the Shang system of dividing the kingdom into smaller territories with aristocrats they trusted in charge of each one. The positions the aristocrats held were hereditary. That meant that when an aristocrat died, his son or another relative would take over as ruler of the territory. The Zhou kings claimed that they ruled China because they had the Mandate of Heaven. This mandate, or formal order, said the king was chosen by heavenly order because of his talent and virtue. Toward the end of the Zhou dynasty, the rulers of powerful local states fought one another and ignored the Zhou kings. One of these states was called Qin (CHIHN). Its ruler took over neighboring states one by one. Qin dynasty: In 221 B.C. the Qin ruler declared himself Qin Shihuangdi, which means "the First Qin Emperor." The Qin ruler made changes in China's government that would last for 2,000 years. Qin based his rule on the ideas of Legalism. He had everyone who opposed him punished or killed. Books opposing his views were publicly burned. Qin made the central government stronger than ever before. He appointed government officials, called censors, to make sure government officials did their jobs. Second in power to the central government were provinces and counties. Under Zhou kings, officials who ran these areas passed on their posts to sons or relatives. Under Qin, only he could fill these posts. Many Chinese viewed Qin Shihuangdi as a cruel leader. Aristocrats were angry because he reduced their power. Scholars hated him for burning their writings. Farmers hated him for forcing them to build roads and the Great Wall. Four years after the emperor died in 210 B.C., the people overthrew his dynasty. Civil war followed, and a new dynasty soon arose. Han dynasty: In 202 B.C. Liu Bang founded the Han dynasty. Liu Bang, who was once a peasant, became a military leader and defeated his rivals. He declared himself Han Gaozu—"Exalted Emperor of Han." Although Han Gaozu threw out the harsh policies of the Qin dynasty, he continued to use censors and also divided the empire into provinces and counties. The Han reached its peak under the leadership of Han Wudi, which means "Martial Emperor of Han." Because Wudi wanted talented people to fill government posts, job seekers had to take long, difficult tests called civil service examinations to qualify for openings in the bureaucracy. Those with the highest scores got the jobs.

Democratic Principals

TARGET: I can describe how this government used democratic principles (justice, equality, responsibility, freedom). The Mandate of Heaven worked in two ways. First, the people expected the king to rule according to the proper "Way," called the Dao. His duty was to keep the gods happy. A natural disaster or a bad harvest was a sign that he had failed in his duty. People then had the right to overthrow and replace the king. Second, it gave people the right to overthrow a dishonest or evil ruler. Fu Hao, China’s first female general and the wife of King Wu Ding, was given a royal burial. She was famous for her strength, martial arts skills, and military strategies. She often helped her husband defeat their enemies on the battlefield. Fu Hao was the first female in China's history to receive the highest military rank.

Rights and Responsibilities compared to US citizens

TARGET: I can compare the rights and responsibilities of individuals in this culture to the rights and responsibilities of US citizens In ancient China, the king or emperor had absolute authority. Everyone owed him obedience and respect. He could punish others for any reason at any time. War was required to overthrow a bad emperor. Most of the people were peasants who paid taxes to the king in crops or goods. The peasants were sometimes forced to work on common projects such as irrigation or flood control projects, constructing official buildings or the Great Wall, and serving in the military. Women moved into their husband’s household when they married and had little status there. Everyone had a duty to serve their families and worship their ancestors. There were also slaves in ancient China who had no rights whatsoever. In the United States, no one has absolute power. The Constitution guarantees voting rights, freedom of speech, and due process of law for all citizens. Slavery is illegal. Men and women have equal rights. Citizens do pay taxes, however, and adult males are required to register for a military draft when they turn 18. If needed by the government in times of war, males could be forced to serve in the military. Family loyalties and values in the US are decided upon by each person and vary widely.

CULTURE TARGETS Elements of Culture

TARGET: I can explain how cultural elements in this society helped define this group and give them unique perspectives. Beliefs The Chinese considered the king their link between heaven and earth. His chief duty was to carry out religious rituals. The Chinese believed these rituals strengthened the link between them and the gods. The kings asked for the gods' help by using oracle bones. Scratches on oracle bones are the earliest known examples of Chinese writing. Customs/traditions People in China worshiped gods and spirits. Spirits were believed to live in mountains, rivers, and seas. The people believed that they had to keep the gods and spirits happy by making offerings of food and other goods. Angry gods and spirits might cause farmers to have a poor harvest or armies to lose a battle. People also honored their ancestors, or departed family members. Offerings were made in the hope that ancestors would help in times of need and bring good luck. Language Like many other ancient languages, early Chinese writing used pictographs and ideographs. Pictographs are characters that stand for objects. Ideographs are another kind of character used to join two or more pictographs to represent an idea. The characters were carved in vertical columns and read from top to bottom, like modern Chinese writing. Arts Chinese farmers produced silk, which weavers used to make colorful clothes. Artisans made porcelain vases and dishes from fine white clay. They also carved statues from ivory and a green stone called jade. The Shang are best known for their works of bronze.

Social Institutions influence on behavior

TARGET: I can investigate how social institutions in this society responded to human needs, structured society, and influenced behavior. Family The family was the basic building block of Chinese society. Chinese families practiced filial piety. This meant that children had to respect their parents and older relatives. Family members placed the needs and desires of the head of the family before their own. The head of the family was the oldest male, usually the father. However, a son could take on this role, and then even his mother had to obey him. Men and women had very different roles in early China. Men were respected because they grew the crops. They went to school, ran the government, and fought wars. The Chinese considered these jobs more important than the work that women did. Most women raised children and managed the household. Chinese women could not hold government posts. Social Classes A social class includes people who share a similar position in society. Early Chinese society had three main social classes: aristocrats, peasant farmers, merchants. Under the king, the warlords and other royal officials made up the upper class. They were aristocrats, nobles whose wealth came from the land they owned. Aristocrats passed their land and their power from one generation to the next. In Chinese society, farmers ranked above merchants. The merchant social class included shopkeepers, traders, and bankers. The merchants lived in towns and provided goods and services to the landowners. Many merchants became quite rich, but landowners and farmers still looked down on them. Chinese leaders believed that government officials should not be concerned with money. As a result, merchants were not allowed to have government jobs. Religion Buddhism began in India, but merchants and teachers from India brought Buddhism to China during the A.D. 100s. Buddhism became very popular. Buddhist ideas helped people cope with the stress and their fear. Even the followers of other religions found Buddhism attractive. Followers of Confucius and Daoists admired Buddhist ideas. Philosophies Confucianism: Confucius was ancient China's first great thinker and teacher. Confucius believed that if each person did his or her duty, society as a whole would do well. Duty meant that a person must put the needs of family and community before his or her own needs. He also urged people to be good and to seek knowledge. To Confucius, the best way to behave was to "measure the feelings of others by one's own." Confucianism taught that all men with a talent for governing should take part in government. Of course, this idea was not popular with aristocrats, and few leaders listened. Over time, Confucius won many followers who honored him as a great teacher. They wrote down his sayings and carried his message throughout China. Daoism (also called Taoism) is based on the teachings of Laozi. The ideas of Daoism are written in Dao De Jing (The Way of the Dao). Like Confucianism, Daoism tells people how to behave. Daoists believed that people should give up worldly desires. They should turn to nature and the Dao—the force that guides all things. In some ways, Daoism is the opposite of Confucianism. Followers of Confucius taught that people should work hard to improve the world. Daoism called on people to give up their concerns about the world. It said they should seek inner peace and live in harmony with nature. Many Chinese followed both Confucianism and Daoism. Legalism was developed by a scholar named Hanfeizi. Unlike Confucius or Laozi, Hanfeizi taught that humans were naturally evil. He believed that they needed a strong leader, harsh laws and stiff punishments to force them to do their duty. Many aristocrats liked Legalism because it favored force and power, and did not require rulers to show kindness or understanding. Its ideas led to the cruel laws and punishments often used to control Chinese farmers. Education Most children in ancient China were not educated and started work at a very young age. Wealthy families educated their sons for the difficult civil service examinations. Students preparing for these tests learned law, history, and the teachings of Confucius. They began to memorize the works of Confucius at age seven. Students were not allowed to do physical labor or to play most sports. They could go fishing, however, because it was considered the sport of scholars. After many years of schooling, the students took their civil service examinations. Only one in five passed. Those who failed taught school, took jobs as assistants to officials, or were supported by their families.

ECONOMICS TARGETS Scarcity: decisions about use of natural resources, human resources, & capital goods

TARGET: I can explain how scarcity required this civilization to make decisions about how to use productive resources. In China, a few people were traders and artisans. Most Chinese, however, were farmers. They had large families because many people were needed to produce food on the farms. Because farmers had to divide their lands among more and more sons, the average farmer owned only about one acre of land. With land so scarce, farm families could not raise enough to live. As a result, many sold their land to aristocrats and became tenant farmers. Tenant farmers work on land that is owned by someone else and pay rent in crops. Most farmers also owned a small piece of land where they grew food for their family. They lived in simple houses inside village walls. The aristocrats owned the fields outside the village walls. The farmers had to pay taxes and work one month each year building roads and helping on other big government projects. In wartime, the farmers also served as soldiers. The aristocrats now owned thousands of acres. They hired armies to force more farmers into selling their land and working as tenants. Aristocrats relied on tenant farmers to grow the crops that made them rich. China's aristocratic families owned large estates in early China. They lived in large houses with tile roofs, courtyards, and gardens. Fine furniture and silk hangings filled their rooms, and their houses were surrounded by walls to keep out bandits. The aristocratic families did not own large estates for long. Like the small farmers, each aristocrat divided his land among his sons. As a result, sons and grandsons owned much less property than their fathers and grandfathers had owned.

Supply & Demand

TARGET: I can explain how supply and demand functioned in this civilization. Chinese merchants exported silk, Chinese porcelain – snow-white vases, bowls, glasses, and dishes with graceful patterns, bronze ornaments and other products from this metal, medicines, and perfumes. Chinese paper, tea, and rice were common exports, along with many other items. Farmers in northern China grew wheat and a grain called millet. In the south, where the climate was warmer and wetter, they were able to grow rice. They raised cattle, sheep, and chickens.

How are goods & services exchanged

TARGET: I can describe how goods and services were exchanged by this civilization. Qin Shihuangdi unified China. He created one currency, or type of money, to be used throughout the empire. He also ordered the building of roads and a huge canal. The canal connected the Chang Jiang river in central China to what is today the city of Guangzhou in southern China. He used the canal to ship supplies to his troops in far-off territories. It was also used to move trade goods and raw materials between southern and central China. Chinese merchants made a lot of money by shipping expensive goods to other countries. Silk was the most valuable trade product. Some of it went by ship to Southeast Asia. However, most went overland on the Silk Road. This large network of trade routes stretched 4,000 miles from western China to the Mediterranean Sea. Merchants used camels to carry their goods across deserts and mountains to central Asia. From there Arabs carried the goods to the Mediterranean Sea. The trip over the Silk Road was expensive because it was difficult and dangerous. Merchants had to pay taxes to many kingdoms as they moved the goods east and west. For this reason, they carried only high-priced goods such as silk, spices, tea, and porcelain.

Productivity increases from new knowledge, tools, & specialization

TARGET: I can give examples of ways this civilization was able to increase productivity through inventions and innovations. For thousands of years, Chinese farmers depended on rain to water their crops. The Chinese developed irrigation and flood-control systems. As a result, farmers could grow more crops than ever before. Farmers in ancient China were the first to use insects to protect their crops from damage by other insects. As early as A.D. 304, Chinese farmers used ants to prevent other insects from damaging their citrus fruit trees. They also used frogs and birds for pest control. Improvements in farming tools also helped farmers produce more crops. By 550 B.C., the Chinese were using iron plows. These sturdy plows broke up land that had been too hard to farm with wooden plows. As a result, the Chinese could plow more and produce more crops. Because more food could support more people, the population increased. Abacuses were ancient calculators used by the Chinese to solve math problems. These ancient calculators held stones on wooden pegs, which would be moved up and down to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. New inventions helped Chinese workers produce more than ever. Millers used newly invented waterwheels to grind more grain, and miners used new iron drill bits to mine more salt. Ironworkers invented steel. Paper, another invention, was used by government officials to record a growing amount of information. The Chinese also invented the rudder and a new way to move the sails of ships. These changes allowed ships to sail into the wind for the first time. Chinese merchant ships could now travel to the islands of Southeast Asia and into the Indian Ocean. As a result, China established trade as far away as India and the Mediterranean Sea. Chinese medicine also improved. Doctors discovered that certain foods prevented disease. They used herbs to cure illnesses and eased pain by sticking thin needles into patients' skin. This treatment is known as acupuncture.


TARGET: I can recognize where on the Earth this civilization was located. Central and east Asia.

Physical Region Type

TARGET: I can describe characteristics of this region.

Human Environment Interactions

The geography of ancient China can be conveniently divided up into three regions: 1) The Yangtze (also called Chang Jiang) and Yellow Rivers (also called Huang He); most of China’s farmland surrounded these river valleys in the east. 2) The Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts; These two deserts acted as a protective barrier in China’s northwest. Most of the Gobi Desert is covered with rocks rather than sand. The Gobi Desert is located in the northwestern part of China and is one of the driest deserts in the world. Though the two are connected, geographers and ecologists regard the western part of the Gobi as a separate desert, the Taklamakan Desert, which sometimes goes by the name Sea of Death. It has poisonous snakes, sand storms, and temperature extremes. 3) The Himalayan Mountains; the people of ancient China were protected from invaders by the Himalayan Mountains, which contain several of the highest mountain peaks in the world. TARGET: I can describe how this society’s human/environment interactions impacted human activities and the environment. Migration Northern China was bordered by the vast Gobi. Nomads, people who move from place to place with herds of animals, lived in the Gobi. The Chinese knew them as the Xiongnu (SYEHN • NOO). The Xiongnu were masters at fighting on horseback. They often attacked Chinese farms and villages as they moved through the area. Several Chinese rulers in the north built walls to keep out the Xiongnu. Qin Shihuangdi forced farmers to leave their fields and work on connecting and strengthening the walls. The result was the Great Wall of China, built with stone, sand, and piled rubble. However, Qin did not build the wall that we know today. It was built 1,500 years later. Settlement Even though China has rich soil along its rivers, only a little more than one-tenth of its land can be farmed. That is because mountains and deserts cover most of the land. These mountains and deserts shaped much of Chinese history. They were like a wall around the Chinese, separating them from most other peoples. Trade The Silk Road network of trade routes stretched 4,000 miles from western China to the Mediterranean Sea. Merchants used camels to carry their goods across deserts and mountains to central Asia. From there Arabs carried the goods to the Mediterranean Sea. Development China's first civilizations formed in river valleys. The Chinese were isolated from other people by mountains and deserts. Activities limited or promoted by environment Like rivers in early Mesopotamia and Egypt, China's Huang He flooded the land. The flooding was good and bad for the Chinese. When the river overflowed, many people drowned and many homes were destroyed. As a result, the Chinese called the Huang He "China's sorrow." The river, however, also brought a gift. When the river flooded, it left behind rich topsoil in the Huang He valley. As a result, farmers could grow large amounts of food on very small farms. Human modifications of environment Farmers in ancient China had to find ways to grow enough food to feed their large population. It was often difficult because of the dry, mountainous land. Over centuries, farmers learned to cut terraces—flat areas, like a series of deep steps—into the mountain slopes. Terraces made more land available for farming and kept the soil from eroding, or wearing away. Early farmers also used the terraces as a way to irrigate their crops. As rain fell, it flowed down from one terrace to the next, watering the crops. This method of farming, called terrace farming, is still used in China today. Qin Shihuangdi ordered the building of roads and a huge canal. The canal connected the Chang Jiang river in central China to what is today the city of Guangzhou in southern China. He also had the Great Wall built in the north to keep out the Xiongnu.


Biggest Impacts on the future & today’s cultures

TARGET: I can analyze how this civilization influenced or had lasting impacts on modern societies. The Chinese people share a unique history stretching back more than 5,000 years, for theirs is the world's oldest continuous civilization. Emperor Qin’s tomb: When someone died, the funeral ceremony was meant to connect the worlds of the living and the dead. In earlier times, a dead Chinese king was buried with servants, soldiers and horses, all killed to accompany him into the next world. Later, ceramic figures were buried instead of people. China's first emperor, Qin Shihuangdi was buried with an 'army' of thousands of clay soldiers, horses, and chariots. His vast imperial tomb was found by accident, when people were digging a well in 1974. The site is considered one of the most important archaeological finds of the twentieth century. Ancestor worship: People also honored their ancestors, or departed family members. Offerings were made in the hope that ancestors would help in times of need and bring good luck. To this day, many Chinese still remember their ancestors by going to temples and burning small paper copies of food and clothing. These copies represent things that their departed relatives need in the afterlife. The Chinese were the first people to make paper. The oldest piece of paper found in China dates from the first century B.C. Papermakers soaked tree bark, hemp, and rags in water and pounded it into pulp. They lowered a bamboo screen into a vat of the pulp and then lifted it out. It held a thin sheet of pulp which dried into a single sheet of paper. Papermaking today is a huge international industry. Most paper is made in paper mills by machines, but the basic process is the same. Instead of tree bark, rags, and hemp, most paper today is made from wood pulp. The farming practices of terrace farming and natural pest control are still used in China today. Farmers in ancient China were the first to use insects to protect their crops from damage by other insects. As early as A.D. 304, Chinese farmers used ants to prevent other insects from damaging their citrus fruit trees. They also used frogs and birds for pest control. The Chinese writing system was created nearly 3,500 years ago during the Shang dynasty. The earliest examples of Chinese writing have been found on animal bones. The characters were carved in vertical columns and read from top to bottom, like modern Chinese writing. Chinese writing has changed in many ways, but it still reflects its ancient roots in pictures and symbols. The scratches on oracle bones show how today's Chinese writing began. However, the modern Chinese language is much more complex. Unlike Chinese, English and many other languages have writing systems based on an alphabet. An alphabet uses characters that stand for sounds. The Chinese use some characters to stand for sounds, but most characters still represent whole words. Porcelain was invented the working people of ancient China. Since the Han and Tang Dynasties, porcelain has been exported worldwide. It is called china in English because it was first made in China. It promotes economic and cultural exchange between China and the outside world, and profoundly influences the traditional culture and lifestyle of people from other countries. Silk was invented by China. As early as 2,100 years ago, the country had mastered the sophisticated technique of silk weaving - aristocrats in the West were willing to pay gold of the same weight for the silks. The road used to transport silk called the Silk Road. Today, China is still the largest producer of silk. Tea was discovered in China. The history of China's ancestors' drinking tea goes back as far as some 4,000 years. Admiring tea, tasting tea and discussing tea are all the embodiments of the unique philosophy of China's everyday normal life. China is a big country in tea and the tea culture. Chinese medicine has also contributed greatly to the world. Acupuncture and massage treatments from Chinese medicine are becoming more and more recognized by the world. Civil service examinations are examinations various countries, including the United States, use to hire people to fill government jobs. They are intended as a method to fairly hire employees based on their knowledge and abilities rather than other factors (such as whom you know or family connections). The oldest examples of such exams were the imperial examinations of ancient China.

Early China Study Guide  
Early China Study Guide  

Early China Study Guide