China, located in east Asia, was thought to be populated by humans somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 years ago. The earliest piece of pottery was found in a cave, dating back some 18,000 years, which is the oldest pottery ever found. Farming is believed to have started around 7,000 years ago with the farming of rice as well as a grain called millet. As more food was generated in the area, so too did the population of the area. It was the powerful families that started civilization in the area, creating the leadership. The leaders that rose from this time in Ancient China formed powerful family governments known as dynasties.
Most people who study the past agree that civilization in China began around the Yellow River sometime around 2000 BCE. China's culture from this time is unique compared to other civilizations of the time (Ancient Egypt, India, and Mesopotamia) because the culture stayed largely the same as today's culture. The other nations fell into chaos, disappear, or conquered by invading nations.
The first dynasty to rise was known as the Xia Dynasty (2000 BCE - 1600 BCE). With a reign of nearly 500 years, it contained 17 emperors, which were the Chinese equivalent of kings, as well as the Xia people who were the farmers of the land. Silk, a material made from taking apart silk worm cocoons and one of the most important creations in China, was discovered to be produced around this time, though there are thoughts that it came before this time even. Some historians do not believe that the Xia Dynasty was real, thinking that they were just myths and exaggerated stories, though there have been archaeological discoveries supporting the existence of the dynasty.
The next dynasty that rose was known as the Shang Dynasty (1600 BCE - 1046 BCE) which was originally a clan, or a large group of close families seen as one big family, living along the Yellow River. The Shang conquered the Xia lands, and lasted 600 years spanning 30 emperors. They left behind many writing on turtle shells and a wide variety of bones known as oracle bones. These bones were heated up and the cracks in them showed the Shang people what the gods wanted, which is known as divination. One of the many contributions the Shang Dynasty were new ways of crafting bronze. There have been thousands of bronze artifacts found, some weighing close to 2,000 pounds! But as all empires do, they fell to another clan known as the Zhou clan.
Stemming from 1046 BCE until 256 BCE, the Zhou Dynasty lasted the longest of any Chinese dynasty. It is a period divided into two, known as Western Zhou and Eastern Zhou due to a brief power struggle. This was the first time the Chinese dealt with invading Mongolians from the North, so they built the original concept for the Great Wall of China. The Zhou invented crossbows, which were feared by all enemies, and iron was introduced to the area, starting the Iron Age in China.
Two of Chinas most important philosophies were developed at this time as well. The first is known as Confucianism, which is based around the teachings of the philosopher Confucius. It centers around people being able to rise to any task if they do the right thing, and that family was the most important part of one's life. The next was Taoism, which was founded by a man known as Laozi. Taoists believe that living a humble life with nature and without too many possession was the path to enlightenment, a term to describe the feeling of fully understanding life. These were not religions, as the Mandate of Heaven was enforced, which was a law that stated the emperors had Heaven on their side while ruling the people.
The Zhou kingdom's states became more and more powerful, and by 475 BCE they rebelled against the central government. It was a 200-year conflict, known as the Warring States Period. Only one family could come out on top, which was the Qin family, and this signaled the end of Ancient China, bringing in the age of Imperial China.
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