As Chapter 4 demonstrates, China's
Classical Age laid the cultural foundation of Chinese civilization. Along
with India, China is one of the oldest and most enduring societies in world
history. Its attitudes toward ancestors, social hierarchy, tradition, cosmology,
and government give it a distinctive flair. These attitudes also promote stability
and continuity. After 256 B.C., China was able to absorb new ideas and technology
and to survive occupation by foreigners without losing its uniqueness and
links to its past. By examining Chinese writing, burial rituals, political
concepts, and philosophy, you will gain some valuable insights into this culture.
- You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore
different sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and
questions detailed in each activity.
- On many web sites you can increase the size of the images
by clicking on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine
fine details in photographs.
- Geography has played a crucial role in Chinese civilization's
stability and continuity. Study Map 4.1 on page 80 of McKay, A History
of World Societies (Sixth Edition). Make a list of the natural barriers
that encouraged early Chinese civilization's isolation from other cultures
- For a broader perspective, take a look at this map
of Asia, paying special attention to the physical features (e.g. mountain
ranges, deserts, etc.) in and around China. For another viewpoint, check
A View from Above. (This picture was taken from an orbiting satellite.)
Another perspective of China's isolation can be seen at China:
- By now you should be able to see that Chinese civilization
emerged in the broad floodplains of East Asia. These areas were isolated
from the rest of the world by oceans, mountains, and deserts. Map 7.1 on
page 186 in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition) reveals
the names of these barriers. See if you can locate them on the maps referenced
in Activity One.
- After you have familiarized yourself with the geography
of China, open this map of central and
northern Asia. Print out the map and label the following terms on it.
South China Sea
- Review pages 80–86 in McKay, A History of World Societies
(Sixth Edition), and write a paragraph explaining the impact of geography
on Chinese history. Be sure to consider the themes of continuity and change.
You may also want to consult Library
of Congress Country Study of China: Physical Environment .
- Review: Chinese civilization emerged in the Yellow River
valley and spread southward from there. (See Shang
Civilization, 1200 B.C.) This chapter covers several periods in early
Chinese history—the Neolithic Age, the Xia Dynasty, the Shang Dynasty,
and the Zhou Dynasty. Many important cultural and political concepts emerged
during this time. The rest of these web exercises will review and reinforce
- Writing appeared during the Shang Dynasty. Review page
87 in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition). In addition,
read more about logographic writing
systems in general and Chinese
language and writing in particular. What is the difference between
a phonetic and a logographic script? List several advantages and disadvantages
of a logographic script. For example, speakers of different languages and
dialects can share a logographic script and thus communicate with each other.
But, a logographic script like Chinese requires an immense amount of time
to learn and master, and thus it limits the level of literacy in a society.
How do you think the continuation of a logographic script shaped the history
of China? How did it promote continuity with change? Summarize your answer
in a paragraph or two.
- Chinese cosmology and ancestor veneration had
a strong impact on political developments during the Shang and Zhou Dynasties.
Shang emperors believed that they could consult the gods and their ancestors
through divination and ritual. This belief helped lead to the development
of the Mandate of Heaven concept during the Zhou Dynasty. Go to T'ien
Ming: The Mandate of Heaven to learn about this belief. How did this
idea reflect early Chinese veneration for ancestors and the past? How did
it promote continuity with change?
- One of the great philosophical traditions, Confucianism,
emerged during the late Zhou Dynasty. Confucian philosophy continued to
shape Chinese government and society into the twentieth century. To refresh
your memory about Confucianism, review pages 92–95 of McKay, A History
of World Societies (Sixth Edition). Now read The
Analects, excerpts of Confucius's thoughts. How does Confucian philosophy
reinforce veneration for the past and ancestors? How does it treat the concept
of T'ien Ming (the Mandate of Heaven)? (You might also want to go to The
Mandate of Heaven.) How does it reflect continuity and change in Chinese
Read the following overviews of the art and culture of the
and the Zhou
Period. Make sure to click on the images included on the timelines and
examine them closely. What were the major artistic developments of these
two periods? What continuities do you notice between Shang and Zhou artistic
techniques? What notable differences can you detect?