The Bronze Age was one of the most influential periods of ancient Chinese history. In particular, the formation of lineages played a key role during this time period. This sample essay highlights how the dynasties of the Bronze Age helped shape the socioeconomic and political ferment of ancient Chinese society.
The bronze age and ancient China
Though historians do not entirely agree on when the Bronze Age began in China, it is widely accepted that three dynasties dominated this time period: the Xia, Shang, and Western Zhou Dynasties. This time period was one of the most important to ancient Chinese culture in that it set the foundation for the Chinese culture for centuries to come. The formation of lineages within these three dynasties had several key important, lasting effects that would shape and play a large role in the cultural, social, and political lifestyle of the ancient Chinese.
Though the actual dates of the Bronze Age are under some speculation, it is mostly agreed that this era took place between c. 2000 to 500 B.C. The Bronze Age is characterized as a period where bronze became the main metal that was used for the creation of tools within the Chinese cultures. The use of bronze and porcelain replaced earlier stone tools and was the predominant metal in use until it was finally replaced by iron.
The difficulty in putting exact dates on the Bronze Age becomes difficult because of two major factors: when the arrival of iron smelting technology occurred and to what extent the persistence of bronze objects remained in use. Regardless, during this time period historians agree that three major dynasties existed during the Bronze Age. These dynasties are the Xia, Shang, and Western Zhou. One of the most important and influential impacts that these dynasties all had on ancient China was the introduction, implication, and importance of lineage within the dynasties. The idea of lineage helped structure and maintain the cultural order within the Chinese governments, and it is still an important aspect of Chinese culture today.
The Xia Dynasty
During the earliest periods of the Bronze Age, the Xia Dynasty ruled ancient China. This dynasty was the Chinese dynasty to rule as a totalitarian, hereditary state. The Xia Dynasty was ruled by those that claimed to be descendents to the Yellow Emperor and, therefore, as a political system that gained its power by the passing on hereditarily, lineage was of the upmost importance to this Dynasty. Family lineage was one of the most central ways for certain individuals to gain power, honor, or other important functions within this government. Those of family power would have small governance over the common people and could be charged with such tasks as maintaining and collecting taxes for the state. Under the Xia Dynasty, ancient China gained the first stable, totalitarian government, which would be crucial for later periods. The Xia Dynasty would eventually lose power and give way to conflict among those in ancient China, until the Shang Dynasty came to power (“Cultural China”).
The Shang Dynasty
By the time that the Shang Dynasty came into power, Bronze was the most widespread metal used in ancient China. This dynasty held power in China for almost 600 years and is referenced in many works of Chinese poetry. As a monarchy state, its, like the Xia Dynasty before it, leaders assumed power from a hereditary line. As with the Xia Dynasty, lineage played a central role in the workings of the government and social atmospheres. The strength of one’s lineage played a major role in the public sphere during the Shang Dynasty because an individual could look back upon their family line and see to what extent their ancestors had made of themselves in either acts of valor, loyalty, or creativity. Those who had descended from a strong lineage could take solace in the fact that their ancestors were honorable and powerful and were often men of significance and importance.
The use of lineages by rulers allowed for a social stability to appear within the public during the Shang Dynasty, which allowed for some great accomplishments to occur during this time period. The Shang Dynasty is known for being the earliest period to have glazed pottery, evidence of the existence of a potter’s wheel, the industrialization of bronze casting that could be used for rituals (such as those used for wine, food, or military weapons and tools), the creation of the modern 365 and ¼ days calendar, and having the first Chinese script. This period of cultural stability allowed for many important developments that paved the way for future discoveries and ideas in Chinese culture (Shang Dynasty Source).
The Zhou Dynasty
As with most ancient Dynasties in China, the Shang Dynasty ruled up until a tyrannical king, commonly called King Zhou, took control and ruled ancient China. He was seen as such an evil ruler that he was eventually defeated and replaced by the Zhou army, and thus a new period of rule began in ancient China: the Western Zhou Dynasty. The Zhou Dynasty was the longest Dynasty to rule China. It ruled for some 800 years and saw some 37 different rulers. This period is so long that it is divided into multiple sections. The Western Zhou, the Eastern Zhou, and the Warring States Period. The Western Zhou, however, is the period in which China was still in the Bronze Age. Like the Shang Dynasty before it, a single man who drew his right to lead by a direct family lineage headed the Zhou Dynasty’s government.
This period was a prosperous time for ancient China. Agriculture, economy, land reform, religion, education, and art all continued to grow during the Zhou Dynasty. The idea of lineage still played an important role in the lives of those governed by the Zhou Dynasty. People could use their lineages to get a foothold in political power, and, like the dynasties before it, the people of the Zhou Dynasty with a strong family lineage were sometimes charged by the government with local administrative functions that could range from dispute settlement to tax collection and sometimes even defense. It was also not uncommon in areas where lineages were strong for certain lineages to pass on property to those that came next. The size of the property could vary, sometimes ranging from no more than an ancestral hall to substantial holdings (“Ministry of Culture, P.R.China”).
The Importance of family lineage
Lineages played a very important role in all of these dynasties in ancient China. Since one’s lineage depended entirely upon their line of succession from their father’s side, their record allowed for a person to look back upon their family history. By doing this, a person would know of past great deeds from their family and could try to emulate the noble characteristics that their ancestors showed in their lifetimes. The cultural significance of these lineages allowed for social stability, which, in turn, helped in the advancement of many aspects of ancient Chinese culture. This created social order allowed people to understand and accept their roles during the dynasties of the time. The art, philosophical achievement, written records, and much more all can, therefore, be attributed to the formation and importance that family lineages created because of the social stability that they helped to create in ancient China.
The Bronze Age was an important time of transformation in ancient China. It was not just a period where bronze became the medium for crafting tools, weapons, and art, but it was also a time of social and political change in ancient China. This period saw three distinct dynasties take power of ancient China and saw the effects that each dynasty made upon the country. Of all the advancements and discoveries during this period, the formation and importance of family lineages has to be singled out as one of the most influential cultural advancements. The importance of lineages in ancient China helped to create a social order and cultural norm that helped to stabilize society. It was through this stabilized society that ancient China was able to make much advancement in such fields as art, religion, education, agriculture, etc. By drawing principles from one’s family lineage and attempting to add to the strength of that lineage, the people of ancient China created many lasting effects that are still felt today.
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