The Zhou Dynasty
1122 BCE - 256 BCE
The Chinese civilization expanded during the time of the Zhou dynasty. The massive size that the dynasty covered was too much for the Zhou leaders to handle due to the poor means of communication. Because of this, the leaders decided to appoint people to oversee each of the territories. The territories started off as walled off cities. The leader of each of the territories were the lords, each receiving the title through inheritance. Next in the hierarchy were the fighting men, followed by the peasants and the domestic slaves. Soon, these territories became more independent, eventually breaking away from the main Zhou dynasty leaders.
The Zhou society was based on agricultural production. During that time, the land of the lords was divided among the peasants to grow crops. They were divided up into three by three squares, with the eight outer squares being worked on by the peasants. The center tract of land was worked on by all eight of the peasants for the lord. The extent of this type of land distibution was unclear, but the later dynasties believed that this was the most equitable way of dealing with land distribution and use.
The religious practice of the Zhou empire reflected their hierarchical way of life. The Zhou kings believed that they were given a mandate from heaven to rule. The kings prayed and sacrificed to Shang Ti, the Lord on High, now called T'ien (Heaven), and to their ancestors. The lords of the territories prayed to the local nature gods and to the gods of agriculture in addition to their ancestors. If any sacrifices or prayers were missed, great ill was predicted to fall on the territory or kingdom of the neglectful leader.
The territories now were larger and more powerful than the original Zhou kingdom. Even though the Zhou were not in control, they still thought they were appointed by the heavans and continued to be the ceremonial lords of the kingdoms. During this time, there was great economic growth, even among the constant warfare between the territories. It was also during this time that China entered its Iron Age.
The Iron Age brought iron-tipped oxdrawn plows and improved irrigation techniques which increased the agricultural yield which in turn increased the population. With the increase in population came greater wealth, and people started to become merchants and traders. With the explosion of the merchant and trader class, the improvement of communication was inevitable. The improvement came in the form of expanding the horseback communication system. This increase in the economic situation allowed the rulers to control more and more territories. Communication was far better than before, and a ruler could have a larger empire and still be kept up to date on situations that may arise.
The territories that were located at the edges of the Zhou empire expanded into non-Chinese countries. Upon expanding, the kingdoms of the Zhou became more diversified and these kingdoms selectively chose the aspects of the newly acquired culture to assimilate into their own. One such aspect was the mounted cavalry. Before, all the Chinese fighting was by foot soldiers. By the 6th century, seven powerful states arose from the former Zhou territories. With the Zhou dynasty's decline and the rise of power of the former territories, the situation in China became unstable. Then, by the late 5th century, the Zhou dynasty fell into a state of interstate anarchy, this period was known as the Period of the Warring States.
The Golden Age of Chinese Philosophy
403 BCE - 221 BCE
Due to the instability of China, an intellectual movement swept through China that shaped China's state and culture. The most influential of the philosophers was Confucious. Confucius was the representation of the emerging class of administrators and advisors that were needed to aid rulers deal with the ever-present need of diplomacy with other states and internal administration. Confucius wanted a return to the Zhou style of governing. He believed that the rulers of that period had tried to develope a society based on the example of great personal virtue. By this, Confucius then took to the task of creating a class based on virtue that would take over the high positions of government and lead the people by their example.
In addition to Confucianism, another school of philosophy was Taoism. The principles of Taosim are explained in the Tao-te-Ching or "Classic of the Way and Its Virtue." This text is said to have been created by Lao-tzu and in the works of Chuang-tzu. The Taoist philosophy was based on simplicity. The belief is that the government should be hands off, and let the people deal with the problems of nature and the people should return to primitive agricultural communities.
Legalism was the third school of philosophy. The philosophers felt that, during their time
of great disorder and chaos, something needed to be done. The legalist philosophers
believed that every aspect of life should be ruled by a set of strict and impersonal laws.
To have this system work, the legalists needed to have a powerful and wealthy state
where the ruler had ultimate authority. The wealth and military strength is what gave
the state and ruler power.
During the 4th century BCE, the state of Ch'in, one of the former territories of the Zhou kingdom, emerged as a power. Based on theories of a leading legalist, the Ch'in kingdom reformed its administration, economy, and military and became stronger as the Zhou empire weakened and eventually died in 256 BCE. Soon, the Ch'in had conquered the seven other warring states.
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