Wikijunior:Ancient Civilizations/Chinese

The Chinese civilization has made countless contributions to the world, including the invention of compass, paper, gunpowder, silk, noodle, porcelain, and paper money and other things that are a part of our lives today. There were also many great works of architecture, such as, the Great Wall.

The Chinese civilization is the only one of the four greatest ancient civilizations that managed to survive throughout the five thousand years of its history and one of few ancient civilizations that have lasted into modern times. The Chinese civilizations are generally divided into four characteristic periods (Pre-history and Shang, Han Empire, Qing [Manchu] Empire 1644- 1912 and Modern age). Due to their extensive record keeping little mystery is left to us, much unlike the Egyptians and Babylonians. The influence of Chinese civilization also spread to most its neighboring regions predominantly Japan, Korea, Mongolia and Vietnam. The present-day China culture is still marked by this continual evolution but now China is part of the globalized human civilization.

Where do they live?


The geography of ancient China is often described by geologists in a system of three steps: The first step is to the far west near present day Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) (Tibet or Xizang for short). With the highest mountains on earth the climate is quite cold and in the summer quite warm. This area is widely considered inhospitable, from -40℃ (-40°F) in the winter to 37℃ (100°F) in the summer. Because of these extremes, there aren't many villages and the villages that are there are quite small.

The next step is the middle of China. It's covered with desert and a small amount of grassland. People there raise yaks, a type of grazing cattle. There are some low hills but no snow. With cold winters and hot summers this area was never densely populated.

Eastern China supported most of China's ancient population. Three rivers flow through this area: the Huang He in the north, the Chang Jiang (Yangzi Jiang) in the center, and the Sikiang in the south. The Huang He is the main river and is more commonly known in the Western World as the Yellow River. This is because the water and the soil around this river is yellow. There was plenty of water for crops and agriculture flourished. Wheat was the main crop in the north, and rice was more common in the southwest.

What do their buildings look like?

City wall of Xi'an is the best preserved city wall in China.

Most ancient Chinese buildings have not survived because they were made of wood. A small number of buildings were made of stone. However, the forbidden palace, which is still located in China, Beijing, has survived, and many tourists visit it every day. The Temple of Heavens, or Tian Tan, is also a famous tourist attraction. Chinese architecture has curved roofs to resemble the wings of a bird. Roof colors also hold significance; blue was usually reserved for religious buildings, orange/yellow was reserved for imperial buildings, etc.

What did they eat?


Northern Chinese people prominently diet was based on wheat; southern Chinese people on rice; and they ate with chopsticks, still common in the Asia today. Many of them ate noodles, which are long, thin pieces of dough that they boil in hot water. A main meat was pork. They also grew fruits like lemons, oranges, peaches, apricots and ginger.

What did they wear?


In ancient China, the wealthy wore silk, while commoners wore cotton. The color yellow/gold could only be worn by the emperor and other royalty. A dragon was sometimes sewn on the Emperor's clothes, and gold was often woven into clothing. The color red indicates celebrity or happiness and is usually worn on holidays. They also sometimes wore jade depending on what they were doing, since jade was highly valued

They wore a style of clothing known as the Hanfu, which was robes tied together with a sash or belt. Hanfus vary from simple versions worn by commoners to scholarly versions worn by court officials to elaborate versions worn by the rich.

The Hanfu very much resembles and is the predecessor of the Japanese yukata/kimono, the Korean hanbok, and the Vietnamese Áo tứ thân.

In the 17th century, Manchurian nomads invaded the Ming Dynasty, and created the Qing Dynasty. They ordered everyone to wear Manchurian clothing, which is now known as the Cheongsam; Changshan (male) and the Qipao (female). This type of clothing is what most westerners picture when they think of Chinese clothing.

What does their writing look like?

Replica of ancient Chinese script on an oracle turtle shell
Simplified Chinese (left) alongside traditional Chinese (right)

The ancient form of writing evolved into the character system that is still in use today. Traditional Chinese script includes cursive, semi-cursive, wild cursive, clerical, seal, etc. Today, mainland PR-China uses simplified Chinese script, introduced to improve literacy rate, but criticized by historians.

Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao continue to use traditional script.

What do they believe in?


During the Bronze Age most of China worshiped many gods and spirits. The most important of these being Ti or "Deity Above". He was believed to help those that pleased him and punish those that didn't. Ti was in charge of all the gods and goddesses in the pantheon. The gods and goddesses all represented something in nature, e.g. the "God of Soil". Some of the emperors brought their servants with them to the after life. Priests and Priestess's main job was to act as mediums between the gods and goddesses and the worshipers they specialized in sacrificing and ceremonies of specific gods and goddesses. A special type of medium was an Augur. An Augur asked questions of the gods and goddesses or read oracle bones.

After the Bronze Age, Three Doctrines or Ideologies became important Chinese Religions. The Three ideologies can also be viewed as philosophies but they also have a spiritual element, which is why they are classified as religions. Daoism and Confucianism were native to China and developed in isolation. The Third Doctrine, Buddhism was brought from China by traveling monks from India.

Confucius was alive during when the Chou dynasty (a part of the Zhou Dynasty) was decaying it was riddled with corruption. Confucius experienced the corruption firsthand as he held a position in government. He believed that decline was because the Chinese had abandoned old traditions and old concepts of honor, politeness morality and social roles had been forgotten; this is the base of Confucianism.

Confucianism filtered into different aspect of Chinese culture. Confucius' teachings became the basis for education in China and his writings became the classics that every child in China reads.

The basis of Daoism is the concept of Dao. Dao is translated as "the path" or "the way." The term has no conclusive definition it refers to a wide force in nature and is the source of all things.

Daoism in its purest form calls followers to pursue Dao. This means he or she should not try to alter nature or force it to do what it was not meant to do. A follower must remain inactive and not make plans. A follower must not do anything contrary to Dao for example building a house or damming a river. Daoists were members of the educated wealthy elite. Some of the less privileged did learn about it but altered it to be more about magic and alchemy than the purest form of Daoism.

Siddharta Gautama founded Buddhism around 500 BC; He was later called The Enlightened One or the Buddha. Buddhism spread to China via the Silk Road. When it first arrived it was considered part of Daoism because of how similar Daoism and Buddhism are. How ever a number of Buddhist monks came from India to China and kept the religion from being incorporated into Daoism. Buddhism encourages followers to throw off self-interest. Through meditation and right living, a Buddhist can reach Nirvana or absence of suffering which was a similar concept to Dao.

All three religions were not intolerant of each other although they did not always agree. Many people were subscribers of more than one religion and all three subtly influenced each other.

What is their history?


The first step of the Chinese civilization was started by the rule of the Shang dynasty (kings), who ruled a group of towns and cities. They ruled from 1766 - 1027 BC. They were mostly located in the North West of the present-day China, and the rest of the land was run by other tribes who the Shang could not reach. In 1027 BC, the Shang king was replaced by the Zhou Dynasty, and these people ruled for 400 years. They extended the kingdom southwards and towards central China. In 772 BC, barbarians destroyed the capital Hao and a new capital was built at Luoyang. But the Chou were never as powerful again and from 772 - 481 BC the land was split into many small kingdoms run by chiefs. Around 500 BC the hundreds of tiny kingdoms had turned into around 20 states. Peace was proposed to end the wars in the area, but war returned in 481 BC. This lasted until 221 BC in a period known as "The Warring States". After this time, there were seven big kingdoms. Starting in 230 BC, one of them, the Qin kingdom defeated everyone and Prince Cheng named himself Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor of China. The name Qin was also given to the land, and it still remains today as China.

Are some of them famous?


Confucius (known in Chinese as Kongzi) is widely known as the prototypical Chinese sage. He spawned a whole school of philosophy. His follower, Mencius, is also known today. There are other ancient Chinese people known today, although their origin is thought of as legendary: Laozi, writer of the Daode jing, one of the five major classics of ancient Chinese wisdom; Sunzi, the military theorist who wrote the "Bing Fa", know in the West as "The Art of War". Historiographically, there is a rather important name: Sima Qian, the first major Chinese historian, dating from Western Han.

Politically, there are maybe two major figures: Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor and the first builder of the Great Wall of China. Originally named Ying Zheng, he conquered the remaining Chinese kingdoms and became the first "Son of Heaven" to aggregate "All-Under-Heaven", the whole territory. Nearly 60 years later, Emperor Wu of Han (Han Wudi) rose to power, marking the true beginning of Confucianism as "the" building block of the Imperial State.

Zheng He is another famous person. He explored the world on big ships in 1405, almost a century before Ferdinand Magellan set sail. Zheng He visited India, the Persian Gulf, Egypt, and possibly even the most southern tip of Africa!