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UNIT 6: Order and Early Societies

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VIDEO SEGMENT: The Evolution of the Early Chinese Empire

Much of what scholars know about early complex societies is discovered through archaeological excavations, which can reveal a wealth of information about a society through its material and built culture.

This is certainly true of China's Shang people, who lived in a complex, centralized social order during the second millennium BCE. The presence of bronze vessels, weapons, and other signs of wealth in gravesites, for example, suggested a society sharply stratified by wealth and status. The presence of these artifacts also provides clues about how the Shang rulers were able to centralize power in their own hands. Indeed, archaeological finds demonstrated that Shang rulers and elites held a monopoly on bronze technology (used for making weapons of war and ritual vessels) and on writing (used for communicating with the gods). More surprisingly, evidence from a noblewoman's grave also suggested that some Shang women might have had wealth and even military power.

By the eleventh century BCE, however, the Shang dynasty was overthrown and replaced by the Zhou dynasty, which justified its rule in moral terms through the Mandate of Heaven. When the Zhou dynasty collapsed in 500 BCE, a period of chaos followed. This unrest ended in 221 BCE when the Qin dynasty unified China under an imperial system whose legal and administrative structure would endure for 2000 years.

SELECTED IMAGES AND MAPS


Leng Mei, MARITAL FELICITY (1681). Courtesy of Portland Art Museum.

Anonymous Chinese, ORACLE BONE (ca. 1600-1000 BCE). Courtesy of The British Library.


Anonymous, SHANG BRONZE AXE WITH FACE (ca. 1300-1100). Courtesy of WorldArt Kiosk/Kathleen Cohen.

Anonymous Chinese, HONGSHANG JADE PENDANT (ca 1700-1027 BCE). Courtesy of Jadestone Gallery, Portland, Oregon.



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