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History, Ancient Bronze Age China

city of Anyang, Huang Di, dynastic rule, Shang dynasty, Yellow River

Ancient Chinese historians knew nothing of their Neolithic forebears, whose existence was discovered by 20th-century archaeologists. Traditionally, the Chinese traced their history through many dynasties to a series of legendary rulers, like the Yellow Lord (Huang Di), who invented the key features of civilization—agriculture, the family, silk, boats, carts, bows and arrows, and the calendar. The last of these kings was Yu, and when he died the people chose his son to lead them, thus establishing the principle of hereditary, dynastic rule. Yu’s descendants created the Xia dynasty (2205?-1570? bc), which was said to have lasted for 14 generations before declining and being superseded by the Shang dynasty.

The Xia dynasty may correspond to the first phases of the transition to the Bronze Age. Between 2000 and 1600 bc a more complex Bronze Age civilization emerged out of the diverse Neolithic cultures in northern China. This civilization was marked by writing, metalwork, domestication of horses, a class system, and a stable political and religious hierarchy. Although Bronze Age civilizations developed earlier in Southwest Asia, China seems to have developed both its writing system and its bronze technology with relatively little stimulus from outside. However, other elements of early Chinese civilization, such as the spoke-wheeled horse chariot, apparently reached China indirectly from places to the west.

No written documents survive to link the earliest Bronze Age sites unambiguously to Xia. With the Shang dynasty, however, the historical and archaeological records begin to coincide. Chinese accounts of the Shang rulers match inscriptions on animal bones and tortoise shells found in the 20th century at the city of Anyang in the valley of the Huang He (Yellow River).

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Article key phrases:

city of Anyang, Huang Di, dynastic rule, Shang dynasty, Yellow River, Southwest Asia, animal bones, writing system, dynasties, class system, metalwork, northern China, carts, silk, Huang, Xia, boats, kings, generations, son, valley, transition, agriculture, bc, calendar, phases, existence, century, places, family, arrows, people, history, Xia dynasty


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