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Chinese History - Xia / Hsia Dynasty, 2205-1766 BC

China History Map - Xia DynastyThe first prehistoric dynasty is said to be Xia, from about the twenty-first to the sixteenth century BC. Evidence regarding the ancient Xia Dynasty (2100 BC 1600 BC) is difficult to find. The much-later ancient Chinese historian Sima Qian mentioned the Xia Dynasty and another ancient historical text known as the Bamboo Annals also mentions the existence of the Xia. However, both Sima Qian and the Bamboo Annals came several thousand years after the end of the Xia period.

Bronze artefacts with very early writing dating back to this period have been found in Henan province. This period marked a shift from Neolithic technology to bronze-age tools and traditional farming patterns. The bronze age in China refers to the period between about 2000 and 771 BC, when bronze was produced on a massive scale for weapons and ritual objects used by the ruling elite. While the account in the traditional histories is linear, with states following one another in a logical progression, the archaeological record reveals a more complicated picture of Bronze Age China. Archaeological investigation has confirmed much of the legendary history of the dynasty following the Xia -- the Shang -- but the existence of Xia itself is still debated.

Until scientific excavations were made at early bronze-age sites at Anyang, Henan Province, in 1928, it was difficult to separate myth from reality in regard to the Xia. But since then, and especially in the 1960s and 1970s, archaeologists have uncovered urban sites, bronze implements, and tombs that point to the existence of Xia civilization in the same locations cited in ancient Chinese historical texts.

Today, Chinese scholars generally identify Xia with the Erlitou culture, but debate continues on whether Erlitou represents an early stage of the Shang dynasty, or whether it is entirely unique. In any event, new prototypes emerged at Erlitou -- in architecture, bronze vessels, tomb structures, and weapons -- that greatly influenced material culture in the Shang and subsequent Zhou dynasties. At minimum, the Xia period marked an evolutionary stage between the late neolithic cultures and the typical Chinese urban civilization of the Shang dynasty.

The Erlitou culture is named after the Erlitou site near the modern city of Luoyang. Erlitou covers an area of some 300 ha and was the largest settlement in China at the time, ca. 1900-1500 BC. Rice is more prevalent in the samples, although it is still rare and restricted to the large sites, particularly Shaochai. The large Erlitou-period sites also have higher weed diversity, but this may well be a factor of the larger sample size from this period. Preliminary animal-bone analysis at Huizui indicates the continuing importance of livestock. Pigs are dominant, followed by cattle, sheep/goats, and dogs. Many of the weeds are potential animal fodder as they may have been earlier in the valley.

Order Reign
Chinese Pinyin Notes
0145YuAlso Yu the Great (Founder)
0210QiSon of Yu
0329Ti KangSon of Qi
0413Zhng KangSon of Yu
0528XiangSon of Zhong Kang
0621Sho KangSon of Xiang
0717ZhSon of Shao Kang
0826HuiSon of Zhu
0918MngSon of Huai
1016XiSon of Mang
1159B JingSon of Xie
1221JiongSon of Xieg
1321JinSon of Jiong
1431Kong JiaSon of Bu Jiang
1511GaoSon of Kong Jia
1611FaSon of Gao
1752JiSon of Fa [aka Lu Gui]
Traditional Chinese histories, written in later centuries, speak of a series of ancient rulers who invented agriculture, writing, and the arts of government. The last of these legendary rulers, Yu, is credited with controlling floods and founding the Xia dynasty. Yu also cast nine sacred bronze vessels that became symbolic of the right to rule, and these were passed on to subsequent dynasties. The principality of Hsia had been bestowed upon Yu before the death of Shun, and the new King, immediately upon ascending the throne, made it the name of the new dynasty. Like his two predecessors, Yu was a "Model Emperor." "His voice was the standard of sounds, his body the standard of measures of length." He is said to have been a native of the province of Szechwan.

His exploits, which are chronicled in that section of the "Shu King" known as the "Tribute of Yu," redounded to the advantage of the whole country. He placed five sorts of instruments at his palace gates so that the people who sought his presence might acquaint him with the nature of their business. He divided the country into nine provinces and so arranged the Imperial domain that it formed the central square of a series of concentric territories. These were named respectively: 1, the royal domain; 2, the domain of the nobles; 3, the domain of peace; 4, the domain of restraint (for barbarians and exiles) ; 5, the wild domain.

Yu was a great engineer and labored for nine years at the work of leading the waters of the Huang-ho back to their proper channel. During this time Yu was so absorbed that he took little note of food and clothing and even thrice passed the door of his own house without looking in, although he heard from within the wailing of his infant son. He "made cuttings through the nine mountains, formed the nine lakes, regulated the course of the nine rivers, fixed the limits of the nine provinces." "Among the most marvelous of the achievements ascribed to the handiwork of Yu," says Mayers, "is the opening of a passage for the western waters through the present defile of Wushan."

Yu's ideal is expressed in the saying which has been attributed to him, "I just think of working incessantly every day." Evidently his industry was appreciated, for the Chinese saying runs, "How grand was the achievement of Yu! How far reaching his glorious energy! But for Yu we should all have been fishes." Under this energetic and earnest monarch China prospered greatly and the dominion was extended westward to the "moving sand" (the desert of Gobi), whilst the Miao tribes of aborigines were subdued towards the south. In connection with the division of the land into the nine provinces the story may be mentioned that Yu made nine brazen vases or tripods upon the preservation of which depended the preservation of the dynasty. Another interesting legend associates Yu with the first discovery of wine. He then ordered the discoverer to be banished from the country and forbade any further knowledge of the dangerous art.

With the death of Yu the prosperous patriarchial period is said to have reached its close. The principle of hereditary succession was firmly established. Yu being succeeded by his son became the founder of the Hsia Dynasty, which lasted four centuries. Its emperors paid little attention to administrative matters, devoting themselves to sensual pleasures and riotous living, thus giving opportunity for the aggrandizement of the vassal states. The overthrow of the Hsia Dynasty resulted from a combination of the great feudal lords, whose leader established the Yin Dynasty in 1776 BC.

Eighteen monarchs are said to have reigned during the period assigned to this dynasty. But records of Xia rulers have not yet been found in archaeological excavations of contemporary sites, or records on later Shang dynasty oracle bones.

The era was, however, not without its vicissitudes. T'ai K'ang, who as the assistant of Yu, is said to have paced the whole land from east to west, offended the people by his mode of living and ruined their harvests by his hunting expeditions. He was dethroned in BC 2160. His successor, Chung K'ang, is best known through an eclipse which was chronicled in his reign and which the court astronomers had failed to predict. Modern astronomers have spent much labor, with no very satisfactory results, in endeavoring to fix the date of this event.

An interregnum is reckoned from BC 2118 to 2079 and the dynasty gradually declined until the end came under the infamous Chieh. During this interregnum there is the romantic story of the exiled Empress Min and her son who worked unknown for years as a shepherd on the hills. He was afterwards appointed cook to the Prince of Yii, whose two daughters he married. He subsequently became Emperor under the name of Shao K'ang.

The tyrant Chieh, with the aid of his no less infamous consort, Mo Hsi, a slave who had been presented to him in BC 1786 by one of the conquered chiefs as a propitiatory offering, filled full the cup of abominations. Among other choice amusements of this Chinese Nero was the creation of a vast lake of wine in which he would compel his subjects, three thousand at a time, to plunge at the sound of a drum, while he and his queen and courtiers laughed with delight at their brutal intoxication. The downfall and death of the last of the Hsia Kings were brought about through a revolution headed by Ch'eng T'ang, the founder of the dynasty of Shang. The tyrant, Chieh, was captured and sent into banishment.

The earliest known gold artifacts found in China include earrings, nose rings and the like, dating to the late of Xia Dynasty, discovered at Huoshaogou, near Yumen in Gansu province - an area of contact between Yellow River or Asian heartland agriculturalists and ancient nomadic peoples. And from that time on, the gold had been found to be used at different places of each dynasty, most of them being unearthed from tombs.

The Mu Us Sandy Land is a 32 000-km2 desert region on the Ordos Plain in central China. This low-relief desert reaches an elevation of about 2000 m above sea level. Dunes in the Mu Us average 3 to 5 m in height, but some may be as high as 20 m. Because of the presence of archaeological ruins and other evidence of formerly wetter climates, many Chinese scientists consider some of the deserts in central and eastern China to be man-induced, and sometimes refer to them as sandy lands. The Mu Us Sandy Land is cited frequently as one of the most desertified areas of China. Incursions of pastoralists since the 9th century B.C., exploitation of the floodplains of the Yellow River, and poor farming practices destroyed the delicately balanced ecosystem of the steppe environment and allowed the desert to encroach. Ruins of the capital of the Xia dynasty and 11 other large cites are now covered by the moving dunes of the Mu Us. Today the desert consists of large areas of irregularly shaped sand sheets and streaks interspersed with numerous small lakes, some of which are salty. Approximately 50 percent of the Mu Us is marshland or farmland covered with vegetation.

In an effort to reclaim the sandy lands, the residents of the Mu Us have developed a method for stabilizing the dunes. First, shrubs are planted on the lower one-third of a dunes windward side. The vegetation lowers the wind velocity near the bottom of the dune and prevents much of the sand from moving up the dune. Higher velocity winds at the top of the dune level it off. Then trees are planted on top of the flattened dune. Within 5 years, this method of controlled planting can increase vegetation cover as much as 50 to 80 percent.

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Page last modified: 14-12-2017 17:07:13 ZULU