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The Neolithic age in China can be traced back to about 10, BC. At Damaidi in Ningxia, 3, cliff carvings dating to — BC have been discovered, "featuring 8, individual characters such as the sun, moon, stars, gods and scenes of hunting or grazing". Some scholars have suggested that Jiahu symbols 7th millennium BC were the earliest Chinese writing system.

Bronze artifacts have been found at the Majiayao culture site between and BC. Sanxingdui located in what is now Sichuan province is believed to be the site of a major ancient city, of a previously unknown Bronze Age culture between and BC. The site was first discovered in and then re-discovered in Chinese archaeologists have identified the Sanxingdui culture to be part of the ancient kingdom of Shu , linking the artifacts found at the site to its early legendary kings.

Ferrous metallurgy begins to appear in the late 6th century in the Yangzi Valley.

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For this reason, authors such as Liana Chua and Mark Elliott have used the term "Iron Age" by convention for the transitional period of c. The Xia dynasty of China from c. Early markings from this period found on pottery and shells are thought to be ancestral to modern Chinese characters. According to ancient records, the dynasty ended around BC as a consequence of the Battle of Mingtiao. Archaeological findings providing evidence for the existence of the Shang dynasty , c. The first set, from the earlier Shang period, comes from sources at Erligang , Zhengzhou , and Shangcheng.

A series of thirty-one kings reigned over the Shang dynasty. During their reign, according to the Records of the Grand Historian , the capital city was moved six times. Chinese historians in later periods were accustomed to the notion of one dynasty succeeding another, but the political situation in early China was much more complicated.

Hence, as some scholars of China suggest, the Xia and the Shang can refer to political entities that existed concurrently, just as the early Zhou existed at the same time as the Shang. Although written records found at Anyang confirm the existence of the Shang dynasty, [34] Western scholars are often hesitant to associate settlements that are contemporaneous with the Anyang settlement with the Shang dynasty.

For example, archaeological findings at Sanxingdui suggest a technologically advanced civilization culturally unlike Anyang. The evidence is inconclusive in proving how far the Shang realm extended from Anyang. The leading hypothesis is that Anyang, ruled by the same Shang in the official history, coexisted and traded with numerous other culturally diverse settlements in the area that is now referred to as China proper.

By the end of the 2nd millennium BC, the Zhou dynasty began to emerge in the Yellow River valley, overrunning the territory of the Shang. The Zhou appeared to have begun their rule under a semi-feudal system.

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The king of Zhou at this time invoked the concept of the Mandate of Heaven to legitimize his rule, a concept that was influential for almost every succeeding dynasty. In response, the royal house would be overthrown, and a new house would rule, having been granted the Mandate of Heaven. The Zhou initially moved their capital west to an area near modern Xi'an , on the Wei River , a tributary of the Yellow River, but they would preside over a series of expansions into the Yangtze River valley.

This would be the first of many population migrations from north to south in Chinese history. In the 8th century BC, power became decentralized during the Spring and Autumn period , named after the influential Spring and Autumn Annals. In this period, local military leaders used by the Zhou began to assert their power and vie for hegemony. The situation was aggravated by the invasion of other peoples from the northwest, such as the Qin , forcing the Zhou to move their capital east to Luoyang. This marks the second major phase of the Zhou dynasty: the Eastern Zhou.

The Spring and Autumn period is marked by a falling apart of the central Zhou power. In each of the hundreds of states that eventually arose, local strongmen held most of the political power and continued their subservience to the Zhou kings in name only. Some local leaders even started using royal titles for themselves.


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China now consisted of hundreds of states, some of them only as large as a village with a fort. As the era continued, larger and more powerful states annexed or claimed suzerainty over smaller ones.

By the 6th century BC most small states had disappeared by being annexed and just a few large and powerful principalities dominated China. Some southern states, such as Chu and Wu, claimed independence from the Zhou, who undertook wars against some of them Wu and Yue. Many new cities were established in this period and Chinese culture was slowly shaped.

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Many famous individuals such as Laozi , Confucius and Sun Tzu lived during this chaotic period. The Hundred Schools of Thought of Chinese philosophy blossomed during this period, and such influential intellectual movements as Confucianism , Taoism , Legalism and Mohism were founded, partly in response to the changing political world.

The first two philosophical thoughts would have an enormous influence on Chinese culture. After further political consolidation, seven prominent states remained by the end of the 5th century BC, and the years in which these few states battled each other are known as the Warring States period. Though there remained a nominal Zhou king until BC, he was largely a figurehead and held little real power. Numerous developments were made during this period in culture and mathematics. As neighboring territories of these warring states, including areas of modern Sichuan and Liaoning , were annexed, they were governed under the new local administrative system of commandery and prefecture.

This system had been in use since the Spring and Autumn period, and parts can still be seen in the modern system of Sheng and Xian province and county. The final expansion in this period began during the reign of Ying Zheng , the king of Qin. His unification of the other six powers, and further annexations in the modern regions of Zhejiang , Fujian, Guangdong and Guangxi in BC, enabled him to proclaim himself the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Major events in the Early sub-period include the Qin unification of China and their replacement by the Han, the First Split followed by the Jin unification, and the loss of north China.

The Middle sub-period was marked by the Sui unification and their supplementation by the Tang, the Second Split, and the Song unification. The Late sub-period included the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. Historians often refer to the period from the Qin dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty as Imperial China. Though the unified reign of the First Qin Emperor lasted only 12 years, he managed to subdue great parts of what constitutes the core of the Han Chinese homeland and to unite them under a tightly centralized Legalist government seated at Xianyang close to modern Xi'an.

The doctrine of Legalism that guided the Qin emphasized strict adherence to a legal code and the absolute power of the emperor. This philosophy, while effective for expanding the empire in a military fashion, proved unworkable for governing it in peacetime. The Qin Emperor presided over the brutal silencing of political opposition, including the event known as the burning of books and burying of scholars. This would be the impetus behind the later Han synthesis incorporating the more moderate schools of political governance.

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Major contributions of the Qin include the concept of a centralized government, and the unification and development of the legal code, the written language, measurement, and currency of China after the tribulations of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods. Even something as basic as the length of axles for carts—which need to match ruts in the roads—had to be made uniform to ensure a viable trading system throughout the empire. Also as part of its centralization, the Qin connected the northern border walls of the states it defeated, making the first Great Wall of China.

The tribes of the north, collectively called the Wu Hu by the Qin, were free from Chinese rule during the majority of the dynasty. After a military campaign led by General Meng Tian , the region was conquered in BC and agriculture was established; the peasants, however, were discontented and later revolted. The succeeding Han dynasty also expanded into the Ordos due to overpopulation, but depleted their resources in the process.

Indeed, this was true of the dynasty's borders in multiple directions; modern Inner Mongolia , Xinjiang , Tibet , Manchuria , and regions to the southeast were foreign to the Qin, and even areas over which they had military control were culturally distinct. As early as Confucius and up until , there was reliance upon a trained intellectual elite, the scholar-official "scholar-gentlemen". Talented young men were selected through an elaborate process of imperial examination. They had to demonstrate skill at calligraphy , and had to know Confucian philosophy.

Historian Wing-Tsit Chan concludes that:. Generally speaking, the record of these scholar-gentlemen has been a worthy one. It was good enough to be praised and imitated in 18th century Europe. Nevertheless, it has given China a tremendous handicap in their transition from government by men to government by law, and personal considerations in Chinese government have been a curse.

After Emperor Qin Shi Huang's unnatural death due to the consumption of mercury pills, [41] the Qin government drastically deteriorated and eventually capitulated in BC after the Qin capital was captured and sacked by rebels, which would ultimately lead to the establishment of a new dynasty of a unified China.

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A golden age in Chinese history, the Han dynasty's long period of stability and prosperity consolidated the foundation of China as a unified state under a central imperial bureaucracy, which was to last intermittently for most of the next two millennia. During the Han dynasty, territory of China was extended to most of the China proper and to areas far west.

Confucianism was officially elevated to orthodox status and was to shape the subsequent Chinese civilization. Art, culture and science all advanced to unprecedented heights.


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With the profound and lasting impacts of this period of Chinese history, the dynasty name "Han" had been taken as the name of the Chinese people, now the dominant ethnic group in modern China, and had been commonly used to refer to Chinese language and written characters. The Han dynasty also saw many mathematical innovations being invented such as the method of Gaussian elimination which appeared in the Chinese mathematical text Chapter Eight Rectangular Arrays of The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art.

Its use is illustrated in eighteen problems, with two to five equations.

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The first reference to the book by this title is dated to AD, but parts of it were written as early as approximately BC, more than years before the Europeans came up with the method in the 18th century. After the initial laissez-faire policies of Emperors Wen and Jing , the ambitious Emperor Wu brought the empire to its zenith. To consolidate his power, Confucianism, which emphasizes stability and order in a well-structured society, was given exclusive patronage to be the guiding philosophical thoughts and moral principles of the empire. Imperial Universities were established to support its study and further development, while other schools of thought were discouraged.

Major military campaigns were launched to weaken the nomadic Xiongnu Empire , limiting their influence north of the Great Wall.