China is sometimes called “the oldest continuous civilization on earth” and rightly so, theculture and values of China have existed for almost five-thousand years. China has been inhabited since around the eighth millennium BC. One of the most important points in its history though begins with the Xia dynasty. Events from 1570 BC to 221 AD reflect some of the most important points in Chinese history. The Xia dynasty was founded around four-thousand years ago, and is usually the point that historians use to date the beginnings of traditional Chinese civilization. Ancient Chinese legends say that the founder of the Xia dynasty was a man named Yu. Yu was said to have brought the inventions of irrigation and draining the floodwaters to the people of Northern China. The Xia dynasty was supposedly short lived, as it was replaced by the Shang around the year 1523 BC. The Shang settled in the Huang He river valley, and area whose soil had been enriched by the floodwaters. The Shang were the builders of the first Chinese cities, organizing their manpower and resources to quickly raise buildings such as palaces, temples, houses, workshops and administrative centers. The inner city was home to the rich and educated, while the outer rings of the city and beyond were the areas where the poor workers and farmers were housed. This was the direct product of the distinct class barriers that had arisen in Shang society. The farmers in Shang society grew cereals and rice, using sticks and wooden hoes to till the land for Shang landlords. These farmers often lived in small, partially underground houses and had very simple burial traditions. Eventually the Shang rulers would divide China into a more feudalistic style system, with multiple territories. The classes under the Shang would eventually become increasingly different. There were the aristocrats, the peasants, the slaves and a small merchant/artisan class. As far as religion goes, the Shang peoples worshipped the spirits of the rivers and mountains and seas. They believed that these spirits could be angered which would
cause them to lose a harvest or even a battle. The Shang would offer food and wine and prayers to these spirits and the spirits of their ancestors to appease them, fostering a higher sense of respect for one’s elders and ancestors, because of this the people established special rules regarding the worship of one’s ancestors. Children were taught to obey and honor their parents and older people, wives were taught to obey their husbands.