Chinese History

Looking for information about antique Chinese furniture? This section of Antique Furnitue.US features resources and information related to China and antique Chinese furniture. I had much of this research written a few years ago by a college student living in India who often traveled to China.

Chinese history can be broadly classified into four main categories, the origin of Chinese civilization, the early empire, the second empire and modern china.

Origin of Chinese civilization has thus far been traced to the Xia dynasty, which is supposed to have come into being around 2200 BC. This assumption of the origin of Xia dynasty, which is said to have civilized around the yellow river basin, comes from archeological findings including black lacquered pottery. Xia dynasty gave way to the Shang dynasty in around 1700 BC. Shang dynasty is known to be the best bronze workers and the most blood thirsty dynasty of those times. Some Neolithic bronze pots have also been found dating back to this era, which have imbibed and etched characters on them, suggesting that the Shang period was one of the earliest dynasties to have developed the art of writing. The Shang dynasty was followed by the Zhou dynasty, and it’s the Zhou dynasty that is considered to be more “Chinese” as compared to the Shangs and that is because of the reason that the Zhou dynast had the trend of passing on the throne from father to son and did not believe in human sacrifice. Zhou dynasty was not as good with bronze as the Shangs were, but still, they were better than most of the West. Some scholars are of the view that Xia, Shang and Zhou were different establishments altogether and came into being at roughly the same time, at different places around the yellow river basin. The Zhou dynasty is also further divided into the Western and the Eastern Zhous. Western Zhous are said to have come into existence before the eastern Zhou dynasty. The eastern Zhou period marked the advent of many concepts. Philosophies and cultures that have left an everlasting impression on the Chinese set up as such. The three main philosophies of this era are the Daoism, Confucianism and Legalism. Daoism is the study of the “way” and is one of the most confusing, frustrating and paradoxical theories of all time. Some of the main abstracts of this philosophy include lines like “the way you walk in not always the true way”, which can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. Sarcasms and hidden meanings were the base lines of Daoism and the theories related to it. The examples given on various books of Daoism also flow from a human being to a butterfly perhaps and then to a tree or a mountain. People of that era loved such tortuous talks and this art later developed into what we today know as the art of the Zen. Confucius had one underlining idea that was the main gist of all his philosophy – moral men make good rulers. This idea including ideas of virtue in a ruler led the Chinese political thinking and decisions for a long time, and the Confucian theory holds weight even today. Legalism says that man mostly thinks of himself, and is therefore, evil for the greater part of his life and needs to be dealt with an iron fist. It differs from Confucianism in the way that legalism depends on the iron fist, whereas Confucianism depended upon the virtue and morality of the man himself. Both these philosophies were aimed at unification of the then- divided Chinese empire. Legalism, today seen as the legal system, supports the creation of an environment of fear that would keep the “evil forces” of men in bounds.

The Qin Empire marked the advent of empire Dom in china, with Emperor Qin Shihuangdi conquering the whole of modern day china plus some other parts and proclaiming himself to be the emperor. He was successful particularly because of his staunch legalist approach, which ushered a fresh air of rule into china. Qin was known to kill his generals for showing up late at work, and this legalist approach later proved on to be the main reason for his downfall. Qin was known for his usage of Iron and Iron materials for making weapons. The idea of the Great Wall Of China was also laid down by Qin only, but was later implemented during the Ming period. With the death of Qin, the dynasty also fell apart in a short span of time and gave way to the Han dynasty.

The Han Dynasty developed the model that every civilization in the world follows today. They are said to have developed the model of Bureaucracy for administration. The Han emperors developed this method of administration based on the Confucius theory of loyalty to the king in order to manage a country of such vast proportions as china, which was the largest in the world at that time and was, and still is, the most populous also. The Han dynasty saw a down fall and then an uprising again by 150AD, when the later Hans came into power. Overall, by 250 AD, the Han dynasty fell apart, leasing China into almost 500 years of disunity and disintegration. The major cultural development that took place during the Han reign was the spread of Buddhism from India into China and from China into Korea, Tibet and other parts of the world. Buddhism mixed well with Daoism and Confucianism alike, and was therefore a strong faith followed by millions in China during the Han reign.

Sui, Tang and Mongol dynasties followed the Hans and it was during this period in time 500 AD- 1300 AD that China started to re-unite. The Soong dynasty that followed the Tangs capitalized on the great military and economical power that China had become by then, and further trained the general Chinese population to fight and march. This dynasty saw the boundaries of China extend to Siberia and far reaches of present age Russia to the North and up to modern day Afghanistan and Hindu- Kush mountains to the West. China was ruling over half the world, owing to its great reunification. Later on though, it became difficult to handle such a large empire and because of some corrupt officials and bureaucrats, the empire shrunk and came to the proportions of present day China.

By around 1350 AD, the Ming dynasty, probably the most talked about Chinese dynasty of all times, had started spreading its feet in China. The Ming emperors were the laziest, cruelest and the most lavish of all the emperors that have ever ruled China. They were known for merciless execution of traitors and were staunch neo-confucianists. They were of conservative ideologies and were known as connoisseurs of art. They were known to lead a luxurious and imperial life. All was not bad with them though, they have been known to have done certain good things too. They built the Great Wall of China, as we know it today, they gave certain illegally captured territories back to the parent countries and they promoted art and culture vigorously. They are also accredited by moving the capital to Beijing, where it stands today as well and they also built the Forbidden City. The Ming rule lasted till the late 17th century and the art, culture, literature and traits of the Ming dynasty can be most closely related to modern day China. Ming dynasty gave way to the Quing period, which lasted till 1911 AD.

The Quings were not the worst of the rulers, they continued the great work of promotion of art and culture like the Mings, but they also ended up being more conservative and inflexible. They treated the emperor as the ultimate truth in a kingdom, and were ruthless and indifferent on their foreign policy stands. They treated China better than all the other countries of the world, and this led to the downfall of respect for China, its people and its trade with the outer world. The Quing dynasty was founded by the Manchus and one of the best Chinese literary works – The Dream of the Red Chambers – came into being during this period. Furniture, culture, art, dance and martial art forms flourished during this period. The international society tried to make governmental contact with China during this period, and failed. The Chinese failed to understand the viewpoint of the community of Nations and those in China who advocated such ideas were seen with scorn and were untrusted. The Chinese considered the rest of the World as one, and China as the other extreme. This was the time of the Unequal treaties, called so because they introduced certain rights for foreign traders that were ‘unequal’ in the eyes of the Chinese. One such right was that if a British national had killed someone in China, he would be tried under British law, in Britain, and not in China as per the laws of the land. This was the time of Opium smuggling by the west into China, the time of rebellion within the Nation and the time of the fall of the kingdom and rise of a republic.

The republic of China came into being in 1949, after protests by students and people from various sects and ideologies, most famous being the MAY FOURTH protest, carried out by students at Tiananmen Square on May 4th, 1919, the day remembered as the day when tanks rolled into the Tiananmen Square. This protest was a result of the failure of Chinese government when some islands were handed over to Japan after being promised to China. This day led to the nationalist movement in China and that onwards, China has seen the resurgence of the ‘Cultural reform movement’ led by Mao, its failure and the economic movement led by Deng Xiaoping. Deng’s policies were aimed at uniting the Chinese to reform the country’s stranded and dilapidated economic situation. He said “it doesn’t matter if the Cat is black or white as long as it catches mice”, which was totally opposite of the Ming and Quing mottos of “better red than nothing”, and thus, Deng’s word and popularity spread far into the country. Rounds of violence at the Tiananmen Square, talks with Margaret Thatcher unprecedented economic growth has seen China get back Hong Kong, grow by leaps and bounds and move towards becoming possibly an industrial superpower by 2020, but looking at its history, the direction of China’s progress is still unpredictable, what will flourish is the innovation and ingenuity of its people, the culture and the myriads of revolutions that have occurred since the establishment of the first civilization in China.