5: China


  • Examine the origins and early history of Chinese civilizations
  • Present classics of Chinese literature and art
  • Outline the basic beliefs of Confucianism and Daoism
  • Know the contributions of Shih Huang-ti, Li Po, and Confucius.
  • Know the terms Bodhisattvas and stupa.

I. Historical Context

Ancient India & Ancient China
A larger map of Asia is here

  • Yellow River and Yangtze River
  • Ease of travel
  • Cultivation of rice
  • Chinese Dynasties (LINK)

II. Politics


The Great Wall of China

  • A. Shang Dynasty (1600-1100 BCE)
    • Earliest dynasty and urban center in eastern China
    • Bronze craftsmanship
    • Trade, commerce
    • Writing based on pictures
  • B. Chou Dynasty (1100-221 BCE)
    • Divided China into small kingdoms
    • Very unstable
    • Period of the Warring States (403-221 BCE) (LINK)
  • C. The Ch’in Dynasty (221-210 BCE)
    • Shih Huang-ti “First Emperor”
    • Centralization of China
    • The Burning of the Books
    • The Great Wall of China
    • The Emperor’s Tomb
  • D. Following Dynasties
    • Han Dynasty (202 BCE-202 CE)
    • Civil War
    • T’ang Dynasty (618-906 CE)

III. Religion

The Terra Cotta Warriors

  • A. Chinese Religion in Brief
    • Confucianism - What is socially appropriate?
    • Daoism - What is in harmony with nature and the Dao?
  • B. Confucianism (Religion Course link)
    • Confucianism: Historical Context
      • Started in China during the Chou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE)
      • Originally called “School of the Scholars”
      • During this time, China is comprised of isolated kingdoms
      • Conflict and division
      • Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), the state favors Confucianism
    • Confucius
      • Born 551-479 BCE
      • Profession - manager
      • Recruited and trained civil servants in matters of public administration and political and social theory
    • Beliefs
      • Emphasizes social governance, harmony, and interpersonal relationships
      • The Rectification of Names: acknowledging and understanding the roles in society that create community and then acting in such a way that fits with that role to ensure social harmony
      • The Five Relationships: The five relationships establish personal and social responsibilities and are ruler-subject, parent-child, husband-wife, elder brother-younger brother, and friends.
      • Emphasize reverence for antiquity, respect for education, deference to elders, respect for the state
      • Through education, one can become the Confucian exemplar
  • C. Daoism (Religion Course link)
    • What is the Dao?
      • The Way: Daoism is the search for the middle way between the forces of extremism
      • The Chinese word “Dao” literally means “the Way”
      • The Dao is nameless; it cannot be defined
      • You must simply let it be
      • Daoist art = running water
    • Wu Wei
      • Loosely translated “without action”
      • Quietism, non-aggression to achieve clear seeing
      • This is the ideal of the genuine person
      • What feels right in the moment
    • Yin & Yang
      • Balance/harmony of elements. 
      • This applies to people and their actions. 
      • Yin & Yang is NOT good versus evil.
      • Opposing but complementary

Laozi (Lao Tzu)

A Dao that may be spoken
is not the enduring Dao

Drinking Alone by Moonlight,
Li Po

A cup of wine, under flowering trees,
I drink alone, for no friend is near.
Raising my cup, I beckon the bright moon,
For he, with my shadow,
will make three men.

IV. Key Texts

  • A. The Daodejing
    • Lao-tzu - literally means “Old Master.” Wrote the Daodejing, also spelled Tao te Ching.
    • Written in 300s BCE
    • Establishes how to live better according to the Dao
    • The first line in the Daodejing is “that which can be named is not the eternal Dao”
  • B. The Poetry of Li Po
    • Written during the T’ang Dynasty
    • Vivid pictures of contemporary life
    • Court Poet, appointed in 742, but left for a life of wandering
    • Inspired by Daoism
    • Most famous poems are about waterfalls, rivers, and wine

V. The Arts in Classical China

Wang Xianzi Imitation by Tang Dynasty
  • Blend of new and traditional styles
  • Buddhist shrines
  • Emphasis on craftsmanship
  • Calligraphy

VI. China’s Lasting Contributions

  • Great Wall of China
  • Numerous inventions
    • compass
    • gunpowder
    • papermaking

Chinese Caligraphy