Thursday, September 4, 2008

Xia Dynasty

The Xia were agrarian people, with bronze weapons and pottery. The ruling families used elaborate and dramatic rituals to confirm their power to govern. The rulers often acted as shamans, communicating with spirits for help and guidance.

The Xia Dynasty ca. 2100 BC–1600 BC, of China is the first dynasty to be described in ancient historical records such as ''Records of the Grand Historian'' and ''Bamboo Annals''. Though there is disagreement pertaining to the actual existence of the dynasty, there is archaeological evidence which points to its possible existence. According to historical records, it was preceded by the period of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors and followed by the Shang Dynasty.


According to the official history, the Xia Dynasty was founded when abdicated the throne in favor of his minister , whom Shun viewed as the perfect civil servant. Yu was greatly praised by his people for eliminating flooding by organizing the building of canals in all the major rivers. Soon before his death, instead of passing power to the person deemed most capable of rulership, Yu passed power to his son, , setting the precedence for dynastic rule or the Hereditary System. The Xia Dynasty thus began a period of family or clan control.

The of early Chinese history, started by Gu Jiegang in the 1920s, was the first group of scholars within China to seriously question the traditional story of its early history: “the later the time, the longer the legendary period of earlier history... early Chinese history is a tale told and retold for generations, during which new elements were added to the front end” Yun Kuen Lee's criticism of nationalist sentiment in developing an explanation of Three Dynasties chronology focuses on the dichotomy of evidence provided by archaeological versus historical research, in particular the claim that the archaeological is also the historical Xia Dynasty. “How to fuse the archaeological dates with historical dates is a challenge to all chronological studies of early civilization.”

, the last ruler, was said to be a corrupt king. He was overthrown by , the leader of the people from the east.

Archaeological records

Archaeologists have uncovered urban sites, bronze implements, and tombs that point to the possible existence of the Xia dynasty at locations cited in ancient Chinese historical texts. There exists a debate as to whether or not Erlitou culture was the site of the Xia dynasty. Radiocarbon dating places the site at ca. 2100 to 1800 BC, providing physical evidence of the existence of a state contemporaneous with and possibly equivalent to the Xia Dynasty as described in Chinese historical works. In 1959, a site located in the city of Yanshi was excavated containing large palaces that some archaeologists have attributed as capital of the Xia Dynasty. Though later historical works mention the Xia dynasty, no written records dated to the Xia period have been found to confirm the name of the dynasty and its sovereigns. At a minimum, the archaeological discoveries marked an evolutionary stage between the late neolithic cultures and the typical Chinese urban civilization of the Shang Dynasty.

Qi as the heirs of Xia

After the defeat of Xia by , the remnants of Xia survived as Qi state until 445 BCE. The Qi state was well recorded in the Oracle script as the one major supporter of the Xia Dynasty.

Mythical opposite of Shang

In her work, ''The Shape of the Turtle: Myth, Art and Cosmos in Early China'', Sarah Allan noted that many aspects of the Xia are simply the opposite of traits held to be emblematic of the Shang. Classical Chinese historians such as Sima Qian had access to records going only as far back as the Western Zhou Dynasty. The implied dualism between the Shang and Xia, Allan argues, is that while the Shang represent fire or the sun, birds and the east, the Xia represent the west and water. The development of this mythical Xia, Allan argues, is a necessary act on the part of the Zhou Dynasty, who justify their conquest of the Shang by noting that the Shang had supplanted the Xia.

Sovereigns of the Xia Dynasty

No comments: