Ancient China: Politics, Social Structure and Culture
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Published: Thu, 16 Aug 2018
The ancient Chinese had lived in primitive villages, and were mainly farmers or hunters. Many villages were surrounded by a strong wall to protect the village from enemy attacks. The land in which the farmers worked was owned by the emperor and the nobility. The farmers, who were also called peasants, rented the land paying for its use by various services such as working on the nobles land or entering war.
Many ancient Chinese never let left the village they were born in. there were public wells for drawing water and a local meeting place would be held in a courtyard. There were markets in each village in which farmers sold their livestock, vegetables and fruit. Family life was the heart of society in Ancient China. Events such as births and weddings were widely celebrated by the entire village.
The men and women in each village worked together farming. An important and crucial task the villagers shared were digging ditches, so the water would run from the canals to the field and crops in which they would be watered.
Farmers used oxen and water buffalo to pull ploughs wagons and carts. The common farm animals in that time were pigs and chickens. This is because there weren’t enough large “farm” animals to provide manure, instead human faeces were used to fertilise the crops.
Leadership and politics:
Ancient China was ruled by emperors. According to historical evidence, it was thought that the emperor’s authority to rule was granted from heaven, in which each emperor was called the “son of heaven” when an emperor lost power/authority, it was believed that he had committed something wrong according to the heavens.
The emperors generally lived a different life than the ordinary people. They owned all the land, in which great parts of it were given to the nobles. They lived in abundant wealth, surrounded by their many wives’s, servants and cooks. A constant stream of entertainment consisting of artists, singers, musicians and dancers were at his command.
No one was permitted to approach or speak first to the emperor. People had to bow and kneel in his presence, showing the upmost respect.
Although it was a luxurious lifestyle, it was an isolated existence as well. Emperors rarely left their places. On very rare occasions, the emperor would leave his palace grounds, although the roads were blocked and the emperor was carried in a enclosed carriage.
Governors and officials assisted the emperor in the smooth running of Ancient China. Governors were based in diverse regions throughout Ancient China where they administered and imposed laws of the emperor of the day. They collected taxes. Governors were also involved in management of farming and they supported the development of new farming methods. Some officials were based in the palaces of the emperors, assisting in simple chores such as cleaning and even keeping the emperor informed on what is going on.
The most important officials for the emperor were his eunuchs. Eunuchs were men who had been castrated when they were small boys. This is because as they were brought up in the palace and worked with the emperor, they posed no sexual threat to him. In which allowing the emperors bloodline to continue. Eunuchs worked as the emperor’s cooks, tailors and cleaners.ÂÂ They also looked after the emperors children. Sometimes eunuchs became powerful within the palace, they became entrusted by the emperor.
The social structure of China was divided into five social classes;
- Rulers: this would be the emperor and governor officials. These are people with high authority and of great wealth.
- Nobles: the nobles were also a wealthy class. They owned large areas of land and lent it to the farming peasants.ÂÂ In which the farmers pay was often high. Nobles wore silk clothing, and lived a life of utter luxury. Although they were constantly aware of having to please the emperor. If the emperor was displeased, he could in an instant wipe out a nobles land and wealth.
- Merchants: merchants may have been quite wealthy, but they were not respected in Ancient China. In fact they were often treated badly under the rule of various dynasties. They were forced to pay much higher taxes than others. Despite this, they played an important role in Ancient China. Merchants produced businesses which were essential for day -to -day life.
- Peasants: peasants were the farmers. They were the largest part of the population in Ancient China, making up approximately 90% of the entire population. The peasants were generally very poor and lacked of education. Sometime peasants were forced to sell their children into slavery in order to pay off their debts. They had to grow enough crops to feed their family and pay large amounts of money to the nobles for the rent of land.
- Slaves: slavery was not as committed in Ancient China than other ancient civilizations. Slave in China were forced to do strenuous hours of labour, and were treated in terrible conditions.
Ancient Chinese artists painted amazing works on silk and on paper. Often flowers and animals were depicted. Landscapes were also very common. Animals were used in their art to represent human aspects. Ancient Chinese artists portrayed works that mainly emphasised on “nature”
Poetry was very popular in Ancient China. Many poets wrote about love and sadness; in their poets they also make comments on war and social upheaval.
Chinese writing is very different from English. English is a phonetic language. Meaning the letters represent sounds but not meaning. Chinese writing system developed with pictographs. These are simple drawings when combined represent/express an idea. E.g. the pictures of ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ when drawn together mean ‘bright’
Music and dance:
Music and dance were part of everyday life in Ancient China. Drums, gongs and pipes were common instruments used in that time. Chinese music is based on a five-tone scale, as western music is based on an eight-tone scale. This is why it sounds so different.
Most people in Ancient China could not afford to live in fancy houses. They lived in small houses made of mud brick. The house would generally contain one room and a dirt floor. In northern China, the doors of these houses would generally face south, in order to keep out the cold ‘north wind’
Of course, rich people had larger and fancier houses.
All ancient Chinese architecture was built according to strict rules of design that made Chinese buildings follow the ideas of Taoism or other Chinese philosophies.
The first design idea was that buildings should be long and low. Roofs would be held up by large columns. The second idea was inspired by Taoism, the idea was symmetry. Both sides of a building should be the same, balanced, just like Taoism emphasised balance.
During the different dynasties, ideas of architecture changed. The biggest architectural change in Ancient China was during the Han dynasty (around 200 B.C.) this is when the new reign of Buddhism was bought into Ancient China. Chinese Buddhists began to build pagodas.
In the Shang dynasty, people in Ancient China worshipped many gods. Such as weather gods and sky gods. Including a higher god who ruled among the other gods, this god is called Shang-Ti. People living in the Shang dynasty also believed that their ancestors -their grandparents and parents became like gods when they died. As well the ancestors wanted to be worshipped, like gods. Each family worshippedÂÂ
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