Thursday, May 18, 2017

G0d and Mankind, 4,000 Years Ago, Part VI China's Xia and Shang Dynasties

Nadene Goldfoot                                              
Man of Shang Dynasty from 1600 BCE
the 2nd Dynasty that took over from the
Xia Dynasty from 2700-1600 BCE. 
China was known to Persia.  "China is a country in East Asia whose culture is considered the oldest, still extant, in the world. The name `China’ comes from the Sanskrit Cina (derived from the name of the Chinese Qin Dynasty, pronounced `Chin’) which was translated as `Cin’ by the Persians and seems to have become popularized through trade along the Silk Road from China to the rest of the world.

Religious practices in ancient China go back over 7,000 years.   Long before the philosophical and spiritual teachings of Confucius and Lao-Tzu developed or before the teachings of the Buddha came to China, the people worshipped personifications of nature and then of concepts like "wealth" or "fortune" which developed into a religion.
3 Lucky gods-Fu, Lu and Shou

In China, religious beliefs are evident in the Yangshao Culture of the Yellow River Valley, which prospered between 5000-3000 BCE. At the Neolithic site of Banpo Village in modern Shaanxi Province (dated to between c. 4500-3750 BCE) 250 tombs were found containing grave goods, which point to a belief in life after death. There is also a ritualistic pattern to how the dead were buried with tombs oriented west to east to symbolize death and rebirth. Grave goods provide evidence of specific people in the village who acted as priests and presided over some kind of divination and religious observance.  Females were found in the graves but no males.  It was more of a matrilineal society.   Male deities were to be feared.  

Chinese mythology starts with Pangu, the creator of the universe, who separated heaven and earth with one swipe of his sword and a succession of legendary sage-emperors and cultural hero's Huang Di, Yao and Shun, who taught the ancient Chinese to communicate and to find substance, clothing and shelter.

Before the 1st Dynasty of Xia, " The legendary Three August Ones and Five Emperors are said to have preceded it.  In this Bronze Age society, delicate jade work was crafted, a calendar was created, trade and commodity exchange developed and the hereditary system of succession replaced what was known as the "abdication" system, in which the ruler retired and a successor was chosen based on ability.

The later doctrine of the "mandate of heaven,"came along  by which a ruler only ruled when they enjoyed the approval of the Heavenly sphere, but only a just ruler would be blessed. Rebellion against an unjust ruler is justifiable, since he has already forfeited heaven's approval.                                                        

 It was the sixth Xia king who reputably initiated "ancestor worship," making the king the protector of their "bones" and linking events on earth with the approval of the spirits of the dead.

From the Xia Dynasty there also comes a Flood narrative, only it is most practical and involves the invention of building dams for protection.  " Legend also speaks of a great flood that occurred in the Yellow River Valley. This flood assumedly washed away entire villages as well as valuable crop land. Survivors of this flood where forced to relocate. Gun was elected to take charge of the fight against the flood. Nine years where spent under Gun's leadership building dams and dykes.Yu, Gun's son, built a better dam.  The villagers who where displaced by the floods where now able to return and convert the once flooded lands into an agricultural area. In doing so they where able to produce such crops as tea, rice, millet and various fruits. Yu would now be known as "Yu the Great" by those who benefited from his efforts.  Such stories are telling about their leaders, Gun, Yu, and now his son, Qi.  "Yu passed power to his son Qi, setting the precedence for dynastic rule. The Xia Dynasty thus began a period of family or clan control.
Women from Shang Dynasty
"It was during this period that Chinese civilization developed a ruling structure that employed both a benign civilian government and harsh punishment for legal transgressions. From this the earliest forms of Chinese legal codes came into being. The sixth emperor, it is said, grew anxious that unjust rule and high taxes was alienating the people, so he introduced reforms designed to regain popular support. He is also credited with founding ancestor reverence, thus creating an enduring link in Chinese thought between the earthly and heavenly realms. In this thought system, it is only by earning the blessing of the spirits that can anyone prosper, and no one who acts unjustly will ever be blessed.                                                 
The end of the Xia Dynasty saw an increase in conflict, abuse of power and oppression. Resources where exhausted from the building of places and pavilions, causing the masses to flee in an attempt to escape the oppressive rule. Jie, the last ruler, was said to be a corrupt king. He was overthrown by Tang, the leader of Shang people from the east."

 -In the Shang Dynasty (about 2000 BC), the earliest period we know much about, people in China worshipped a lot of different gods - weather gods and sky gods - and also a higher god who ruled over the other gods, called Shang-Ti.  This follows the pattern of the Greeks and Romans in having a King of all the gods in their pantheon.  

 People who lived during the Shang Dynasty also believed that their ancestors - their parents and grandparents - became like gods when they died, and that their ancestors wanted to be worshipped too, like gods. Each family worshipped their own ancestors. To get the gods on their side, they sacrificed animals to them.  This is quite similar to Egypt's beliefs.  They had believed that the pharaoh was a living god.                                                                

By the time of the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) these religious beliefs had developed so that now there was a definite "king of the gods" named Shangti and many lesser gods of other names. Shangti presided over all the important matters of state and was a very busy god. He was rarely sacrificed to because people were encouraged not to bother him with their problems. Ancestor worship may have begun at this time but, more likely, started much earlier.

There were over 200 gods in the Chinese pantheon whose names were recorded during and after the Shang Dynasty. The early gods, before Shangti, were spirits of a place known as Tudi Gong ("Lord of the Place" or "Earth God").
The Great Wall of China came along much later.

It was an east-to-west line across the historical northern borders of China to protect the Chinese states and empires against the raids and invasions of the various nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe.  Chinese started building it in about 700 BCE.  

Resource: clothing video through the ages

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