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Most Ancient China

A Beginner's Guide for College Students


Introduction (This Page)
1. The Period of the Five Emperors
The Xià Dynasty
2. Archaeology of the Xià Dynasty
Excursus. A Look at the Map
3. Traditional History of the Xià Dynasty
The Shāng Dynasty
4. The Shāng Dynasty
5. Who Were the Shāng?
6The End of the Shāng
The Zhōu Dynasty
7. Background to the Zhōu Dynasty
8. The Zhōu Dynasty
Appendix: Major Pre-Shāng Archaeological Sites
Chronology Window


Overview. Written chronicles of Chinese history began to be kept beginning in the 9th century BC, and we have later copies of some of them. Other sources of information about early China are archaeological finds and a very rich collection of myths, legends, rumors, and traditions recounted by later writers. There are a great many contradictions and ambiguities in all of this material, but the archaeological finds are gradually coming into alignment with the written sources, and the story is becoming clearer.

Many of the actors of this period (including some who probably did not actually exist) continue to have an important place in the literature and folklore of modern China. Therefore many familiar names are mentioned here, and links are provided to popular stories about some of them.

Goal of This Essay. This web essay is intended to provide a basic background for college courses on Chinese history or anthropology. It covers the Neolithic period and Bronze Age through the middle of the Zhōu Dynasty [period 04].

At the end of each page after this one is a link to a multiple-choice quiz that can be used to review a few of the points made on the page. No record is kept of the results.

Page Conventions.

  1. This essay uses simplified characters 简体字. When the traditional characters are different, the characters are marked with dotted underlining, and the traditional characters are provided in a balloon available by holding your cursor over the characters.
  2. When the Romanized spelling is not given in the running text, the characters are marked with dotted underlinging, and the Romanization is provided in a balloon available by holding your cursor over the characters.
  3. Period and reign numbers are listed in a separate chronology window, Periods of Chinese History, listed among the links at the top of each page.
  4. For readers unfamiliar with Romanized Mandarin, a pronunciation guide is available.

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