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Political Organization in Early China

As in India, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, early societies in China arose along river systems, in this case the Yellow and Yangtze river valleys. Historians have identified agricultural settlements in these valleys dating back to 7,000 BCE, and by the middle of the third century BCE regional kingdoms had emerged throughout China.

Yellow River (Huang He)

Yangzi River (Chang Jiang)

The Xia dynasty emerged around 2,200 BCE and gained power/authority largely through its ability to subdue the Yellow River with flood-control projects.

The Shang dynasty succeeded the Xia around 1,766 BCE and ruled until 1,122 BCE. One of the factors that allowed for the rise of the Shang was technology, particularly the use of bronze weaponry and horse cavalry.

The Zhou dynasty replaced the Shang around 1,122 BCE and ruled until 256 BCE. The large area controlled by the Zhou necessitated a decentralization of authority in a system reminiscent of later European feudalism.

The Yellow River is violent and fast-flowing. It emerges in the Himalayan mountains and flows almost 3,000 miles into the Yellow Sea, carrying large amounts of yellow-colored silt along the way. The river’s violent floods have a positive effect. The silt deposited as a result is quite fertile. Agricultural surpluses produced as a result of natural irrigation/fertilization allowed for the rise of increasingly complex societies that required political organization.

The Yellow River

Huang He