1700 BCE to 1100 BCE
Chou (also called Zhou, pronounced "joe") Dynasty
About 1100 BCE to 250 BCE
After Xia times,
first the Shang family and then the Chou family ruled ancient
China. Life was very similar under both ruling
first ruling family was the Shang. The Shang are famous for their
use of bronze, chopsticks, jade, silk, spices, oracle
bones, and a system of writing. The kingship was very odd. Instead of going from
father to son, it went from brother to brother or from brother to
nephew. The Shang justified their right to rule using the Mandate
of Heaven. (The
gods said they could rule.)
second family was the Chou. The Chou built roads and canals for
better trade and travel. They were interested in the sciences,
especially astronomy. Literature flourished. It was under the Chou
that ancient China was broken into feudal states.
most people, daily life was very similar during both
Clan leaders in various cities
during both the Shang and Chou Dynasties were always fighting each
other for control of land and cities. Each city was protected by a
huge wall made of
strong clay brick. A wall might be 30 feet high and 65 feet deep.
Some walls ran for miles.
the walls of a city lived nobles and priests: The nobles,
priests, and the king or emperor and his family, lived in
splendor. Their homes were palaces made of wood and clay bricks.
They were lavishly decorated with colorfully painted tiles and
bronze candlesticks. They had flower gardens and grew spices.
Their food was plentiful and delicious. Their clothes were made of
silk. They were buried in gorgeous tombs, filled with art and real
chariots. The kings, or the emperors, were buried with real people
and real animals, guards and dogs buried alive in their tombs to
the walls of a city lived craftsmen and merchants: Craftsmen and
merchants were not treated very well. The merchants and craftsmen
lived outside the walls in mud huts. They were supposed to be paid
for their work, usually in food. You could not change your place
in life. Whatever your father was, you were. The only exception
would be to join the military, and that was not usually a move up.
If the city was attacked, the craftsmen and merchants were not
brought inside the city walls. They were not considered important
enough. They were left to fend for themselves as best they
Not even near
the wall, Farmers: In small villages scattered around the
countryside lived the lowest class of people, the peasants. Most
of the ancient Chinese people during Shang and Chou times were
peasants. They were the farmers. Their life was very hard. Their
clothes were simple tunics and trousers. They had very few
belongings. They usually did not have any furniture in their
They did not own their
farms. Land was broken up into small plots. Each plot of land was
owned by a noble. Nobles might own many plots. But each plot was a
separate unit, each farmed by a peasant family. In exchange for working
all the time, the peasants got to keep some of the food they
produced. If they were caught hoarding extra food to feed their
families, they were killed.
the summer, peasants lived in bamboo temporary homes built on
their small plot of land.
They farmed with stone and wood tools.
the winter, they moved back into their village. Each family had
its own one room mud home. Since they were not farming, they worked without pay on
other projects. Some worked on the noble's home. Some repaired
bridges, roads, or canals for the king or emperor. Some were
taken by the military to be foot soldiers until it was time to
In the beginning, warriors tried to fight
with horse-drawn chariots. But chariots fell out of style. The
ground was too rough. Battles were fought on horseback and on
foot. Some warriors, the elite or top warriors, wore battle
clothes made of bronze. They rode horses, and carried metal daggers and spears and
axes. Most of the army was composed of foot soldiers.
They did not have battle clothes. They were usually peasants,
forced to leave their fields and family. They wore tattered tunics and
trousers. Their weapons were made of stone and their shields, if
they had any, were made of wood.
all people during Shang and Chou times, family was all important. The oldest
male of each family, from nobles to peasants, was the head of the household. Children were required to be
respectful, obedient, and to never argue. (If they did, they were
severely punished.) If one member of the family did something
wrong, the entire family was in disgrace and could be