The first dynasty to unite most of China under a single government was the Zhou Dynasty. The Zhou Dynasty is divided into two parts, the Western Zhou and the Eastern Zhou. The Eastern Zhou period is thought of as the 'shaping period' of Chinese culture. When the western Zhou started is uncertain but traditionally 1122 BC and 1027 BC are the dates given to us. The Zhou were a semi-nomadic clan from the north western fringe of the Chinese world. They replaced the Shang Dynasty. The capital was at Hao, near modern Xi'an. The government form there was a feudal monarchy. From a social standpoint the Western Zhou was quite similar to the Shang. The rulers were the nobles with family names and they practiced ancestor worship. Divination marked every important decision or event. Peasants were physically separated from other classes but were a key element. They carried out vital and supportive functions such as sewing and reaping.
The Eastern Zhou started around 771 BC at Luoyi, near modern Luoyang. The traditional western capital, at Hao, had been ruined by barbarians and was no longer habitable. For 20 years the kingdom was divided. The eastern part was ruled by Ping Wang, and the western part was ruled by the King of Hui. These kings were wounded in battle and that showed that the Zhou house no longer had any real power, but the symbolic role of the dynasty remained important. During the eastern Zhou period there were two major subdivisions; the Spring and Autumn. The end of the Zhou period is in 221 BC when the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty unified the land on a new imperial basis.
Return to Early China Chronology
The Eastern Zhou period is thought of as the 'shaping period' of Chinese culture. It is during this time when the uniqueness of China's recorded history begins, with the collections of documents, and historical romances coming to us. It was also during this time that the decline of the ancient forms of religion and the transformation into Confucianism and Daoism took place. From a social standpoint they created Legalism which is "a loose bundle of thinkers from different traditions rather than a proper school." This social organization was then adopted by other dynasties. It is also in this time that military thought and technology advanced.
Dolan, Ronald E & Worden, Robert L. China- A Country Study. Library of Congress, 1987.
Franke, Herbert & Twitchett, Denis. The Cambridge History of China. vol.6 Cambridge University Press, New York, 1994.