Ruling Dynasties in China

1. The Zhou dynasty ruling was marked by aggravating a problem of threat from northern invaders – Mongols, Jurchne, and Xiongnu. Although nomadic people were a tribal society, they were in constant training for war and had continually threatened China’s dynasties. Since the Zhou dynasty period, the estimation of the effectiveness and political success of emperors was often based on the way of dealing with nomadic invaders. The most known defense against northern neighbors was The Great Wall of China, built first by Qin dynasty. After the dynasty’s fall, Hun dynasty took its place, but four centuries later it fell under the weight of internal differences and peasant rebellions, and the period of repeated invasions from the north started. For many years, China was under the reign of non-Chinese emperors. The following dynasties Tang and Song brought for China nothing but ruins (the result of peasant uprisings), the spread of bandits that affected the military and rocked the empire power foundation. The loss of military prestige coincided with nomad nations’ strengthening on China’s northern borders, and soon the Song dynasty was forced to abandon the north of China (1127 AD) (Imperial China). Half a century later, Mongols descended on the Southern Song that put an end to the Song dynasty and so the foundation of the Yuan, or Mongol, dynasty was laid. This period is characterized by the severe restrictions, such as forbidding the Chinese to hold government positions and the refusal of Mongols to adjust to Chinese culture (Imperial China).

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The Liao dynasty ruled over northern China for more than two hundred years. What accounted for the success of Liano dynasty was the internal tension inside the Tang dynasty empire. China disunity and the growth of the disaffected population led to the loss of the Tang dynasty influence. Almost the same reasons led to the success of the Mongols while conquering and establishing the authority: public anger, taxes policy disapproval, and weakening of the military. The success of Jin dynasty was predominated by the long (over 250 years) and effective control over military forces that made dynasty’s gaining the power only a matter of time.

2. The civil service examination system was as a method of civil officials’ recruitment. Based more on merit than family or political connections, it played a special role both in social and intellectual life of China for three hundred years up to the beginning of the XX century (Elman).

However, the origin of examination system goes back to the Han dynasty, when it was created to avoid building power based on family and friends of rulers. In 165 BC, Emperor Wendi introduced a system of examinations aiming to check the knowledge of Confucianclassics, focusing on the knowledge of Four Books and Five Classics (Books of Documents, Songs, Changes, Rites and Ceremonies) (2000 Years of Examinations). Though this system had a cultural importance, as the most significant texts were defined and determined to be learned, during the Hang period it served mostly for classifying preferable candidates. However, the system became more comprehensive during Tang dynasty, especially within Wu Zetian ruling. She included commoners, gentry, and people from previously under-represented regions to take the test. Such innovations not only guaranteed her popularity within all the area of China but also encouraged education even in the remotest corners of the empire. Apart from these, questions on policy matters followed by the interview and the composition of poetry were added to the examination.

During the Song dynasty, examination system became more entrenched and fair; officials were already selected mostly through the testing. During this period, exams started to be held anonymously, papers were recopied so as nobody could identify testee by his calligraphy. Reforms of this dynasty allowed people from lower classes to be prominent members of the political system, for example, Zhu Xi, who presented interpretations of the Four Classics that turned into Neo-Confucianism later. Moreover, they led to overall educational reform. The succeeding dynasty was known for its quota system that was based on the portioning population into four racially-based groups with province restrictions: Mongols, their non-Han allies, Northern Chinese, and Southern Chinese. It led to high distinction of the numbers of candidates from each province.

3. The period of history from Han through Song Dynasties (3rd century B.C. – 12th century A.D.) is the period when China’s principal philosophical study Confucianism was established. Together with a new form of government, the imperial bureaucracy, and new belief system, Buddhism, it created traditional Chinese society. It was male-centered society, in which women had to be subjected to their fathers and then to their husbands. Foot binding was a custom demonstrating severe restrictions for women.

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During the Han dynasty, there was a literature giving instructions for women about family virtues and teaching subservient behavior of females. As women had to work within households, in crop raising, cattle breeding and silk production, their contributions to the Chinese economy were considerable. However, there were class differences for women, with bigger restrictions for educated women. Nevertheless, some acquiescence was made for females from notable families. One of them was Ban Zhao, who is known as the first Chinese historian. Apart from her, Xishi, Wang Zhaojun, Diaochan, and Yang Yuhuan became well-known as those who sacrificed themselves for the peace and welfare of Chinese people.

An increase in power and prestige for women of royal, aristocratic, and official families can be observed during the Tang dynasty. It is known that Wu Zitian successfully ruled as emperor of the whole China for a considerable period (Tierney). Moreover, imperial concubines had a great influence in the capital. One of them, lady Yang, was loved by the emperor Xuan Zong so much that she succeeded to give her family government positions so that they were practically ruling the country. Though both of them were called heroines in literature, they became examples of how devastating the power could be for women.


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