A core Course of General Education An outline of the Traditional Chinese Culture 中国传统文化概览 Shandong University Contents



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Culture before the Qin Dynasty

Pre-Qin was a period of the Chinese culture starting from its embryonic stage to the stage when the basic form began to take shape. There were three main influences: the Eastern Yi culture, the Western Xia culture and the Southern Man culture. The Eastern Yi culture originated in the region of present Shandong Province and the northern part of Jiangsu Province in the lower Yellow River Valley. The leading figures were Taihao, Shaohao, Chiyou, Diku and Shun. The Western Xia culture originated in the region of present Shaanxi and Gansu provinces and the Southern Shanxi Province in the upper and middle Yellow River Valley. The renowned leaders included Yandi, Huangdi, Zhuanxu, and Yao. The Southern Man culture originated in the Yangtze-Huaihe Valley. The leader was Panhu. The Eastern Yi and Western Xia moved in the opposite directions along the Yellow River. In a long process of alternative conflict and peace, they gradually merged, thus becoming the predecessors of Hua Xia nationality. The culture collision and assimilation between Yi and Xia laid a foundation for China’s ancient civilization. After Hua Xia nationality moved southward and conquered the Southern Man, the embryonic form of the Chinese nation appeared. In honor of this, they held a memorial ceremony to enshrine their distant ancestors, Yandi and Huangdi. Thus, the Chinese nation can claim to be the descendants of Yandi and Huangdi.

The dynasties of Xia, Shang and Western Zhou are historically called “Three Dynasties”, during which the unified patriarchal state, based on the autocracy of royal right, was formed and developed. The notion of great national unity, i.e. “all the land under the sky belongs to the king; all the people within this country are the king’s subjects”, gradually came into being. The patriarchal culture of rites and music was completed, greatly influencing the development of the Chinese culture. Hence, China is called “the land of ceremony and propriety”. The ceremony and propriety have embodied the different social strata of nobles through pervasive and over-elaborate ritual formalities, their privilege and responsibility. The quintessence of material civilization of the Three Dynasties was the brilliant Bronze culture. The bronze wares, exquisite beyond compare, are the gems of ancient civilization of the world. The inscriptions on tortoise shells or animal bones of the Shang Dynasty, and the inscriptions on bronze or copper wares in the Western Zhou Dynasty demonstrated fairly mature writings. There was already evidence of what constitutes a character: pictographs, self-explanatory characters, associative compounds and pictophonetic method. Besides, literature recordings appeared using these types of characters.

The Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period witnessed a strong momentum of growth of the Chinese culture. This phase was characterized by the separatist regime. All the states vied with each other for supremacy and annexed others. Nevertheless the shared consciousness of national culture determined the nature of the wars between the rival principalities; and they had the effect of unifying the nation, by way of which China was reunited. In the process of the war, more states were involved, promoting the cultural fusion in a broader realm, which laid the basis for the foundation of the unitary feudal empire of the Qin-Han dynasties. Corresponding with the political separatist regime was the contention of numerous schools of thought of ideology. At the end of the Spring and Autumn Period, Confucius initiated the privately run school, breaking the academic monopoly set up by the notion that “education occurs nowhere but in the family of officials”. He founded the school of Confucianism. Confucius was a remarkable figure in carrying forward the Chinese culture and forging it ahead. He revised the cultural achievement of the Three Dynasties, i.e. The Five ClassicsThe Book of Songs, Collections of Ancient Texts, The Rites, The Book of Changes and The Spring and Autumn Annals. He put forward the ideology to integrate “rites” and “benevolence”, thus opening up a new prospect in the Chinese culture. At that time a variety of different schools in the field of ideology and culture emerged. They were allowed to deliver freely their political opinions and academic views, thus causing disputes over academic issues. These various doctrines became inexhaustible inspiration for the development of Chinese spiritual culture. Most of the schools of thought that formed after the Qin-Han dynasties were revised; novel ideas of the doctrines of the exponents of the various schools of thought during the period from pre-Qin times to the early years of the Han Dynasties became the origins of traditional Chinese spiritual culture. In the Spring and Autumn Period, China entered the Iron Age, therefore the economy developed by leaps and bounds in the Warring States Period.






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