Ancient China is a period in the history of China spanning the nearly two thousand years between 2100 and 221 BC, a time during which three imperial dynasties (Xia, Shang and Zhou) rose and fell and during which some of the most fundamental elements of Chinese culture came into being. The earliest known ancestor of the Chinese writing system, for instance, are found in artefacts from the time of the Xia Dynasty while the first written records of the Chinese language itself were produced under the Shang Dynasty. Furthermore, some scholars also include cultures from the Neolithic Period onward under this moniker making it refer to over 10,000 years of Chinese history.
Perhaps the most famous thing we have inherited from Ancient China, however, is the Great Wall. One of the eight wonders of the ancient world, construction first began on this gigantic border fortification was built from stone, brick, tamped earth and wood during the Shang Dynasty in the 7th Century BC. Some of its most famous parts were constructed as the era that we know as Ancient China was drawing to a close in the 3rd Century BC by the man who would unify China into a country bearing his name, Emperor Qin Shi Huang.
Most of the inhabitants of Ancient China lived off the land, either fishing or farming using the relatively advanced irrigation systems the Chinese had developed. Many also traded silk for goods that arrived from other countries as far away as the Roman Empire and ultimately the trade routes solidified into what we know refer to as the Silk Route. In developing an advanced trading economy the Ancient Chinese are often said to have become the first people to adopt metal coins as a means of buying and selling goods. Many other things invented by the Chinese during this period continue to be in use today including kites, fireworks, the compass, silk cloth and perhaps most importantly, bronze alloy.
Confucius, one of the most influential figures of Chinese history, also lived during this time in the 6th Century BC. He is known for having been a philosopher, politician and literary figure who wrote the famous texts that are known in English as the Five Classics as well as many other classic Chinese texts. Confucius' ideas have fallen in and out of favour over the course of history, being censored by governments as well as being adopted as official policy by others. What is certain is that few historical figures have had a greater effect upon Chinese culture than him.
Although many aspects of Chinese culture and society changed over the course of this period, one distinctive feature remained the same: grand burial chambers for the social elite including all of the figures mentioned above, many of whose tombs remain in existence today. As a matter of fact, there are so many of these around that there are still thousands of these tombs in China which have yet to be excavated meaning that there remains much about Ancient Chinese history that is still out there waiting to be discovered.
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