Amazing 1500 year-old Ancient Mural Discovered in China

Amazing 1500 year-old Ancient Mural Discovered in China


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Archaeologists in Shuozhou City, China, made an incredible discovery – an extremely well-preserved tomb where a military commander and his wife were buried approximately 1,500 years ago in the Northern Qi Dynasty. But what is particularly striking about this discovery are the colourful murals covering 80 square metres of the tomb.

While most of the tomb’s treasures had been looted, and the bodies were missing, the murals, drawn on plaster, are remarkably well-preserved and depict a man and a woman (most likely the occupants of the tomb) in various scenes. In one scene, for example, a man and woman are shown enjoying a banquet and in another, a man plays a harp while other musicians hold instruments. In addition to the commander’s wife, a number of other females are depicted in the murals, some of them musicians and some of them attendants.

However, the highlight of the tomb is the domed ceiling, which shows how the ancient Chinese viewed the heavens.

"The domed ceiling is painted uniformly in dark gray color to signify the infinite space of the sky. The Silver River (representing the Milky Way) flows across the sky from the southwest to the northeast, and inside the river are fine fish-scale patterns representing waves in the water," wrote archaeologist Liu Yan, who reported the discovery in the journal Chinese Archaeology. There are stars in the scene and the sun and moon are also represented, with the sun bearing a "gold crow" at its center. Supernatural beings and zodiac animals are depicted below this sky map.

When the tomb was first uncovered back in 2008, archaeologists immediately began excavating the site and conserving the murals. But appears the researchers were just in time: "Tomb robbers had already made preparations for removing the murals” Yan wrote. “The blue lines that were drawn to divide the murals into sections for cutting and the gauze fabric used for reinforcing the murals before detachment still remain on the surface of the walls.”

Archaeologists have concluded that the tomb was commissioned to be built by a local military commander who could afford a finely decorated tomb for himself and his wife to prepare them for the afterlife.


    Archaeology bombshell: Discovery of 'blue monster' in 1,400-year-old tomb rewrites history

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    Among others, a blue monster, a winged horse and a nude deity, known as the master of wind, were all found within the mysterious tomb. It is located in Xinzhou city, within a burial chamber containing an array of historical artifacts. The chamber had been severely damaged from looting, with the corpses of the tomb owners missing and only a few coffin fragments remaining.

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    However, the archaeologists discovered that parts of a passageway and corridor had not been looted, while several artifacts and many murals in every good condition, remained intact.

    The murals included impressive mythical imagery, as well as images of everyday people trading horses, hunting and working in a gatehouse.

    The report for the excavation read: "Themes on ascending to heaven, horse trading, hunting, [a] grand gatehouse and the rich styles of costumes all provide valuable information for the [research] on the social life, history, culture and military practices."

    Archaeology news: The discovery was made in China (Image: Chinese Archaeology and Chinesenews.com)

    Archaeology news: The blue monster mural (Image: Chinese Archaeology and Chinesenews.com)

    The find was unique because of the colourful murals covering 80 square meters of the tomb.

    Despite the fact some of the tomb's treasures had been looted and bodies were missing, the murals were well preserved.

    They illustrated a man and a woman in a variety of scenes, with one example being the pair enjoying a banquet and in another, a man plays a harp while other musicians hold instruments.

    Archaeology news: The chamber had a number of artifacts (Image: Chinese Archaeology and Chinesenews.com)

    Archaeology news: The illustrations baffled researchers (Image: Chinese Archaeology and Chinesenews.com)

    In addition to the commander&rsquos wife, a number of other females are depicted in the murals, some of them musicians and some of them attendants.

    China has become synonymous with ancient mural discoveries.

    In 2013, archaeologists excavating in Shuozhou City made an incredible discovery of an extremely well-preserved tomb where a military commander and his wife were buried approximately 1,500 years ago.

    In January 2015, another tomb was revealed when rain moved soil on a hillside in the region.

    Archaeology news: The mural was found in Xinzhou (Image: Chinese Archaeology and Chinesenews.com)

    Related articles

    The burial site dates back to the Yuan dynasty, from around 700 years ago,

    Later in 2015, archaeologists working in the ruins of the Neolithic Shimao Ruins identified mural fragments that showed brush strokes, which could imply the basic process of mural-making in China dates back about 4,000 years.

    Historians have attributed the invention of the brush much later, to a Chinese general, Meng Tian, during the Qin Dynasty of 221 to 207 BC, so that discovery was incredibly significant from a historical point of view.


    9 The Unknown Human

    When found in 2007 and 2014 respectively, two skulls created a buzz. Both were extracted from China&rsquos Lingjing site in the Henan province. They belonged to the same strange species: a modern human with Neanderthal features. [2]

    Similar to people today, the pair owned reduced brow lines, slight cranial vaults, and big brains. However, semicircular ear canals and a thicker skull at the back were Neanderthal. Additionally, the low broad brain case was a trait of early eastern Eurasian humans.

    Scientists involved in the study feel it&rsquos an unknown human branch, but others suggest these are the first Denisovan skulls. Related to Neanderthals, all that&rsquos ever been found of them is a finger bone and teeth. Living Chinese also have 0.1 percent Denisovan DNA. The Lingjing skulls are too ancient to yield the DNA sample that can solved this mystery. Aged 105,000&ndash125,000 years old, they do provide an opportunity to study human evolution in eastern Eurasia. It&rsquos likely that an unidentified archaic group lived alongside Neanderthals and modern humans, interbred, and passed down a mixed heritage for generations.


    Ancient cultures have long considered opal a special gemstone because of its ability to capture so many different colors. Turns out, that’s not all it can capture: researchers in Australia have identified at least four members of a new dinosaur species whose bones were preserved . read more

    When Joseph Merrick died at age 27, his body didn’t go into the ground in one piece. Instead, the bones of the so-called “Elephant Man” were bleached and put on display at Queen Mary University of London’s medical school, and some of his flesh was saved for medical study. Yet for . read more


    Thousand years of Tibetan masterpieces revealed for first time

    They are some of the greatest treasures of Tibetan Buddhist culture: ancient murals showing the life of the Buddha and the secrets of meditation. Many are hidden in remote monasteries or temples whose walls are crumbling, but a remarkable project has recorded the paintings before they disappear for ever.

    The American photographer and writer Thomas Laird spent a decade living among yak herders, farmers and monks while travelling across the Tibetan plateau in search of masterpieces that few have been able to see, let alone photograph.

    The result is 998 copies of Murals of Tibet, an enormous – more than 2ft-long – publication. All copies have been signed and blessed by the Dalai Lama, whose first lessons in Buddhism came from some of the murals before he could even read.

    Many of the paintings have become visible for the first time through Laird’s work. Some were created in windowless areas so high up that only fragments of the vast paintings have been glimpsed with torches and binoculars.

    Lord and Lady of the Cemetery (late 19th–early 20th century) in Nechung Chapel. Photograph: Thomas Laird

    Determined to convey the paintings’ spiritual and emotional significance, Laird developed a photographic “stitch system” that allowed 300 murals to be reproduced in extraordinary detail.

    “There’s a huge chapter of the world’s heritage that’s unknown and undocumented,” said Laird. “I was terrified that 1,000 years of these murals was going to be lost for future generations. There’s a thousand years of Tibetan murals that have been very difficult to see. If you go to Tibet, you can’t see the murals. Very often there’s a giant pillar in front of them or the murals begin 10ft in the air. And when you’re standing beneath them, you’re looking at a distorted view in darkness. But imagine seeing the great murals of Europe for the first time. That’s what we’ve done. It’s an amazing moment – a technological breakthrough.”

    His technique involved capturing hundreds of images of a mural which are blended together. “These are not photographs. I create new images that are faithful to what’s there, but when you go there you can’t see it. I’m making the invisible visible. Now, for the first time, you can read every single mural. You can see fingerprints from the original artists.”

    The lost murals include a 15th-century example at the Gongkar Choede monastery – an “enlightenment scene” depicting Buddha surrounded by a rainbow aura. Laird said: “I can show you images of it on the wall and then as a pile of rubble on the floor. It was painted by the greatest artist of the 15th century, Khyentse Chenmo. His hand was like Leonardo’s, conveying the most subtle nuances.” Water had seeped into the wall over the centuries until the plaster finally separated and the wall collapsed. Part of the Buddha’s face can now be seen in a fragment lying on the floor.

    “There are thousands of square metres of murals scattered across the Tibetan plateau of varying age, and it’s practically impossible to conserve them all,” he added.He writes in his book that “the murals were a layer in the Dalai Lama’s education, before he learned to read” and that Tibetans use a particular phrase about the greatest murals as having the power to generate, for the pilgrim, “thongdrol”, meaning “liberation through seeing”.

    Laird, a Buddhist convert, lived in Nepal for 35 years, working as a photojournalist for publications such as Time. His non-fiction books include a history of Tibet in which, over two years in the 1990s, he conducted 50 hours of interviews with the Dalai Lama, who nicknamed him “troublemaker”.

    Discussing the new Murals of Tibet publication, he said: “He’s never signed a 1,000 copies of a book before. That was an amazing moment.”

    The 1,200-page, two-volume study, with essays by international scholars on the murals’ philosophical and religious history and teachings, will be published this month by Taschen.


    Ancient Board Game Found in Looted China Tomb

    Pieces from a mysterious board game that hasn't been played for 1,500 years were discovered in a heavily looted 2,300-year-old tomb near Qingzhou City in China.

    There, archaeologists found a 14-face die made of animal tooth, 21 rectangular game pieces with numbers painted on them and a broken tile which was once part of a game board. The tile when reconstructed was "decorated with two eyes, which are surrounded by cloud-and-thunder patterns," wrote the archaeologists in a report published recently in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

    The skeleton of possibly one of the grave robbers was also discovered in a shaft made within the tomb by looters. [See Photos of the Ancient Tomb and Board Game Pieces]

    Dead game?
    Twelve faces of the die are numbered 1 through 6 in a form of ancient Chinese writing known as "seal script." Each number appears twice on the die while two faces were left blank, the researchers noted.

    The artifacts seem to be part of a game called "bo," sometimes referred to as "liubo" the archaeologists said. Researchers who have studied the game of bo are uncertain exactly how it was played. People stopped playing it around 1,500 years ago and the rules may have changed during the time that it was played.

    However, a poem written about 2,200 years ago by a man named Song Yu gives an idea as to what the game was like:

    "Then, with bamboo dice and ivory pieces, the game of Liu Bo is begun sides are taken they advance together keenly they threaten each other. Pieces are kinged, and the scoring doubled. Shouts of 'five white!' arise" (translation by David Hawkes).

    A panoramic view of the 2,300-year-old tomb (facing north), revealing two ramps that lead to a heavily robbed burial chamber.
    Credit: Image courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics

    Massive tomb
    The tomb itself has two large ramps that lead to a staircase descending into the burial chamber. Five pits holding grave goods for the deceased are located beside the tomb. In ancient times, the tomb&mdashwhich is about 330 feet (100 meters) long&mdashwas covered with a burial mound (now destroyed).

    At the time the tomb was built, China was divided into several states that often fought against each other. Archaeologists believe that this tomb was built to bury aristocrats from the state of Qi.

    "Despite the huge scale of the tomb, it has been thoroughly robbed," the archaeologists wrote. "The coffin chamber was almost completely dug out and robbed, suffering severe damage in the process."

    Archaeologists found 26 shafts dug into the tomb by looters. One of the shafts "yielded a curled-up human skeleton, which might be the remains of one of the tomb robbers," wrote the archaeologists, who said they don't know when this person died, why he or she was buried in the looting shaft, or the person's age or sex.

    Winner takes all
    During the third century B.C., a state called Qin, ruled by a man named Qin Shi Huangdi, gradually conquered the other states, including the state of Qi.

    Qi itself survived until 221 B.C., when Qin Shi Huangdi conquered it, unifying all of China and becoming the country's first emperor. Qin Shi Huangdi then began construction of his own tomb, which was guarded by a terracotta army.

    The tomb near Qingzhou city was excavated in 2004 by archaeologists from the Qingzhou Municipal Museum and Shandong Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. The finds were first reported in Chinese in 2014 in the journal Wenwu. Recently, the Wenwu article was translated into English and published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

    Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


    The Antikythera Mechanism

    electropod/Flickr A reconstruction of the Antikythera mechanism.

    At first glance, the Antikythera mechanism looked like an innocuous lump of bronze and wood on an ancient shipwreck. But in 1902, one of the archaeologists examining wreckage from a sunken Greek ship from 85 B.C. noticed something unusual. The "lump" had cracked open a bit — and inside he saw gear wheels.

    Often referred to as "the world's first computer," the Antikythera mechanism was actually a tool used in astronomy. Its two metal dials displayed the zodiac and the days of the year, with pointers indicating the location of the Sun, the Moon, and the five planets that were known to the Greeks at the time (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn).

    The astoundingly modern-looking ancient artifact consisted of 82 pieces, including about 30 interlocking gear wheels. Technology like this would not be seen again in Europe for another 1,000 years.

    Archaeologists were amazed at the discovery. However, it wasn't until X-ray technology became available that the complexity of the device was fully revealed. The technology fueling the Antikythera mechanism proved so advanced that some people believed aliens helped create the device.


    Contents

    Paleolithic (3.3 Ma

    What is now China was inhabited by Homo erectus more than a million years ago. [7] Recent study shows that the stone tools found at Xiaochangliang site are magnetostratigraphically dated to 1.36 million years ago. [8] The archaeological site of Xihoudu in Shanxi Province has evidence of use of fire by Homo erectus, [9] which is dated 1.27 million years ago, [7] and Homo erectus fossils in China include the Yuanmou Man, the Lantian Man and the Peking Man. Fossilised teeth of Homo sapiens dating to 125,000–80,000 BC have been discovered in Fuyan Cave in Dao County in Hunan. [10] Evidence of Middle Palaeolithic Levallois technology has been found in the lithic assemblage of Guanyindong Cave site in southwest China, dated to approximately 170,000–80,000 years ago. [11]

    Neolithic

    The Neolithic age in China can be traced back to about 10,000 BC. [12] The earliest evidence of cultivated rice, found by the Yangtze River, is carbon-dated to 8,000 years ago. [13] Early evidence for proto-Chinese millet agriculture is radiocarbon-dated to about 7000 BC. [14] Farming gave rise to the Jiahu culture (7000 to 5800 BC). At Damaidi in Ningxia, 3,172 cliff carvings dating to 6000–5000 BC have been discovered, "featuring 8,453 individual characters such as the sun, moon, stars, gods and scenes of hunting or grazing". [ attribution needed ] These pictographs are reputed to be similar to the earliest characters confirmed to be written Chinese. [15] Chinese proto-writing existed in Jiahu around 7000 BC, [16] Dadiwan from 5800 BC to 5400 BC, Damaidi around 6000 BC [17] and Banpo dating from the 5th millennium BC. Some scholars have suggested that Jiahu symbols (7th millennium BC) were the earliest Chinese writing system. [16] Excavation of a Peiligang culture site in Xinzheng county, Henan, found a community that flourished in 5,500 to 4,900 BC, with evidence of agriculture, constructed buildings, pottery, and burial of the dead. [18] With agriculture came increased population, the ability to store and redistribute crops, and the potential to support specialist craftsmen and administrators. [13] In late Neolithic times, the Yellow River valley began to establish itself as a center of Yangshao culture (5000 BC to 3000 BC), and the first villages were founded the most archaeologically significant of these was found at Banpo, Xi'an. [19] Later, Yangshao culture was superseded by the Longshan culture, which was also centered on the Yellow River from about 3000 BC to 2000 BC.

    Bronze Age

    Bronze artifacts have been found at the Majiayao culture site (between 3100 and 2700 BC). [20] [21] The Bronze Age is also represented at the Lower Xiajiadian culture (2200–1600 BC [22] ) site in northeast China. Sanxingdui located in what is now Sichuan province is believed to be the site of a major ancient city, of a previously unknown Bronze Age culture (between 2000 and 1200 BC). The site was first discovered in 1929 and then re-discovered in 1986. Chinese archaeologists have identified the Sanxingdui culture to be part of the ancient kingdom of Shu, linking the artifacts found at the site to its early legendary kings. [23] [24]

    Ferrous metallurgy begins to appear in the late 6th century in the Yangzi Valley. [25] A bronze tomahawk with a blade of meteoric iron excavated near the city of Gaocheng in Shijiazhuang (now Hebei province) has been dated to the 14th century BC. For this reason, authors such as Liana Chua and Mark Elliott have used the term "Iron Age" by convention for the transitional period of c. 500 BC to 100 BC, roughly corresponding to the Warring States period of Chinese historiography. [26] An Iron Age culture of the Tibetan Plateau has tentatively been associated with the Zhang Zhung culture described in early Tibetan writings.

    Xia dynasty (2070 – 1600 BC)

    The Xia dynasty of China (from c. 2070 to c. 1600 BC) is the first dynasty to be described in ancient historical records such as Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian and Bamboo Annals. [5] The dynasty was considered mythical by historians until scientific excavations found early Bronze Age sites at Erlitou, Henan in 1959. [27] With few clear records matching the Shang oracle bones, it remains unclear whether these sites are the remains of the Xia dynasty or of another culture from the same period. [28] Excavations that overlap the alleged time period of the Xia indicate a type of culturally similar groupings of chiefdoms. Early markings from this period found on pottery and shells are thought to be ancestral to modern Chinese characters. [29]

    According to ancient records, the dynasty ended around 1600 BC as a consequence of the Battle of Mingtiao.

    Shang dynasty (1600 – 1046 BC)

    Archaeological findings providing evidence for the existence of the Shang dynasty, c. 1600–1046 BC, are divided into two sets. The first set, from the earlier Shang period, comes from sources at Erligang, Zhengzhou, and Shangcheng. The second set, from the later Shang or Yin (殷) period, is at Anyang, in modern-day Henan, which has been confirmed as the last of the Shang's nine capitals (c. 1300–1046 BC). [ citation needed ] The findings at Anyang include the earliest written record of the Chinese so far discovered: inscriptions of divination records in ancient Chinese writing on the bones or shells of animals—the "oracle bones", dating from around 1250 BC. [1]

    A series of thirty-one kings reigned over the Shang dynasty. During their reign, according to the Records of the Grand Historian, the capital city was moved six times. [30] The final (and most important) move was to Yin in around 1300 BC which led to the dynasty's golden age. [30] The term Yin dynasty has been synonymous with the Shang dynasty in history, although it has lately been used to refer specifically to the latter half of the Shang dynasty.

    Chinese historians in later periods were accustomed to the notion of one dynasty succeeding another, but the political situation in early China was much more complicated. Hence, as some scholars of China suggest, the Xia and the Shang can refer to political entities that existed concurrently, just as the early Zhou existed at the same time as the Shang. [31]

    Although written records found at Anyang confirm the existence of the Shang dynasty, [32] Western scholars are often hesitant to associate settlements that are contemporaneous with the Anyang settlement with the Shang dynasty. For example, archaeological findings at Sanxingdui suggest a technologically advanced civilization culturally unlike Anyang. The evidence is inconclusive in proving how far the Shang realm extended from Anyang. The leading hypothesis is that Anyang, ruled by the same Shang in the official history, coexisted and traded with numerous other culturally diverse settlements in the area that is now referred to as China proper. [33]

    Bronze square ding (cauldron) with human faces.

    Bronze Battle Axe, Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BC). Excavated at Yidu, Shandong Province.

    A Shang dynasty bronze vessel to preserve drink

    Zhou dynasty (1046 – 256 BC)

    The Zhou dynasty (1046 BC to approximately 256 BC) is the longest-lasting dynasty in Chinese history. By the end of the 2nd millennium BC, the Zhou dynasty began to emerge in the Yellow River valley, overrunning the territory of the Shang. The Zhou appeared to have begun their rule under a semi-feudal system. The Zhou lived west of the Shang, and the Zhou leader was appointed Western Protector by the Shang. The ruler of the Zhou, King Wu, with the assistance of his brother, the Duke of Zhou, as regent, managed to defeat the Shang at the Battle of Muye.

    The king of Zhou at this time invoked the concept of the Mandate of Heaven to legitimize his rule, a concept that was influential for almost every succeeding dynasty. [ citation needed ] Like Shangdi, Heaven (tian) ruled over all the other gods, and it decided who would rule China. [34] It was believed that a ruler lost the Mandate of Heaven when natural disasters occurred in great number, and when, more realistically, the sovereign had apparently lost his concern for the people. In response, the royal house would be overthrown, and a new house would rule, having been granted the Mandate of Heaven.

    The Zhou initially moved their capital west to an area near modern Xi'an, on the Wei River, a tributary of the Yellow River, but they would preside over a series of expansions into the Yangtze River valley. This would be the first of many population migrations from north to south in Chinese history.

    Spring and Autumn period (722 – 476 BC)

    In the 8th century BC, power became decentralized during the Spring and Autumn period, named after the influential Spring and Autumn Annals. In this period, local military leaders used by the Zhou began to assert their power and vie for hegemony. The situation was aggravated by the invasion of other peoples from the northwest, such as the Qin, forcing the Zhou to move their capital east to Luoyang. This marks the second major phase of the Zhou dynasty: the Eastern Zhou. The Spring and Autumn period is marked by a falling apart of the central Zhou power. In each of the hundreds of states that eventually arose, local strongmen held most of the political power and continued their subservience to the Zhou kings in name only. Some local leaders even started using royal titles for themselves. China now consisted of hundreds of states, some of them only as large as a village with a fort.

    As the era continued, larger and more powerful states annexed or claimed suzerainty over smaller ones. By the 6th century BC most small states had disappeared by being annexed and just a few large and powerful principalities dominated China. Some southern states, such as Chu and Wu, claimed independence from the Zhou, who undertook wars against some of them (Wu and Yue). Many new cities were established in this period and Chinese culture was slowly shaped.

    Once all these powerful rulers had firmly established themselves within their respective dominions, the bloodshed focused more fully on interstate conflict in the Warring States period, which began when the three remaining élite families in the Jin state—Zhao, Wei and Han—partitioned the state. Many famous individuals such as Laozi, Confucius and Sun Tzu lived during this chaotic period.

    The Hundred Schools of Thought of Chinese philosophy blossomed during this period, and such influential intellectual movements as Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism and Mohism were founded, partly in response to the changing political world. The first two philosophical thoughts would have an enormous influence on Chinese culture.

    Warring States period (476 – 221 BC)

    After further political consolidation, seven prominent states remained by the end of the 5th century BC, and the years in which these few states battled each other are known as the Warring States period. Though there remained a nominal Zhou king until 256 BC, he was largely a figurehead and held little real power.

    Numerous developments were made during this period in culture and mathematics. Examples include an important literary achievement, the Zuo zhuan on the Spring and Autumn Annals, which summarizes the preceding Spring and Autumn period, and the bundle of 21 bamboo slips from the Tsinghua collection, which was invented during this period dated to 305 BC, are the world's earliest example of a two digit decimal multiplication table, indicating that sophisticated commercial arithmetic was already established during this period. [35]

    As neighboring territories of these warring states, including areas of modern Sichuan and Liaoning, were annexed, they were governed under the new local administrative system of commandery and prefecture. This system had been in use since the Spring and Autumn period, and parts can still be seen in the modern system of Sheng and Xian (province and county).

    The final expansion in this period began during the reign of Ying Zheng, the king of Qin. His unification of the other six powers, and further annexations in the modern regions of Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong and Guangxi in 214 BC, enabled him to proclaim himself the First Emperor (Qin Shi Huang).

    The Imperial China Period can be divided into three sub-periods: Early, Middle, and Late.

    Major events in the Early sub-period include the Qin unification of China and their replacement by the Han, the First Split followed by the Jin unification, and the loss of north China. The Middle sub-period was marked by the Sui unification and their supplementation by the Tang, the Second Split, and the Song unification. The Late sub-period included the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties.

    Qin dynasty (221 – 206 BC)

    Historians often refer to the period from the Qin dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty as Imperial China. Though the unified reign of the First Qin Emperor lasted only 12 years, he managed to subdue great parts of what constitutes the core of the Han Chinese homeland and to unite them under a tightly centralized Legalist government seated at Xianyang (close to modern Xi'an). The doctrine of Legalism that guided the Qin emphasized strict adherence to a legal code and the absolute power of the emperor. This philosophy, while effective for expanding the empire in a military fashion, proved unworkable for governing it in peacetime. The Qin Emperor presided over the brutal silencing of political opposition, including the event known as the burning of books and burying of scholars. This would be the impetus behind the later Han synthesis incorporating the more moderate schools of political governance.

    Major contributions of the Qin include the concept of a centralized government, and the unification and development of the legal code, the written language, measurement, and currency of China after the tribulations of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods. Even something as basic as the length of axles for carts—which need to match ruts in the roads—had to be made uniform to ensure a viable trading system throughout the empire. Also as part of its centralization, the Qin connected the northern border walls of the states it defeated, making the first, though rough, version of the Great Wall of China.

    The tribes of the north, collectively called the Wu Hu by the Qin, were free from Chinese rule during the majority of the dynasty. [36] Prohibited from trading with Qin dynasty peasants, the Xiongnu tribe living in the Ordos region in northwest China often raided them instead, prompting the Qin to retaliate. After a military campaign led by General Meng Tian, the region was conquered in 215 BC and agriculture was established the peasants, however, were discontented and later revolted. The succeeding Han dynasty also expanded into the Ordos due to overpopulation, but depleted their resources in the process. Indeed, this was true of the dynasty's borders in multiple directions modern Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, Manchuria, and regions to the southeast were foreign to the Qin, and even areas over which they had military control were culturally distinct. [37]

    After Emperor Qin Shi Huang's unnatural death due to the consumption of mercury pills, [38] the Qin government drastically deteriorated and eventually capitulated in 207 BC after the Qin capital was captured and sacked by rebels, which would ultimately lead to the establishment of a new dynasty of a unified China. [39] Despite the short 15-year duration of the Qin dynasty, it was immensely influential on China and the structure of future Chinese dynasties.

    Han dynasty (206 BC – AD 220)

    Western Han

    The Han dynasty was founded by Liu Bang, who emerged victorious in the Chu–Han Contention that followed the fall of the Qin dynasty. A golden age in Chinese history, the Han dynasty's long period of stability and prosperity consolidated the foundation of China as a unified state under a central imperial bureaucracy, which was to last intermittently for most of the next two millennia. During the Han dynasty, territory of China was extended to most of the China proper and to areas far west. Confucianism was officially elevated to orthodox status and was to shape the subsequent Chinese civilization. Art, culture and science all advanced to unprecedented heights. With the profound and lasting impacts of this period of Chinese history, the dynasty name "Han" had been taken as the name of the Chinese people, now the dominant ethnic group in modern China, and had been commonly used to refer to Chinese language and written characters. The Han dynasty also saw many mathematical innovations being invented such as the method of Gaussian elimination which appeared in the Chinese mathematical text Chapter Eight Rectangular Arrays of The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art. Its use is illustrated in eighteen problems, with two to five equations. The first reference to the book by this title is dated to 179 AD, but parts of it were written as early as approximately 150 BC, more than 1500 years before a European came up with the method in the 18th century. [40]

    After the initial laissez-faire policies of Emperors Wen and Jing, the ambitious Emperor Wu brought the empire to its zenith. To consolidate his power, Confucianism, which emphasizes stability and order in a well-structured society, was given exclusive patronage to be the guiding philosophical thoughts and moral principles of the empire. Imperial Universities were established to support its study and further development, while other schools of thought were discouraged.

    Major military campaigns were launched to weaken the nomadic Xiongnu Empire, limiting their influence north of the Great Wall. Along with the diplomatic efforts led by Zhang Qian, the sphere of influence of the Han Empire extended to the states in the Tarim Basin, opened up the Silk Road that connected China to the west, stimulating bilateral trade and cultural exchange. To the south, various small kingdoms far beyond the Yangtze River Valley were formally incorporated into the empire.

    Emperor Wu also dispatched a series of military campaigns against the Baiyue tribes. The Han annexed Minyue in 135 BC and 111 BC, Nanyue in 111 BC, and Dian in 109 BC. [41] Migration and military expeditions led to the cultural assimilation of the south. [42] It also brought the Han into contact with kingdoms in Southeast Asia, introducing diplomacy and trade. [43]

    After Emperor Wu, the empire slipped into gradual stagnation and decline. Economically, the state treasury was strained by excessive campaigns and projects, while land acquisitions by elite families gradually drained the tax base. Various consort clans exerted increasing control over strings of incompetent emperors and eventually the dynasty was briefly interrupted by the usurpation of Wang Mang.

    Xin dynasty

    In AD 9, the usurper Wang Mang claimed that the Mandate of Heaven called for the end of the Han dynasty and the rise of his own, and he founded the short-lived Xin dynasty. Wang Mang started an extensive program of land and other economic reforms, including the outlawing of slavery and land nationalization and redistribution. These programs, however, were never supported by the landholding families, because they favored the peasants. The instability of power brought about chaos, uprisings, and loss of territories. This was compounded by mass flooding of the Yellow River silt buildup caused it to split into two channels and displaced large numbers of farmers. Wang Mang was eventually killed in Weiyang Palace by an enraged peasant mob in AD 23.

    Eastern Han

    Emperor Guangwu reinstated the Han dynasty with the support of landholding and merchant families at Luoyang, east of the former capital Xi'an. Thus, this new era is termed the Eastern Han dynasty. With the capable administrations of Emperors Ming and Zhang, former glories of the dynasty was reclaimed, with brilliant military and cultural achievements. The Xiongnu Empire was decisively defeated. The diplomat and general Ban Chao further expanded the conquests across the Pamirs to the shores of the Caspian Sea, [44] thus reopening the Silk Road, and bringing trade, foreign cultures, along with the arrival of Buddhism. With extensive connections with the west, the first of several Roman embassies to China were recorded in Chinese sources, coming from the sea route in AD 166, and a second one in AD 284.

    The Eastern Han dynasty was one of the most prolific era of science and technology in ancient China, notably the historic invention of papermaking by Cai Lun, and the numerous scientific and mathematical contributions by the famous polymath Zhang Heng.

    Three Kingdoms (AD 220 – 280)

    By the 2nd century, the empire declined amidst land acquisitions, invasions, and feuding between consort clans and eunuchs. The Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out in AD 184, ushering in an era of warlords. In the ensuing turmoil, three states tried to gain predominance in the period of the Three Kingdoms, since greatly romanticized in works such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

    After Cao Cao reunified the north in 208, his son proclaimed the Wei dynasty in 220. Soon, Wei's rivals Shu and Wu proclaimed their independence, leading China into the Three Kingdoms period. This period was characterized by a gradual decentralization of the state that had existed during the Qin and Han dynasties, and an increase in the power of great families.

    In 266, the Jin dynasty overthrew the Wei and later unified the country in 280, but this union was short-lived.

    Jin dynasty (AD 266 – 420)

    The Jin dynasty was severely weakened by internecine fighting among imperial princes and lost control of northern China after non-Han Chinese settlers rebelled and captured Luoyang and Chang'an. In 317, a Jin prince in modern-day Nanjing became emperor and continued the dynasty, now known as the Eastern Jin, which held southern China for another century. Prior to this move, historians refer to the Jin dynasty as the Western Jin.

    Northern China fragmented into a series of independent kingdoms, most of which were founded by Xiongnu, Xianbei, Jie, Di and Qiang rulers. These non-Han peoples were ancestors of the Turks, Mongols, and Tibetans. Many had, to some extent, been "sinicized" long before their ascent to power. In fact, some of them, notably the Qiang and the Xiongnu, had already been allowed to live in the frontier regions within the Great Wall since late Han times. During the period of the Sixteen Kingdoms, warfare ravaged the north and prompted large-scale Han Chinese migration south to the Yangtze River Basin and Delta.

    Northern and Southern dynasties (AD 420 – 589)

    In the early 5th century, China entered a period known as the Northern and Southern dynasties, in which parallel regimes ruled the northern and southern halves of the country. In the south, the Eastern Jin gave way to the Liu Song, Southern Qi, Liang and finally Chen. Each of these Southern dynasties were led by Han Chinese ruling families and used Jiankang (modern Nanjing) as the capital. They held off attacks from the north and preserved many aspects of Chinese civilization, while northern barbarian regimes began to sinify.

    In the north, the last of the Sixteen Kingdoms was extinguished in 439 by the Northern Wei, a kingdom founded by the Xianbei, a nomadic people who unified northern China. The Northern Wei eventually split into the Eastern and Western Wei, which then became the Northern Qi and Northern Zhou. These regimes were dominated by Xianbei or Han Chinese who had married into Xianbei families. During this period most Xianbei people adopted Han surnames, eventually leading to complete assimilation into the Han.

    Despite the division of the country, Buddhism spread throughout the land. In southern China, fierce debates about whether Buddhism should be allowed were held frequently by the royal court and nobles. By the end of the era, Buddhists and Taoists had become much more tolerant of each other.

    Sui dynasty (AD 581 – 618)

    The short-lived Sui dynasty was a pivotal period in Chinese history. Founded by Emperor Wen in 581 in succession of the Northern Zhou, the Sui went on to conquer the Southern Chen in 589 to reunify China, ending three centuries of political division. The Sui pioneered many new institutions, including the government system of Three Departments and Six Ministries, imperial examinations for selecting officials from commoners, while improved on the systems of fubing system of the army conscription and the Equal-field system of land distributions. These policies, which were adopted by later dynasties, brought enormous population growth, and amassed excessive wealth to the state. Standardized coinage were enforced throughout the unified empire. Buddhism took root as a prominent religion and was supported officially. Sui China was known for its numerous mega-construction projects. Intended for grains shipment and transporting troops, the Grand Canal was constructed, linking the capitals Daxing (Chang'an) and Luoyang to the wealthy southeast region, and in another route, to the northeast border. The Great Wall was also expanded, while series of military conquests and diplomatic maneuvers further pacified its borders. However, the massive invasions of the Korean Peninsula during the Goguryeo–Sui War failed disastrously, triggering widespread revolts that led to the fall of the dynasty.

    Tang dynasty (AD 618 – 907)

    The Tang dynasty was a golden age of Chinese civilization, a prosperous, stable, and creative period with significant developments in culture, art, literature, particularly poetry, and technology. Buddhism became the predominant religion for the common people. Chang'an (modern Xi'an), the national capital, was the largest city in the world during its time. [45]

    The first emperor, Emperor Gaozu, came to the throne on 18 June 618, placed there by his son, Li Shimin, who became the second emperor, Taizong, one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history. Combined military conquests and diplomatic maneuvers reduced threats from Central Asian tribes, extended the border, and brought neighboring states into a tributary system. Military victories in the Tarim Basin kept the Silk Road open, connecting Chang'an to Central Asia and areas far to the west. In the south, lucrative maritime trade routes from port cities such as Guangzhou connected with distant countries, and foreign merchants settled in China, encouraging a cosmopolitan culture. The Tang culture and social systems were observed and adapted by neighboring countries, most notably, Japan. Internally the Grand Canal linked the political heartland in Chang'an to the agricultural and economic centers in the eastern and southern parts of the empire. Xuanzang, a Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveller, and translator who travelled to India on his own, and returned with, "over six hundred Mahayana and Hinayana texts, seven statues of the Buddha and more than a hundred sarira relics."

    The prosperity of the early Tang dynasty was abetted by a centralized bureaucracy. The government was organized as "Three Departments and Six Ministries" to separately draft, review, and implement policies. These departments were run by royal family members and landed aristocrats, but as the dynasty wore on, were joined or replaced by scholar officials selected by imperial examinations, setting patterns for later dynasties.

    Under the Tang "equal-field system" all land was owned by the Emperor and granted to each family according to household size. Men granted land were conscripted for military service for a fixed period each year, a military policy known as the "Fubing system". These policies stimulated a rapid growth in productivity and a significant army without much burden on the state treasury. By the dynasty's midpoint, however, standing armies had replaced conscription, and land was continuously falling into the hands of private owners and religious institutions granted exemptions.

    The dynasty continued to flourish under the rule of Empress Wu Zetian, the only empress regnant in Chinese history, and reached its zenith during the long reign of Emperor Xuanzong, who oversaw an empire that stretched from the Pacific to the Aral Sea with at least 50 million people. There were vibrant artistic and cultural creations, including works of the greatest Chinese poets, Li Bai, and Du Fu.

    At the zenith of prosperity of the empire, the An Lushan Rebellion from 755 to 763 was a watershed event. War, disease, and economic disruption devastated the population and drastically weakened the central imperial government. Upon suppression of the rebellion, regional military governors, known as Jiedushi, gained increasingly autonomous status. With loss of revenue from land tax, the central imperial government came to rely heavily on salt monopoly. Externally, former submissive states raided the empire and the vast border territories were lost for centuries. Nevertheless, civil society recovered and thrived amidst the weakened imperial bureaucracy.

    In late Tang period, the empire was worn out by recurring revolts of regional warlords, while internally, as scholar-officials engaged in fierce factional strife, corrupted eunuchs amassed immense power. Catastrophically, the Huang Chao Rebellion, from 874 to 884, devastated the entire empire for a decade. The sack of the southern port Guangzhou in 879 was followed by the massacre of most of its inhabitants, especially the large foreign merchant enclaves. [48] [49] By 881, both capitals, Luoyang and Chang'an, fell successively. The reliance on ethnic Han and Turkic warlords in suppressing the rebellion increased their power and influence. Consequently, the fall of the dynasty following Zhu Wen's usurpation led to an era of division.

    Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (AD 907 – 960)

    The period of political disunity between the Tang and the Song, known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, lasted from 907 to 960. During this half-century, China was in all respects a multi-state system. Five regimes, namely, (Later) Liang, Tang, Jin, Han and Zhou, rapidly succeeded one another in control of the traditional Imperial heartland in northern China. Among the regimes, rulers of (Later) Tang, Jin and Han were sinicized Shatuo Turks, which ruled over the ethnic majority of Han Chinese. More stable and smaller regimes of mostly ethnic Han rulers coexisted in south and western China over the period, cumulatively constituted the "Ten Kingdoms".

    Amidst political chaos in the north, the strategic Sixteen Prefectures (region along today's Great Wall) were ceded to the emerging Khitan Liao dynasty, which drastically weakened the defense of the China proper against northern nomadic empires. To the south, Vietnam gained lasting independence after being a Chinese prefecture for many centuries. With wars dominated in Northern China, there were mass southward migrations of population, which further enhanced the southward shift of cultural and economic centers in China. The era ended with the coup of Later Zhou general Zhao Kuangyin, and the establishment of the Song dynasty in 960, which eventually annihilated the remains of the "Ten Kingdoms" and reunified China.

    Song, Liao, Jin, and Western Xia dynasties (AD 960 – 1279)

    In 960, the Song dynasty was founded by Emperor Taizu, with its capital established in Kaifeng (also known as Bianjing). In 979, the Song dynasty reunified most of the China proper, while large swaths of the outer territories were occupied by sinicized nomadic empires. The Khitan Liao dynasty, which lasted from 907 to 1125, ruled over Manchuria, Mongolia, and parts of Northern China. Meanwhile, in what are now the north-western Chinese provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi, and Ningxia, the Tangut tribes founded the Western Xia dynasty from 1032 to 1227.

    Aiming to recover the strategic Sixteen Prefectures lost in the previous dynasty, campaigns were launched against the Liao dynasty in the early Song period, which all ended in failure. Then in 1004, the Liao cavalry swept over the exposed North China Plain and reached the outskirts of Kaifeng, forcing the Song's submission and then agreement to the Chanyuan Treaty, which imposed heavy annual tributes from the Song treasury. The treaty was a significant reversal of Chinese dominance of the traditional tributary system. Yet the annual outflow of Song's silver to the Liao was paid back through the purchase of Chinese goods and products, which expanded the Song economy, and replenished its treasury. This dampened the incentive for the Song to further campaign against the Liao. Meanwhile, this cross-border trade and contact induced further sinicization within the Liao Empire, at the expense of its military might which was derived from its primitive nomadic lifestyle. Similar treaties and social-economical consequences occurred in Song's relations with the Jin dynasty.

    Within the Liao Empire, the Jurchen tribes revolted against their overlords to establish the Jin dynasty in 1115. In 1125, the devastating Jin cataphract annihilated the Liao dynasty, while remnants of Liao court members fled to Central Asia to found the Qara Khitai Empire (Western Liao dynasty). Jin's invasion of the Song dynasty followed swiftly. In 1127, Kaifeng was sacked, a massive catastrophe known as the Jingkang Incident, ending the Northern Song dynasty. Later the entire north of China was conquered. The survived members of Song court regrouped in the new capital city of Hangzhou, and initiated the Southern Song dynasty, which ruled territories south of the Huai River. In the ensuing years, the territory and population of China were divided between the Song dynasty, the Jin dynasty and the Western Xia dynasty. The era ended with the Mongol conquest, as Western Xia fell in 1227, the Jin dynasty in 1234, and finally the Southern Song dynasty in 1279.

    Despite its military weakness, the Song dynasty is widely considered to be the high point of classical Chinese civilization. The Song economy, facilitated by technology advancement, had reached a level of sophistication probably unseen in world history before its time. The population soared to over 100 million and the living standards of common people improved tremendously due to improvements in rice cultivation and the wide availability of coal for production. The capital cities of Kaifeng and subsequently Hangzhou were both the most populous cities in the world for their time, and encouraged vibrant civil societies unmatched by previous Chinese dynasties. Although land trading routes to the far west were blocked by nomadic empires, there were extensive maritime trade with neighboring states, which facilitated the use of Song coinage as the de facto currency of exchange. Giant wooden vessels equipped with compasses traveled throughout the China Seas and northern Indian Ocean. The concept of insurance was practised by merchants to hedge the risks of such long-haul maritime shipments. With prosperous economic activities, the historically first use of paper currency emerged in the western city of Chengdu, as a supplement to the existing copper coins.

    The Song dynasty was considered to be the golden age of great advancements in science and technology of China, thanks to innovative scholar-officials such as Su Song (1020–1101) and Shen Kuo (1031–1095). Inventions such as the hydro-mechanical astronomical clock, the first continuous and endless power-transmitting chain, woodblock printing and paper money were all invented during the Song dynasty.

    There was court intrigue between the political reformers and conservatives, led by the chancellors Wang Anshi and Sima Guang, respectively. By the mid-to-late 13th century, the Chinese had adopted the dogma of Neo-Confucian philosophy formulated by Zhu Xi. Enormous literary works were compiled during the Song dynasty, such as the historical work, the Zizhi Tongjian ("Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government"). The invention of movable-type printing further facilitated the spread of knowledge. Culture and the arts flourished, with grandiose artworks such as Along the River During the Qingming Festival and Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute, along with great Buddhist painters such as the prolific Lin Tinggui.

    The Song dynasty was also a period of major innovation in the history of warfare. Gunpowder, while invented in the Tang dynasty, was first put into use in battlefields by the Song army, inspiring a succession of new firearms and siege engines designs. During the Southern Song dynasty, as its survival hinged decisively on guarding the Yangtze and Huai River against the cavalry forces from the north, the first standing navy in China was assembled in 1132, with its admiral's headquarters established at Dinghai. Paddle-wheel warships equipped with trebuchets could launch incendiary bombs made of gunpowder and lime, as recorded in Song's victory over the invading Jin forces at the Battle of Tangdao in the East China Sea, and the Battle of Caishi on the Yangtze River in 1161.

    The advances in civilization during the Song dynasty came to an abrupt end following the devastating Mongol conquest, during which the population sharply dwindled, with a marked contraction in economy. Despite viciously halting Mongol advance for more than three decades, the Southern Song capital Hangzhou fell in 1276, followed by the final annihilation of the Song standing navy at the Battle of Yamen in 1279.

    Yuan dynasty (AD 1271 – 1368)

    The Yuan dynasty was formally proclaimed in 1271, when the Great Khan of Mongol, Kublai Khan, one of the grandsons of Genghis Khan, assumed the additional title of Emperor of China, and considered his inherited part of the Mongol Empire as a Chinese dynasty. In the preceding decades, the Mongols had conquered the Jin dynasty in Northern China, and the Southern Song dynasty fell in 1279 after a protracted and bloody war. The Mongol Yuan dynasty became the first conquest dynasty in Chinese history to rule the entire China proper and its population as an ethnic minority. The dynasty also directly controlled the Mongolian heartland and other regions, inheriting the largest share of territory of the divided Mongol Empire, which roughly coincided with the modern area of China and nearby regions in East Asia. Further expansion of the empire was halted after defeats in the invasions of Japan and Vietnam. Following the previous Jin dynasty, the capital of Yuan dynasty was established at Khanbaliq (also known as Dadu, modern-day Beijing). The Grand Canal was reconstructed to connect the remote capital city to economic hubs in southern part of China, setting the precedence and foundation where Beijing would largely remain as the capital of the successive regimes that unified China mainland.

    After the peace treaty in 1304 that ended a series of Mongol civil wars, the emperors of the Yuan dynasty were upheld as the nominal Great Khan (Khagan) of the greater Mongol Empire over other Mongol Khanates, which nonetheless remained de facto autonomous. The era was known as Pax Mongolica, when much of the Asian continent was ruled by the Mongols. For the first and only time in history, the silk road was controlled entirely by a single state, facilitating the flow of people, trade, and cultural exchange. Network of roads and a postal system were established to connect the vast empire. Lucrative maritime trade, developed from the previous Song dynasty, continued to flourish, with Quanzhou and Hangzhou emerging as the largest ports in the world. Adventurous travelers from the far west, most notably the Venetian, Marco Polo, would have settled in China for decades. Upon his return, his detail travel record inspired generations of medieval Europeans with the splendors of the far East. The Yuan dynasty was the first ancient economy, where paper currency, known at the time as Jiaochao, was used as the predominant medium of exchange. Its unrestricted issuance in the late Yuan dynasty inflicted hyperinflation, which eventually brought the downfall of the dynasty.

    While the Mongol rulers of the Yuan dynasty adopted substantially to Chinese culture, their sinicization was of lesser extent compared to earlier conquest dynasties in Chinese history. For preserving racial superiority as the conqueror and ruling class, traditional nomadic customs and heritage from the Mongolian steppe were held in high regard. On the other hand, the Mongol rulers also adopted flexibly to a variety of cultures from many advanced civilizations within the vast empire. Traditional social structure and culture in China underwent immense transform during the Mongol dominance. Large group of foreign migrants settled in China, who enjoyed elevated social status over the majority Han Chinese, while enriching Chinese culture with foreign elements. The class of scholar officials and intellectuals, traditional bearers of elite Chinese culture, lost substantial social status. This stimulated the development of culture of the common folks. There were prolific works in zaju variety shows and literary songs (sanqu), which were written in a distinctive poetry style known as qu. Novels of vernacular style gained unprecedented status and popularity.

    Before the Mongol invasion, Chinese dynasties reported approximately 120 million inhabitants after the conquest had been completed in 1279, the 1300 census reported roughly 60 million people. [50] This major decline is not necessarily due only to Mongol killings. Scholars such as Frederick W. Mote argue that the wide drop in numbers reflects an administrative failure to record rather than an actual decrease others such as Timothy Brook argue that the Mongols created a system of enserfment among a huge portion of the Chinese populace, causing many to disappear from the census altogether other historians including William McNeill and David Morgan consider that plague was the main factor behind the demographic decline during this period. In the 14th century China suffered additional depredations from epidemics of plague, estimated to have killed 25 million people, 30% of the population of China. [51]

    Throughout the Yuan dynasty, there was some general sentiment among the populace against the Mongol dominance. Yet rather than the nationalist cause, it was mainly strings of natural disasters and incompetent governance that triggered widespread peasant uprisings since the 1340s. After the massive naval engagement at Lake Poyang, Zhu Yuanzhang prevailed over other rebel forces in the south. He proclaimed himself emperor and founded the Ming dynasty in 1368. The same year his northern expedition army captured the capital Khanbaliq. The Yuan remnants fled back to Mongolia and sustained the regime. Other Mongol Khanates in Central Asia continued to exist after the fall of Yuan dynasty in China.

    Ming dynasty (AD 1368 – 1644)

    The Ming dynasty was founded by Zhu Yuanzhang in 1368, who proclaimed himself as the Hongwu Emperor. The capital was initially set at Nanjing, and was later moved to Beijing from Yongle Emperor's reign onward.

    Urbanization increased as the population grew and as the division of labor grew more complex. Large urban centers, such as Nanjing and Beijing, also contributed to the growth of private industry. In particular, small-scale industries grew up, often specializing in paper, silk, cotton, and porcelain goods. For the most part, however, relatively small urban centers with markets proliferated around the country. Town markets mainly traded food, with some necessary manufactures such as pins or oil.

    Despite the xenophobia and intellectual introspection characteristic of the increasingly popular new school of neo-Confucianism, China under the early Ming dynasty was not isolated. Foreign trade and other contacts with the outside world, particularly Japan, increased considerably. Chinese merchants explored all of the Indian Ocean, reaching East Africa with the voyages of Zheng He.

    The Hongwu Emperor, being the only founder of a Chinese dynasty who was also of peasant origin, had laid the foundation of a state that relied fundamentally in agriculture. Commerce and trade, which flourished in the previous Song and Yuan dynasties, were less emphasized. Neo-feudal landholdings of the Song and Mongol periods were expropriated by the Ming rulers. Land estates were confiscated by the government, fragmented, and rented out. Private slavery was forbidden. Consequently, after the death of the Yongle Emperor, independent peasant landholders predominated in Chinese agriculture. These laws might have paved the way to removing the worst of the poverty during the previous regimes. Towards later era of the Ming dynasty, with declining government control, commerce, trade and private industries revived.

    The dynasty had a strong and complex central government that unified and controlled the empire. The emperor's role became more autocratic, although Hongwu Emperor necessarily continued to use what he called the "Grand Secretariat" to assist with the immense paperwork of the bureaucracy, including memorials (petitions and recommendations to the throne), imperial edicts in reply, reports of various kinds, and tax records. It was this same bureaucracy that later prevented the Ming government from being able to adapt to changes in society, and eventually led to its decline.

    The Yongle Emperor strenuously tried to extend China's influence beyond its borders by demanding other rulers send ambassadors to China to present tribute. A large navy was built, including four-masted ships displacing 1,500 tons. A standing army of 1 million troops was created. The Chinese armies conquered and occupied Vietnam for around 20 years, while the Chinese fleet sailed the China seas and the Indian Ocean, cruising as far as the east coast of Africa. The Chinese gained influence in eastern Moghulistan. Several maritime Asian nations sent envoys with tribute for the Chinese emperor. Domestically, the Grand Canal was expanded and became a stimulus to domestic trade. Over 100,000 tons of iron per year were produced. Many books were printed using movable type. The imperial palace in Beijing's Forbidden City reached its current splendor. It was also during these centuries that the potential of south China came to be fully exploited. New crops were widely cultivated and industries such as those producing porcelain and textiles flourished.

    In 1449 Esen Tayisi led an Oirat Mongol invasion of northern China which culminated in the capture of the Zhengtong Emperor at Tumu. Since then, the Ming became on the defensive on the northern frontier, which led to the Ming Great Wall being built. Most of what remains of the Great Wall of China today was either built or repaired by the Ming. The brick and granite work was enlarged, the watchtowers were redesigned, and cannons were placed along its length.


    Amazing 1500 year-old Ancient Mural Discovered in China - History

    Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum is the tomb of the Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming Dynasty. It lies at the southern foot of Purple Mountain, located east of the historical centre of Nanjing, China. Legend says that in order to prevent robbery of the tomb, 13 identical processions of funeral troops started from 13 city gates to obscure the real burying site. The construction of the mausoleum began during the Hongwu Emperor's life in 1381 and ended in 1405, during the reign of his son the Yongle Emperor, (see below) with a huge expenditure of resources involving 100,000 laborers. The original wall of the mausoleum was more than 22.5 kilometres long. The mausoleum was built under heavy guard of 5,000 troops.

    The Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty

    Panoramic View -- Click Arrows for Full Screen and Close-ups

    The Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty is the resting place for 13 of the 16 Ming emperors. The Ming Tombs (Shisan Ling) are China's finest example of imperial tomb architecture. The site of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Tombs was carefully chosen according to Feng Shui (geomancy) principles. According to these, bad spirits and evil winds descending from the North must be deflected therefore, an arc-shaped area at the foot of the Jundu Mountains north of Beijing was selected. This 40 square kilometer area - enclosed by the mountains in a pristine, quiet valley full of dark earth, tranquil water and other necessities would become the necropolis of the Ming Dynasty.

    A seven kilometer road named the "Spirit Way" (Shendao) leads into the complex, lined with statues of guardian animals and officials, with a front gate consisting of a three-arches, painted red, and called the "Great Red Gate".

    The Spirit Way, or Sacred Way, starts with a huge stone memorial archway lying at the front of the area. Constructed in 1540, during the Ming Dynasty, this archway is one of the biggest stone archways in China today.


    Part of the 4-mile (7-km) approach to the tombs, the Sacred Way is lined
    with 36 stone statues of officials, soldiers, animals, and mythical beasts.

    Sculptures of guardian figures, whether the Terracotta Army or later Buddhist deity figures, are common. Early burial customs show a strong belief in an afterlife, and a spirit path to it that needed facilitating. Funerals and memorials were also an opportunity to reaffirm important cultural values such as filial piety and "the honor and respect due to seniors, the duties incumbent on juniors".

    The common Chinese funerary symbol of a woman in the door may represent a basic male fantasy of an elysian afterlife with no restrictions. In all the doorways of the houses stand available women looking for newcomers to welcome into their chambers Han Dynasty inscriptions often describe the filial mourning for their subjects.

    Farther in, the Shengong Shengde Stele Pavilion can be seen. Inside it, there is a 50-ton tortoise shaped dragon-beast carrying a stone tablet. This was added during Qing times and was not part of the original Ming layout. Four white marble Huabiao (pillars of glory) are positioned at each corner of the stele pavilion. At the top of each pillar is a mythical beast. Then come two Pillars on each side of the road, whose surfaces are carved with the cloud design, and tops are shaped like a rounded cylinder. They are of a traditional design and were originally beacons to guide the soul of the deceased, The road leads to 18 pairs of stone statues of mythical animals, which are all sculpted from whole stones and larger than life size, leading to a three-arched gate known as the Dragon and Phoenix Gate.

    The Ming Tombs were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in August 2003. They were listed along with other tombs under the "Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties" designation. During the Ming dynasty the tombs were off limits to commoners, but in 1644 Li Zicheng's army ransacked and set many of the tombs on fire before advancing and capturing Beijing in April of that year. Presently, the Ming Dynasty Tombs are designated as one of the components of the World Heritage object, Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, which also includes a number of other sites in Beijing area and elsewhere in China.

    The tombs are located 42 kilometers north-northwest of central Beijing, within the suburban Changping District of Beijing municipality. The site, located on the southern slope of Tianshou Mountain (originally Mount Huangtu), was chosen on the feng shui principles by the third Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle (born Zhu Di) (1402-1424), who moved the capital of China from Nanjing to its the present location in Beijing. The name Yongle means "Perpetual Happiness". He is credited with envisioning the layout of the Ming-era Beijing as well as a number of landmarks and monuments located therein.

    After the construction of the Imperial Palace (the Forbidden City) in 1420, the Yongle Emperor selected his burial site and created his own mausoleum. The imperial cemetery covers an area of 120 square kilometers with 13 Ming emperors, 23 empresses and a number of concubines, princes, and princesses buried there, and thus it is also called 13 Mausoleums. The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is located in the centre of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.

    Built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 720,000 m2 (7,800,000 sq ft). The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture, and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

    Since 1925, the Forbidden City has been under the charge of the Palace Museum, whose extensive collection of artwork and artifacts were built upon the imperial collections of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Part of the museum's former collection is now located in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Both museums descend from the same institution, but were split after the Chinese Civil War.

    Changling is the tomb of Emperor Yongle and his empress. Built in 1413, the mausoleum extends over an area of 100,000 square metres. The soul tower, which tells people whose tomb it is, rests on a circular wall called the "city of treasures" which surrounds the burial mound. The "city of treasures" at Changling has a length of more than a kilometre.


    One of China's most impressive surviving Ming buildings, this double-eaved sacrificial hall
    is erected on a three-tiered terrace. Cedar columns support the huge weight of the roof.


    Statue of the Yongle Emperor



    Changling Tomb's Ling'en Gate

    Dingling is under ground - about 27 meters deep. The main features are the Stone Bridge, Soul Tower, Baocheng and the Underground Place, which was unearthed between 1956 and 1958. The entire palace is made of stone. The Soul Tower is symbolic of the whole of Dingling and it forms the entrance to the underground chambers. The yellow glazed tiles eaves, archway, rafters and columns are all sculptured from stone, and colorfully painted.


    Entering the Underground Tomb Chamber

    Here we find the tomb of the longest reigning Ming emperor, Wanli (1573-1620), is the only burial chamber of the 16 tombs to have been excavated and opened to the public. During the 1950s, archeologists were stunned to find the inner doors of the chamber still intact. Inside they found the treasures of an emperor whose profligate rule began the downfall of the Ming dynasty.

    Dingling, literally means "Tomb of Stability". It is the only one of the Ming Dynasty Tombs to have been excavated. It also remains the only intact imperial tomb to have been excavated since the founding of the People's Republic of China, a situation that is almost a direct result of the fate that befell Dingling and its contents after the excavation.

    The excavation of Dingling began in 1956, after a group of prominent scholars led by Guo Moruo and Wu Han began advocating the excavation of Changling, the tomb of the Yongle Emperor, the largest and oldest of the Ming Dynasty Tombs. Despite winning approval from premier Zhou Enlai, this plan was vetoed by archaeologists because of the importance and public profile of Changling. Instead, Dingling, the third largest of the Ming Tombs, was selected as a trial site in preparation for the excavation of Changling. Excavation completed in 1957, and a museum was established in 1959.

    The excavation revealed an intact tomb, with thousands of items of silk, textiles, wood, and porcelain, and the skeletons of the Wanli Emperor and his two empresses. However, there was neither the technology nor the resources to adequately preserve the excavated artifacts. After several disastrous experiments, the large amount of silk and other textiles were simply piled into a storage room that leaked water and wind. As a result, most of the surviving artifacts today have severely deteriorated, and many replicas are instead displayed in the museum. Furthermore, the political impetus behind the excavation created pressure to quickly complete the excavation. The haste meant that documentation of the excavation was poor.

    A more severe problem soon befell the project, when a series of political mass movements swept the country. This escalated into the Cultural Revolution in 1966. For the next ten years, all archaeological work was stopped. Wu Han, one of the key advocates of the project, became the first major target of the Cultural Revolution, and was denounced, and died in jail in 1969. Fervent Red Guards stormed the Dingling museum, and dragged the remains of the Wanli Emperor and empresses to the front of the tomb, where they were posthumously "denounced" and burned. Many other artifacts were also destroyed.

    It was not until 1979, after the death of Mao Zedong and the end of the Cultural Revolution, that archaeological work recommenced in earnest and an excavation report was finally prepared by those archaeologists who had survived the turmoil.

    The lessons learned from the Dingling excavation has led to a new policy of the People's Republic of China government not to excavate any historical site except for rescue purposes. In particular, no proposal to open an imperial tomb has been approved since Dingling, even when the entrance has been accidentally revealed, as was the case of the Qianling Mausoleum. The original plan, to use Dingling as a trial site for the excavation of Changling, was abandoned.

    Only the Changling and Dingling tombs are open to the public. Changling, the chief of the Ming Tombs, is the largest in scale and is completely preserved. The total internal area of the main building is 1956 square meters. There are 32 huge posts, and the largest measures about 14 meters in height. It inhumes Emperor Zhudi, the fourth son of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. Travel China Guide recommends the Lingsi Palace in its second yard as really deserving a visit. This is unique as it is the only huge palace made of camphor wood. The ceiling is colorfully painted and supported by sixteen solid camphor posts. The floor was decorated with gold bricks.



    The place where Emperor Chongzhen hung himself

    The last Ming emperor was buried at the location was Chongzhen, who committed suicide by hanging (on 25th of April 1644), was buried in his concubine Consort Tian's tomb, which was later declared as an imperial mausoleum Si Ling by the emperor of the short-lived Shun Dynasty Li Zicheng, with a much smaller scale compares to the other imperial mausoleums built for Ming Emperors.

    Yongling Tomb, built in 1536, is the tomb for Emperor Shizong, Zhu Houcong who ruled for 45 years as the
    11th Ming Dynasty Emperor of China ruling from 1521 to 1567. His era name means "Admirable tranquility".

    Funerary art varied greatly across Chinese history: tombs of early rulers rival the ancient Egyptians for complexity, and the value of the grave goods, and have been equally pillaged over the centuries by tomb robbers.

    For a long time literary references to Jade burial suits were regarded by scholars as fanciful myths, but a number of examples were excavated in the 20th century, and it is now believed that they were relatively common among early rulers. Knowledge of pre-dynastic Chinese culture has been expanded by spectacular discoveries at Sanxingdui and other sites. Very large tumuli could be erected, and later mausoleums. Several special large shapes of Shang dynasty bronze ritual vessels may have been made for burial only.

    The Tomb of Fu Hao is one of the few undisturbed royal tombs of the period to have been excavated.
    Most funerary art has appeared on the art market without archaeological context.

    The Complex of Goguryeo Tombs are rich in paintings. In July 2004, they became the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the country. The site consists of 30 individual tombs from the later Goguryeo kingdom, one of Three Kingdoms of Korea, located in the cities of P'yongyang and Namp'o. Goguryeo was one of the strongest Korean kingdoms in the north east of China and the Korean Peninsula from 37 BCE to the 7th century CE. The kingdom was founded in the present day area of Northern Korea, and part of Manchuria around 37 BCE, and the capital was transferred to P'yongyang in 427 CE.

    The murals are strongly colored and show daily life and Korean mythologies of the time. By 2005, 70 murals had been found, mostly in the Taedong river basin near Pyongyang, the Anak area in South Hwanghae province, and in Ji'an in China's Jilin province.

    In the News .


    1,000-Year-Old Tomb Reveals Murals, Stars & Poetry Live Science - November 11, 2014

    A 1,000-year-old tomb with a ceiling decorated with stars and constellations has been discovered in northern China. Found not far from a modern day railway station, the circular tomb has no human remains but instead has murals which show vivid scenes of life. "The tomb murals mainly depict the daily domestic life of the tomb occupant," and his travels with horses and camels, a team of researchers wrote in their report on the tomb recently published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics. On the east wall, people who may have served as attendants to the tomb's occupant are shown holding fruit and drinks. There is also a reclining deer, a crane, bamboo trees, a crawling yellow turtle and a poem. The poem reads in part, "Time tells that bamboo can endure cold weather. Live as long as the spirits of the crane and turtle."


    Ancient Tomb of Murals Discovered in China Live Science - June 17, 2013

    A colorful, well-preserved "mural tomb," where a military commander and his wife were likely buried nearly 1,500 years ago, has been uncovered in China. The domed tomb's murals, whose original colors are largely preserved, was discovered in Shuozhou City, about 200 miles (330 kilometers) southwest of Beijing. Researchers estimate that the murals cover an area of about 860 square feet (80 square meters), almost the same area as a modern-day bowling lane. Most of the grave's goods have been looted, and the bodies are gone, but the murals, drawn on plaster, are still there. In a passageway leading into the tomb, a door guard leans on his long sword watching warily. Across from him, also in the passageway, is a guard of honor, supported by men on horses, their red-and-blue uniforms still vivid despite the passing of so many centuries.


    More Than 100 Han Dynasty Tombs Discovered in China The Epoch Times - June 17, 2014

    Chinese archaeologists have discovered more than one hundred tombs from the Han Dynasty (25-220 AD) in Jiangsu province, Eastern China. Such a large cluster of Han tombs are a rare discovery and valuable for studies on funeral customs of the time.


    China finds ancient tomb of 'female prime minister' BBC - September 12, 2013

    The ancient tomb of a female politician in China, described as the country's "female prime minister", has been discovered, Chinese media say. The tomb of Shangguan Wan'er, who lived from 664-710 AD, was recently found in Shaanxi province. Archaeologists confirmed the tomb was hers this week. She was a famous politician and poet who served empress Wu Zetian, China's first female ruler. However, the tomb was badly damaged, reports said. The grave was discovered near an airport in Xianyang, Shaanxi province, reports said. A badly damaged epitaph on the tomb helped archaeologists confirm that the tomb was Shangguan Wan'er's, state-run news agency Xinhua reported. Experts described the discovery as one of "major significance", even though it had been subject to "large-scale damage".


    1,700-Year-Old Roman Mosaic Discovered During City Sewer Construction Project

    News of the discovery of a massive 1,700 year-old Roman mosaic was recently released to the public and press. The extensive and detailed mural is thought to have served as the living room floor in a villa of a luxurious and affluent neighbourhood during the Roman and Byzantine periods. Initially, a Northern section of the complex was uncovered in the 90's within ruins of the Israeli central city of Lod. Dubbed the Lod Mosaic and exhibited worldwide, the ancient piece drew a lot of attention to the area, with its bizarre discovery story&ndashthe mosaics were found as construction workers began to upgrade the sewer system in the city. Now, during construction of a visitor section for the first section, more and more ancient treasures are being revealed.

    The beautiful mosaic depicts various scenes of hunting and pastoral life, with images of fish, flowers in baskets, vases and birds. The well-preserved floor covers an area of almost 180 square meters and is composed of colored stonework that has been incredibly protected for centuries. The intricate pieces are of high quality, displaying an amazing artistic talent. Archaeologists claim that more of the complex may still lay hidden underneath the busy city streets, and that new discoveries may still come.


    Lascaux cave paintings

    In what is one of the most famous accidental discoveries of all time, four boys and a dog named Robot were out for a walk one day when they happened upon a fallen tree, which had punched a partial hole in the ground. Robot, being a dog, was all "Hot damn, a hole," and started digging. The four boys joined him, imagining they might have found the entrance to a tunnel that would take them to a lost treasure.

    What they found was indeed a lost treasure, just not the kind you can stuff in your pockets and sell to an antiques dealer for $29. Instead, they discovered a cave full of 20,000-year-old paintings made by Cro-Magnon, an early modern human. The paintings are exquisitely detailed and some of them are huge — more than 10 or 15 feet in length.

    In 1948, a year after their discovery, Lascaux was opened to the public, but 15 years later someone finally realized that tourism was bad for the paintings. All the carbon dioxide exhaled by thousands of eager visitors along with contaminants they brought in on their shoes was actually damaging the paintings, so the tours had to end. Today only a few people a year are allowed inside the caves, and their actions are limited mainly to trying to prevent additional damage to those amazing but fragile works of art.