Archive for February, 2011
During the Warring States Period, life in Ancient China was somewhat chaotic. You had many different warlords trying annex land onto their own kingdom and life in general was very chaotic. The people of China followed the tenets of Confucianism, which first appeared around 500 BCE. . Under Confucianism, you paid your parents and ancestors respect, were expected to live a humane and decent life, and be good to the people around you. Confucius was a social philosopher who lived from 551 BCE to 479 BCE. He basically taught people that they were good at heart. If they made mistakes it was simply because the system of social laws had let them down.
But all of that changed during the Warring States Period. Suddenly, it was important for one strong ruler to be followed by the common people. Three individuals, Shang Yang, Han Feizi and Li Si wanted to make sure that the people followed a philosophy that would strengthen the government that was in power and cause people to follow the laws much more closely. The school of Legalism began to develop. It taught that people were, at their most basic level, evil instead of good. Under Legalism, one of the worst crimes that a person could commit was to be disloyal to their rulers. In order to curb the urge to do wrong, a rigid system of punishments were put into place. If someone were to exhibit behavior that was evil or selfish, they would be punished.
Under Legalism, it was the state or country that had to come first instead of individual wants or needs. The country was divided up into a number of administrative provinces, and the system of writing was standardized throughout the country. Family units were divided up into groups of ten. It was thought that many of these activities would make it easier to control the Chinese population and prevent someone from sowing dissent in the country.
Under Legalism, many important books were burned. It was believed that people did not need to read, and that the only guidance they needed was the series of laws that governed the country. Not all of the books were burned, however. Those that had been written on the topics of farming, weaving and divination were spared as they were believed to have some merit. Many scholars were also burned alive if they refused to give up their libraries.
There were some people who prospered under the Legalist system. Under older systems, it was difficult for someone to advance in social rank. Under the Legalist system, it was possible for someone to advance if they performed well at their job. Soldiers who fought well in battle could gain higher ranks, and it was also possible for someone to advance politically under the Legalist system. One example of a commoner who was able to advance under Legalism was Lu Buwei (291 to 235 BCE). He began life as a merchant but, under the Legalist system, was able to advance politically and become the Chancellor of China.
Legalism declined but there are some elements that are still used by the Chinese government today.
When people think about where the pharaohs of Egypt were buried, the pyramids come instantly to mind. It is true that some rulers of ancient Egypt were buried in these large, elaborated tombs. But this didn’t start happening until around 2630 BCE. This is when building started on the Pyramid of Djoser. The thing is, there were quite a few pharaohs who lived, and died, before the idea of building pyramids was ever thought of. So where were the earlier pharaohs buried? And why was there a sudden switch to larger, more elaborate tombs?
If you were a ruler or a noble during the ancient period of Egyptian history, you were buried in something called a mastaba. This was a tomb that was shaped like a rectangle. It had sides that sloped outwards and was built from either stone or bricks that had been formed from mud. Because of the Egyptian’s belief in the afterlife, they needed a place where a person’s body could sit and not be disturbed. In Egyptian religion, you needed a body that had not rotted away or been disturbed by animals or other humans. If your body was destroyed, you were denied a place in the afterlife and eternal life was out of the question.
Although it looked like a fairly uncomplicated structure from the surface, a mastaba was actually fairly complex. The bench-like structure that emerged from the sand was not where the body was actually located. Instead, the bodies of the deceased were placed in a sealed chamber that was located deep below the surface of the sand. The structure above had places where offerings could be brought by family members could be placed. The body inside was mummified. This was necessary because the way that the body was sheltered meant that it could not dry out naturally, the way it would if it was placed in the dry air of the desert.
The problem was that these tombs were large, obvious, and known to be the resting place of wealthy Egyptians. So, what’s a poor person to do? In many cases, grave robbers broke into the mastabas and carried off most of the contents that had any value. They often went so far as to destroy the carefully wrapped and preserved bodies as well. Because a defiled body meant no entrance into the afterlife, this was something that frightened and upset ancient Egyptians. They wanted a way to make sure that their graves would remain untouched.
This was one reason why many ancient Egyptians chose to be buried in tombs cut in rock walls instead of mastabas. In fact, by 1550 BCE, the use of mastabas was quite rare. However, they were not totally overlooked. In fact, the earliest pyramid was actually constructed to look like a stack of mastabas that had been placed one on top of another. The Step Pyramid of Djoser was designed to look like mastabas that had been stacked to form steps. It was believed that the steps would allow the soul of the Pharaoh Djoser to climb into heaven.
In many ancient cultures, rulers not only had wives. Depending on the culture that they belonged to, they may have kept concubines as well. These were women who served many of the same purposes as wives but as concubines, they were unable to marry the men that they served for a variety of reasons. Many women who served as concubines were commoners or even slaves and, because of their lowly social status, it was impossible for them to marry the ruler that they served.
Often, the concubines were kept in seclusion and were not accessible to males other than the ruler whom they served. In Muslim cultures, this area was known as a harem. In some cultures, wives may have lived with the concubines. In other cultures, the legal wives may have lived separately from the concubines. Although Muslim harems are among some of the best known settings where concubines existed, the Muslims were not the only culture to keep women who filled this role.
In many stories, the concubines a ruler had were taken by force and sold into their life but this was not always the case. It was not uncommon in some cultures for poorer families to present their daughters to a ruler in order to see if they would be chosen as a concubine. This often served the dual purpose of getting rid of an extra mouth to feed as well as giving their daughter a life of comfort, privilege and protection.
One example of this was Consort Wu. She was the consort and favorite concubine of Emperor Zuanzong of China. Known for her beauty, she rose to the position of Huifei, the highest rank that a concubine could achieve. After the Emperor’s wife died in 724 CE, Consort Wu was treated like an Empress by all of the servants living in the palace. Although she was treated as a wife by the Emperor they were never formally wed.
Concubines often bore children to the rulers that they served. In some cases, these children were treated as legal offspring especially if the concubine or consort was an official one that was recognized by a court. Some concubines also enjoyed a measure of fame apart from their status as consort to a particular ruler.
While life could be good for a concubine, if they failed to bear children it often became less pleasant. In some cases, when the ruler that they served died, childless concubines were expected to die as well. In the case of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of a unified China, his Imperial consorts were sealed up in his tomb to serve him in the afterlife.
Concubines also appeared in the Bible as well. The Israelites often kept concubines in addition to their lawful wives and these women enjoyed the same rights and privileges as the legitimate wives did. In the Bible, wives had dowries but concubines did not and this was the chief method of distinguishing between the two social positions. One of the most famous keepers of concubines in the Bible was King Solomon, who lived from 1011 BCE to 931 BCE. According to Biblical records, he had three hundred concubines in addition to his seven hundred wives.
Although modern China is a unified place that is governed by one legal system, it was not always this way. Ancient China was divided into a collection of seven states which, from 475 BCE to 221 BCE, were constantly at war. In fact, the conflict was so constant that the period was actually known as the Era of Warring States or the Warring States Period. Although there was a single sovereign, he was simply a figurehead who did not have any real power.
One of the states was the Qin state, which was located in the western part of the country. It was able to trace its origins to a man named Zhuanxu, one of five monarchs who ruled ancient China from 2514 BCE to 2436 BCE. Each of the seven states was ruled by a warlord who tried to expand their territory by annexing the land around them, carving it out from the neighboring states. These men were ruthless and used infantry and cavalry forces in a long serious of bloody conflicts.
Among these warlords was the leader of the Qin state, Qin Shi Huangdi. Born in 259 BCE, he became the ruler of the Qin state in 246 BCE. While all of the warlords were ruthless, Qin Shi Huangdi was particularly brutal. Although he took the throne at the young age of 13, he was able to thwart a series of coups and assassination attempts.
Qin Shi Huangdi was able to annex all of the seven states and bring them under his control by 221 BCE. While he ruled, Qin Shi Huangdi was able to standardize the system of units and measures used in the country. He also standardized Chinese currency as well as the length of cart axles. This made it easier to transport goods. He also worked at standardizing the Chinese script as well.
During his lifetime, Qin Shi Huangdi was constantly at war with nomadic tribes located in the north and northwest of the country. In order to keep them from invading the country, he ordered the Great Wall of China to be constructed. He used his fellow countrymen to build the wall. Many people were worked to death in order to create the wall. Today, the Great Wall of China can be seen from space.
Under Qin Shi Huangdi’s rule, many existing books were burned. He saved books dealing with topics such as astrology, medicine and divination. However, owning a copy of any outlawed texts was a serious crime. Qin Shi Huang had many scholars buried alive simply for owning copies of books he had burned. Qin Shi Huangdi was also known for brutally punishing anyone who broke the law. They were buried alive or enslaved in order to build the Great Wall or his tomb.
It is this tomb that has given Qin Shi Huangdi some of the fame that he still enjoys today. The tomb was started in 215 BCE and, according to some sources, as many as 720,000 unpaid laborers worked on its construction. Part of the tomb has been discovered and excavated. Inside, archaeologists found more than 8,000 terracotta figurines in the shape of soldiers, chariots, horses and cavalry horses. Qin Shi Huangdi died in 210 BCE at the age of 49.