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History and Religions of Ancient China and India
Write a 700- to 1,050-word paper in which you explore the histories of China and India.
Address the following questions:
What major events characterize each of the four Dynasties of early Chinese history?
Describe at least three works of early Chinese art; how do these pieces reflect Chinese culture and values?
Where did Indian culture originate? In what ways did invaders influence this culture?
Describe at least three works of early Indian art: How do these pieces reflect Indian culture and values?
Explain how religious and philosophical traditions influenced the development of culture in China and India.
Tags: China, India, early Chinese history
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History and Religions of Ancient China and India
China and India represent some of the greatest and oldest civilizations in the human history. The Chinese history presents a unified society that has survived many dynasties. It seems that the Chinese civilization through the systems of family leadership enabled it to maintain its cultural outlook for over 5000 years. On the other hand, Indian civilization is enriched by contributions from various parts of the world. India was a recipient of many invasions and immigrations. This essay retraces the origins of the Chinese and Indian cultures and explores the role of art, philosophy and religion in their evolutions.
Major events that characterize each of the four Dynasties of early Chinese history
According to Lee (1984), early Chinese history was ruled by, basically three dynasties. The third dynasty was split into two. The first of these was the Xia Dynasty which was ruled by the house of Si. It lasted for 470 years between 2070BC and 1600BC. This was followed by the Shang Dynasty ruled by the house of Zi. It lasted for 554 years from 1600BC to 1064BC. The third was the Western Zhou Dynasty of the house of Ji. It lasted for 275 years starting 1046BC and ending 771BC. The last was the Eastern Zhou Dynasty also ruled by the house of Ji. The Dynasty ruled for 515 years, beginning in 770BC and ending in 256BC.
The Xia Dynasty was founded by Yu The Great. He was the son of Gun, a servant of Huang-ti, also known as the Yellow Emperor. Yu grew up under the tutelage of his father and learned many things about leadership and problem solving. Yu’s first great accomplishment was to complete his father’s project of controlling the flooding of the Yellow River (Mark, 2016). This earned him a promotion as the head of King Shun’s army. After a successful campaign against the Sanmiao rebels, the king declared Yu the rightful heir to the throne.
The Shang Dynasty was led by King Tang. He and those of his lineage came from the lowlands around the Yellow River. This Dynasty witnessed great improvements in technology and culture of the ancient Chinese. The Shang Dynasty is regarded as the first to have its history actually documented in writing (Mark, 2016). This was made possible by advances in technology, including writing. With the development of writing also came basic arithmetic and the creation of calendars. King Tang was a just ruler who received adoration from the people. The Shang Dynasty also saw a greater utilization of bronze in manufacturing and design.
The rise of the Zhou Dynasty came from a military struggle that covered three generations. It began with Jili, son of Dafu, then his son King Wen of Zhou (Mark, 2016). The final work was done by King Wu, son of King Wen. These rulers used religion to legitimize their power. They convinced the masses that god was responsible for putting them in power. It is under this Dynasty that the rise of religion and philosophy flourished. This was the time when Confucianism and Daoism were born.
Examples of works of early Chinese art
The early Chinese art reflects the thinking and socio-cultural experiences of the people across the four ruling dynasties (Rawson, 2007). Most of the arts are mainly sculptures which served both aesthetic and utilitarian functions. For example, in the Xia Dynasty, archaeologists have found potteries from earlier traditional Chinese societies. The Chinese never abandoned their pottery across all the four dynasties. In the Zhou Dynasty, there is an ancient wine jar that is made of pure clay with bronze handles. The mixture shows the richness of the Chinese culture.
There is also a painting of the Shang Dynasty that depicts six fattened oxen (Carr, 2016). It demonstrates how the Chinese at the time had advanced to make ox-drawn machinery. They also valued agriculture and relied on it for subsistence. The painting also reiterates the fact that the Shang Dynasty had ushered in a new age of writing or drawing using markings.
Another example is the Leshan Giant Buddha sculpture that is associated with the Tang Dynasty. The sculpture indicates that the ancient Chinese acknowledged the place of the deity in their lives. The Leshan Buddha is a huge and authoritative sculpture of a person seated on a throne. The sculpture is curved out of a cliff facing a mass of water. The image is slightly covered by plant growths that fuses its presence with that of nature. This emphasizes the omnipresence of the supernatural in the Chinese culture and life.
Origin of the Indian culture and the influence of invaders
The Indian culture originated in the Idus Valley (White, 2003). The Valley was located in South East Asia along the shores of the Indus River. It covered most of present-day Pakistan and Western India. Soon after, the Aryans invaded India bringing with them the notable Hindu beliefs and the caste system. There was a merger between the Indian and Aryan culture which gave rise to the Vedic Civilization. Persian invasion also led to the introduction of writing. Arabic invasion mainly brought Islam to India and most parts of present-day Pakistan. When Alexander the Great invaded India, he upheld the caste system. The Turkish invasion disrupted political gains made by earlier Indian leaders to unite the people (Knapp, n.d.). The Portuguese invaders tried to expand the Roman Catholicism while the British invaders attempted to transform the industrial landscape and overthrow the communalist economic relations by injecting capitalist views into the caste system (Bongard-Levin, 1979).
Examples of works of early Indian art
Ancient Indian art reflects mainly religious themes and the people’s value of nature as a reflection of life (Mitter, 2001). For instance, there is a 14th century sculpture of the Seated Ganesha. The sculpture portrays an elephant seated upright like a human. The elephant has arms, besides the forelimbs. The arms are raised over the shoulders up to the position of the ears. The sculpture is originally made of ivory. Ganesha was the god of auspiciousness among the Indians. The sculpture underscores the ancient Indian cultural attachment to the gods as the source of good morals.
Another interesting example of ancient Indian art is the carving of Shiva as a God of Dance. The curving is made from copper alloy. In the image, Shiva is cast dancing at the centre of a complete ring or cycle. The god is given all the control over time and life. The curving illustrates the origins of the vibrant Indian dance and music culture. Dance and music is integrated into the way of life so that life itself is like a song that requires a harmonious combination of various elements to create rhythm, unity and quality.
Ancient Indians also used paintings to represent events and experiences of life in their time. For instance, there is a painting of Ajanta, the famous story teller narrating the tales of Jakatas. These tales capture the various manifestations of Buddha. In the painting, Ajanta is seated at the centre of curious onlookers. The painting underscores how religious beliefs in ancient India were kept alive through narrative traditions.
The influence of religious and philosophical traditions on cultural development in China and India
Traditional Chinese until the second Zhou Dynasty did not have a defined universal religion or philosophy. The rulers mostly influenced the beliefs and principles of social life of the people. However, there were ancestral rites and divinations that were done as part of the rituals of life. Confucius entered the scene in the Zhou Dynasty and commanded respect as a teacher of the principles of life and academics. He was followed by Laozi who introduced Daoism as an attitude to life that all must strive to attain. Daosim opened the way for Budhism and later day religious multiplicity in China (Kitagawa & Cummings, 1987). In general, religious and philosophical thought offered the evolving Chinese culture a platform to explain the changes and a framework for interpreting life experiences for the people.
In India, religion predates the Indus Valley civilization. There are signs that people believed in the sacredness of life. The Aryans brought in their own rituals and beliefs that enriched what was already in existence. After that, Indian civilization became a melting pot of religious and philosophical ideas from the likes of the Buddha and Mahavira. Budhism gave the Indians a more structured social life with the concepts of Brahmanism and Karma. Meanwhile, the pervading philosophy of the Vedic civilization led to the rise of ideas of Yoga (internal control of body, mind and senses), Mimamsa (interpretation), Nyaya (logical thinking), among others. These ideas from religion and philosophy shaped the moral evolution of the Indian worldview and society.
This essay has discussed the Chinese and Indian cultures based on their origins and development. The Chinese culture evolved from a series of dynasties. The dynamics of leadership and political transitions across these dynasties helped to enrich the Chinese culture. The Indian culture originated in native Indus Valley. From there, the culture came in contact with numerous other cultures over time. These new cultures pushed the Indian culture to be more accommodating of other people’s worldviews.
Bongard-Levin, G. (1979). A History of India. 1. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
Carr, K. E. (2016). Ancient Chinese Art. December 14, 2016 from
Kitagawa, J. M., & Cummings, M. D. (Eds) (1987). Buddhism and Asian History (Religion, History, and Culture: Readings from the Encyclopedia of Religion). New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.
Knapp, S. (n.d.). A Short History of India – Its Heroes and Invaders. Retrieved December 14, 2016 from
Lee, S. C. (1984). China Cultural Development. East Lansing.
Mark, E. (2016). Xia Dynasty: Definition. Ancient History Encylcopedia. December 14, 2016 from
Mitter, P. (2001). Indian Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rason, J. (Ed) (2007). The British Museum Book of Chinese Art (2nd ed.). British Museum Press.
White, D. G. (2003). Kiss of the Yogini. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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