Traditions and Encounters, AP Edition (Bentley), 5th Edition

Chapter 5: Early Society in East Asia


The cultures of east Asia had relatively little direct contact with the complex societies to the west; nevertheless, powerful states (the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties), sophisticated technologies, and highly stratified societies developed along the banks of the Yellow and Yangzi rivers in China. These early societies were built on a foundation that would endure for millennia, some of the significant components of which include the following:

  • These societies believed in the principle that the emperor was granted the power to rule through “the mandate of heaven.” Thus the emperor, known as the son of heaven, served as a crucial link between the heavenly powers and the people on earth.
  • The extended family was the primary institution of society. The patriarchal head of the family wielded tremendous power and shouldered great responsibilities. It was his job to see that appropriate religious rituals were observed in the worship of the family's departed ancestors. Those ancestors were believed to have control over the living family's well-being.
  • A writing system spread widely throughout China and still persists in its basic form, although modified through time. Consequently Chinese society has experienced a virtually uninterrupted literary tradition.
  • Sharp distinctions and clearly defined roles within the society were based on class, gender, and age.
Traditions & Encounters, 5e
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