Dynasties – The Xia


Oracle bones. Image Source

The Xia Dynasty is the first recorded dynasty in the history of China, though the leaders and emperors said to have ruled during that time are surrounded by legend and unproven claims. Per early Chinese historians, including Sima Qian, the dynasty existed from approximately 2852-1778 BCE, being first established by the ruler Fuxi in the Central Plain region of modern-day China. The majority of the Xia rulers are credited by early Chinese historians with certain major developments, both culturally and politically. Fuxi was credited with animal domestication, while his successor Shennong is said to have spread the knowledge of agriculture. Following that was Huangdi, or the “Yellow Emperor,” who is estimated to have reigned from 2700-2590 BCE. He is believed to have introduced both ceramics and writing to the Chinese civilization. All three are described as mythical creatures in legend, half-human and half-animal, and the feats attributed to them add to their status in early Chinese¬†mythology.

From there, a series of five emperors ruled, with the latter two, Yao and Shun, being believed as having established the model for ruling, choosing individuals of merit rather than family to carry on the imperial rule. It was during this period that the agrarian calendar is also thought to have developed.

The Xia dynasty was eventually overthrown in 1766 BCE when Da Yi, also known as Cheng Tang, overthrew the final emperor and established the Shang dynasty. Legend states that this was due to the Xia succumbing to tyrannical rule, with Da Yi restoring peace and virtue to the government, but very little archaeological evidence supports this.

Roberts, J. A. G. The Complete History of China. Stroud, Sutton, 2003.