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Unit 1: Redefining World Society and Culture

Lesson D: Life and Times in the Pre-Modern World

Activity 3: China

In this activity, you are going to compare some early political and economic systems in order to understand how people in other civilizations lived.

Chinese Emperor, 7th Century. Artist unknown. [1]

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Written Activity - Notebook

Examine the image to the right and answer the following questions in your notebook. A reminder, you may not be able to fully answer all of these questions.

  • What event does the image portray?
  • Who created the image and why?
  • What does the image suggest the creator and the civilization valued? What makes you say this?
  • Who is in the image, and who is not?
  • What conclusions can you draw about the way people lived based upon the image?

You just examined an image of an emperor in China. The history of Chinese emperors is complex and is based upon the concepts of Mandate of Heaven and dynastic cycle. The Chinese believed that rulers gained power through the Mandate of Heaven. Under this concept, emperors ruled only so long as the gods approved. When the gods no longer approved of the emperor, floods, famines, and wars erupted. These events led to the overthrow of one emperor and soon another emperor would take his place. This change from one emperor, or dynasty, to another was called the dynastic cycle.

The Emperor had a lot of power, but there were many regional warlords as well. The emperors negotiated with the local lords to ensure that the emperor would have military support in the times of war. This was a form of feudalism. The emperor had a variety of advisors, including religious ones. At times, these religious advisors were Confucian and at other times they were Buddhists. Merchants, traders, and artisans lived and worked in cities while the peasants worked in fields. Political, economic, and religious life continued until the emperor lost the Mandate of Heaven. The following simulation shows the dynastic cycle.

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Page Notes:

[1] Source: This image from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chen_Xuandi_Tang.jpg is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.