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Ding Hu San, personal picture - This is a very BIG cooking pot! It is Used For Cooking on Special Days and can Feed over 2, 000 People

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Chinese History
Zhou Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty (I, 054 to 256 BC)
The longest lasting of all Chinese Empires, which gave rise to modern Chinese culture, literature, and arts. Modern Chinese writing is traced back to the Zhou period specifically. The Zhou also cemented the earlier beliefs that the Emperor was of divine birth, and spoke directly to the heavens

Kindly reproduced from Wikipedia ref:   Courtesy of Yu Ninjie

The first Zhou Capital was near modern-day Xi’an, but they expanded mainly East and Southwards, consolidating lands controlled by the former Shang Dynasty. They also had full control over the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, and a large presence along the Yangtze River, which also included modern day Shanghai and Hangzhou far to the south-east (Relative term)

The downfall of the Zhou was preceded by Kingdoms gradually breaking away from the central Zhou Dynasty thus causing it to break apart. You may also consider that there was always political intrigue, and that the different periods simply reflected the differing aspects and rise to power of specific Zhou royal households (Kingdoms). This in turn led directly to The Warring States Period.

To simplify things, most historians consider the Zhou Dynasty to be four separate periods:
Western Zhou
Eastern Zhou
Spring and Autumn Period
Warring States Period


Bronze smelting and artifacts were refined over a long period of time, and reached it’s peak during the middle of the Zhou Dynasty. Bronze was mainly used for weapons, vessels for the rich, and funeral objects. However, just as it reached it’s peak, so sources of the alloys constituents began to get scare; namely copper and tin.

People would normally consider that Bronze ware would be succeeded by iron goods, but this was not directly the case in this part of modern China. What actually happened is that porcelain products known as ‘Celadon’ were used for cooking, vessels, and many burial objects. The bronze was mainly reserved for military purposes, and VIP’s. Recently a bronze sword belonging originally to an Eastern King was discovered near modern day Hangzhou. This sword easily cut through a pile of 20 sheets of paper!


The Chinese, along with other contemporary culture, had known about iron since about 3, 000 BC. However, it was not the useful metal we know today. Mush of it was low-quality, brittle cast iron, which broke easily and was far less useful than the highly developed bronze artifacts of the period. Therefore use of iron was very restricted in this part of modern China

However, in Southern China (Not a part of the Zhou Dynasty), smelters learned how to produce better quality cast iron, and by 600 BC where also adding carbon, thus also making the early forms of steel. The first use was for agricultural implements, especially plough shares. It appears the Southern and Zhou regions of China did not have trading relationships at this time (At least, not for iron)

The earliest use of iron in China. Published in: Metals in antiquity, ed. by Suzanne M. M. Young, A. Mark Pollard, Paul Budd and Robert A. Ixer (BAR international series,792), Oxford: Archaeopress, 1999, pp. 1-9.


Pottery had been known in China for millennia, and slowly over time the quality and production techniques improved. In layman’s terms: Pottery is an unskilled art with little human intervention. It uses any form of locally available clay, the components of which vary remarkably. Whilst it is fired, it does not usually have a slip (Glaze applied), and can be considered as very poor quality and for common usage

During the Eastern Zhou Period porcelain was developed. Porcelain is fine pottery and is made using special clays. It was learned that it needed to be fired at high temperature (1270 0 C), and slips were applied. The glaze quality also improved, and special designs were made. This became known as ‘Celadon’

Recent digs by Archaeologists have turned up surprising data, especially from ancient kilns in Northern ZheJiang Province. Previously it was thought that Celadon was produced much later, but dates from furnaces discovered at ‘Fire Mountain’ show that not only was advanced Celadon being produced during Western Zhou times, but they had actually also developed early ‘Dragon Kilns’

Traditional kilns were quite wide, and whilst the central-top heat was good, lower and outside areas would have cooler temperatures = poorer class ceramics. The Dragon Kiln essentially takes the horizontal kiln, and lays it vertically up a slope. Therefore cooler areas near the bottom are ideal for drying, and items are gradually moved to the top for high-grade products. Obviously this gets quite technical, so I suggest that in order to keep this account simple, you research Dragon Kilns yourself. The CCTV 9 programme ‘New Frontiers’ will also provide much information concerning early Chinese Ceramics


Whilst much local trade still used a barter system, the Zhou only recognised Bronze as currency (Not necessarily coins as we know them today). The earlier Cowery were not used, and this subsequently indicates that their version of China remained ‘Closed’ to external markets and most international trade.

Western Zhou

Capital: Xi’an. Supported by 14 main armies, 6 stationed in the West and 8 to the east. Having taken power from the Shang by military might, they continued to gradually expand their sphere of influence by mainly military means. They were constantly attacked by barbarians and other states, so life over this period was largely about wars on their borders. However, the central areas were subdued and culture, thinking, and literature and arts all became prominent. The Modern Chinese writing system is developed.

This period is regarded as having a basically feudal economy, akin to medieval Europe. This is not quite correct, but is enough for this brief glimpse of history. Here China also parallels later European culture, by maintaining control of lands by marriage. This way they kept hold of ultimate power.

The Western Zhou declined after disastrous campaigns to the North and South. Perhaps you should consider this generalisation: At the beginning, Western Zhou was a formidable fighting force. Over centuries their might waned, and so did the number of their victories in battle.

The Western Zhou period ended in 771 BC when King You replaced his queen with his favourite concubine. Of course, the deposed Queen belonged to a very powerful Eastern Family – and so after a brief war, King Zhou was killed and replaced by his son. The Capital City was moved to the East, hence the reference West and East Zhou Dynasty

Eastern Zhou

The Eastern Zhou period began with the overthrow of King You, and the Capital was moved East to Haojing in Luoyang County, Henan Province. The Eastern Zhou were mainly responsible for great developments in arts and thinking, and are to this day considered to be where Chinese culture originated. Similar in many ways to ancient Athens in the West, this period ushered in philosophical thought and of the four main schools of the time (Ru, Mohist, Daoist, and Legalists). By the 6th Century BC, Confucianism had become dominant

The Eastern Zhou ruled mainly through their bureaucracy, establishing what we would consider to be an antique version of a civil service. Dominion was still controlled via powerful families, which were basically all related in one way or another. A bit like recent Europe really. This era endured until the last ruler died in 256 BC. Obviously there is a gap until year 221 when Qin Shi Huang became the very first Emperor of China

Synopsis taken directly from Wikipedia – as this confusion is expressed so eloquently by them:

“The ruling families of the Zhou, Shang, Qin, and (possibly) Xia dynasties coexisted together as rulers of independent kingdoms until 286 BC, because that was up to when the Sung principality was conquered - which the Shang ruling family ruled while the Zhou king ruled at his independent kingdom. The Kings of the state of Yue also claimed to be descended from Yu the Great of the Xia Dynasty. Meanwhile, the Kings of Qin ruled over the State of Qin.”

Therefore you find a Dynasty that is basically conceived from various inter-related Royal Kingdoms, all claiming ancestry from The Yellow Emperor. However, the Yue Kingdom remain an independent faction

To the North, barbarians on horseback continue to plague garrison cities and outposts. These are most probably the Xiongnu, forefathers of The Huns. To the far Southeast (Canton), independent and more peaceful development is also taking place, iron smelting and ceramics are quite advanced, and international trade is commonplace. Minorities have many cultural centres in the extreme Southernly Mountains. The Bon culture is evident in Sichuan Province (And Tibet). Across the Gobi Dessert to the East, arabic influences are commonplace

Spring and Autumn Period (770 to 476 BC)

So named because of the flourishing of arts and philosophy. You are correctly led to believe that the intervening Summer was a time of great intellectual and cultural advancement – which it was. What distinguished this period most, is of a Golden Age, the first ever recorded in Chinese history!

Warring States Period (475 to 221 BC)

So called, because this was basically a family feud between related Royal Houses, all claiming descendency from the same ancestors + add a few interlopers to the Crown for good measure. Not all States and Kingdoms are shown on this map ... but it gives you a feeling for what was happening at the time

Map: Warring States 330 BC

This information is as supplied by Wikipedia, as dated March 2009 or later, and/or other reliable sources.

Maps (Unless stated otherwise) are provided in association with Thomas Lessman

Please check this information yourself as it may alter without notice, and whilst we try our best to ensure it is correct, please do not hold us responsible for any errors - this is intended as a simple guide only
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