Sunday, November 4, 2007

The History of Civilization

Chapter Five: Ancient India and China

The vast Indian peninsula, though mostly separated, was not quite cut off by land or sea from Mesopotamia. From the first days of human existence Indians had contact with their neighbors to the northwest.
The civilization was centered along the Indus River, and stretched for over 1000 miles; making it the most extensive in terms of geography and quantity of affected people. Its cultures varied greatly; even today over 150 languages are spoken on the subcontinent. The Indus civilization was quite distinct. Its writing style was so unusual that it still cannot be read by modern scholars, and beautiful artifacts in clay and bronze foreshadow India's breathtaking art.

Around 1500 BC the area was invaded by a race of marauders called the Aryans. Such advanced developments as the use of writing, organized states, and conscious art vanished. In remote corners the Indus civilization survived until much later, and the Aryans took over many physical and cultural achievements from their predecessors. The Aryans were divided into classes, the kernel of the historic Hindu caste system.
Hinduism itself developed from a conglomeration of fertility cults and local faiths, and came to mirror the diversity of India. Profound thinkers among the Brahman caste considered the meaning of life and the nature of the world, their teachings becoming ever more mystical and refined. The result was one of the most abstract forms of religious thought which has ever been developed.

Chinese tradition remembers three dynasties at the dawn of civilization: Hsia, Shang, and Chou. The first of these, Hsia (c. 2205 - 1766 BC), is very dim but believed to have existed. The Shang (1766 - 1122 BC) is the earliest which can be described in any detail, an era of sudden advance in many aspects of Chinese culture. The armies of the Shang rulers gave a strong military cast to the earliest Chinese civilization, and encouraged early political unification and the development of an administrative hierarchy.

China's size and threatening terrain make communication difficult. The remarkable fact is that the entire region became essentially a unified civilization by the first millennium BC. When the Shang dynasty fell, it was replaced by the Chou (1122 - 256 BC), whose capable kings spread their rule into the valley of the Yangtze River. The greatest single philosopher who influenced China lived at this time: Confucius encouraged flexibility, rational analysis, and performance of one's duty.

To be continued...

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