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China: Dynasties of Power

The documentary begins with a laborer digging in the earth. He is digging what will become his sacrificial grave. Dramatically, his head is chopped off and the theme music begins for the series. A bit sensationalistic at first, we get into the archaeology of why this scene was reconstructed this way. The Shang Dynasty, once considered legend, is now archaeological fact. Dating back to nearly 3000 BC, the Shang were a powerful group of early rulers. The evidence of oracle bones, on which the earliest form of Chinese writing were written. The city of Anyang, some 300 miles from Beijing, is the site where oracle bones were first discovered in 1928. So, the Shang were not legendary or mythical after all, but a dynasty in fact. Headless skeletons were discovered, suggesting human sacrifice. Some of these sites date to 1300-1500 BC and form an essential, and repeated patter in this Bronze Age culture. Bronze vessels that were extremely intricate for these mandate of heaven rulers. Bronze casting was perfected as an art during the Shang, and many have been found. We learn about Wu Di, and his queen, who led his armies in war. She was his general, who gave great victories. Her name was Fu Hao. At Xanshingdui, there was a rival culture that vied with the Shang. Indeed, over the next eight centuries, there were numerous cultures that jockeyed for power and position in early China. The Zhou were the next dynasty, and centered at Xi’an. The following were the Warring States Period. Next, we move to the disunited period in China’s history. There were many rival kingdoms that make up what is now China. It was not until Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di came along and united China, in 221 BC. It was Qin for whom China is named. He also started construction on the Great Wall of China at this time, to protect China from barbarian invasions. He has become famous for the Terra Cotta Warriors that were discovered in the 1970s. Some 10,000 life sized warriors made of clay, each individualized and carrying weapons were buried intentionally near his pyramid mound tomb at Xi’an, in Shanxi Province, to protect the king after death in a ritualized way. Following Qin we have many succeeding dynasties, such as the Han, who were contemporaries with Rome, the T’ang, an imperial dynasty unmatched in imperial and geographical greatness, the Song, who were noted for their magnificent literary and poetic achievements, the Yuan Dynasty from the Mongols who conquered China, founded by Genghis Khan and completed by Kublai Khan. The Ming followed this and then the Q’ing, or Manchu Dynasty. China has had a magnificent history, and it is culturally rich and sophisticated. This documentary gives some great information that is accurate, and includes some of the latest archaeological discoveries that have come out of China, from the Shang to Emperor Qin. I have been to Xi’an, and was extremely priveledged to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, and to climb to the top of Emperor Qin’s earthen pyramid tomb.

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