Tuesday, July 29, 2008
The Sons of Heaven
The first Chinese rulers lived about 4,000 years ago. This early dynasty (period of rule) was known as the Xia. We know very little about Xia rulers, because this period of Chinese history has become mixed up with ancient myths and legends. Excavations have told us more about the Shang dynasty rulers over 3,000 years ago, who were waited on by slaves and fabulous treasures.
During the next period of rule, the Zhou dynasty, an idea grew up that the Chinese rulers were sons of Heaven, placed on the throne by the will of the gods. After China became a powerful united empire in 221BC, this idea helped keep the emperors in power. Rule of the empire was passed down from father to son. Anyone who seized the throne by force had to show that the over throne ruler had offended the gods.
Earthquakes and natural disasters were often taken as signs of the gods displeasure.
Chinese emperors were among the the most powerful rulers in history. Emperors of Chinas last dynasty, the Quing (1644-1912), lived in luxurious palaces that were cut off from the world. When they traveled through the streets, the common people had to stay indoors.
This stele (inscribed stone) on the above picture is located on the summit of Chinas holiest mountain, Taishan, in Shangdong province. To the ancient Chinese, Taishan was the home of the gods. For over 2,000 years the emperors climbed the carved steps to the temple to offer prayers.