The zhou dynasty co-existed with the Shang dynasty. It was the longest period in Chinese history, some eight centuries, that a rule existed. It is mainly thought now that the start of the dynasty at 1046 bce. This is as result of archaeological discoveries putting the dynasty back earlier than had been thought before.
The dynasty ended in 256 bce. It is believed that it was the Zhou dynasty that established the distinctive political and cultural characteristics that we identify with China for the next two millennia.
There was both friendly cooperationg and competition and war between Zhou and Shang forces from time to time but after the last battle, the Zhou created various feudal states within the empire to maintain order and safeguard the emperor’s hold on the land. The original Zhou capital was located near present-day Xi’an in Shaanxi on the Wei River.
The warring states or Zhanguo or Chan-Kuo period came immediately before the Qin dynasty and was the reason or cause of that dynasty succeeding. There had been peaceful periods during the Zhou dynasty (the Spring and Autumn periods) but various states became unsettled and set war upon others during the period of 475 BCE until the establishment of the Qin dynasty in 221 BCE.
The period of the Warring States commenced when the numerous and small city-state kingdoms had been consolidated into seven major competitive ones, plus a few minor additions. The Qin dynasty, though short, was far more successful and permanently influential than the warring period.
However, the Zhou dynasty was itself highly significant and determining before the warring of the small states.
The Fengjian system in Ancient China resembled the later feudal system in medieval Europe. There was a clear hierarchy and expectation of roles that meant everyone 'knew his place'. The feudal lords were rich and had the power to protect.
Their needs were met by the knights who were educated and academic, and by farmers who gave over their products in return for protection. The country was governed by independent states, which worked well for quite a long time, each state having its own ruler.
The whole system derived from the ideology of Confucius. There were four classes: knights, craftsmen, farmers and merchant/traders. A good time for those with artistic skill, to be ranked only second to knights!
Several states in the Zhou dynasty, which had lasted for many generations, were captured during the Warring States period. Eventually, amongst the self-styled kings of the independent states, one from the strongest state overcame the rest in 221 BC.
This was the Emperor of the state of Qin. He had exceptional ability as a leader, supported b a strong army and was able to manipulate the other six states. This Emperor, Ying Zheng called himself First Emperor and that is why his period, the Qin Dynasty, is known as the first Imperial (emperor) period. He didn't rule long, but managed to unify China as one political entity amongst other important achievements.
Some of the important discoveries made during the Shang and Zhou dynasty include: Bronze work: the Shang dynasty industrialized bronze work, they made exquisite bronze vessels and weapons as it reached the heights of China’s Bronze Age. Several workshops were built outside cities and equipped with iron tools, furnace, and melds. Workers were employed to shape bronze into jewellery, ceremonial devices, ornaments, dishes, weapons, helmets and utensils.
Military technology, calendar, writing and religion were other discoveries of the Shang dynasty. Some of the achievements of the Zhou dynasty include: Artistry: Iron and bronze were used to create new and impressive piece during the Zhou period. Technology and warfare: the military men improved the design of the crossbow. The trebuchet was invented at the time too. New innovations in architecture, cultural innovations, agricultural and commerce were improved during the Zhou dynasty.
The mandate of heaven doctrine was used by the Zhou to legitimize their overthrow of the Shang dynasty. The Zhou created the mandate of heaven. The idea of the mandate of heaven was that there could be only one legitimate ruler of China at the time, and that ruler had to be blessed by the gods. The mandate was used to justify their overthrown of the Shang. The Zhou believed that the Shang kings had lost their mandate by becoming immoral with excessive drinking and living a luxuriant life.
The god’s blessings were given to the new ruler of under the Zhou dynasty which ruled China for 800 years. If a ruler was overthrown it is interpreted that the ruler was unworthy. It was also a common believe that natural disasters were signs of heaven’s displeasure with the ruler.
What could be a better way of ensuring you were the right person to rule than to have Heaven decree it! This is basically what the Mandate of Heaven was, begun in the Shang dynasty but continued over generations.
The Shang king who instituted it only had his own power in mind but it worked against him, for the rule that gods decide needed morally worthy behaviour to underpin it. Shang kings became immoral with excessive drinking, an overbearing cruel approach and a lapse into luxurious life-styles.
With those in power needing to be moral in order to be chosen by the Mandate of Heaven, the country was more likely to be well run and with a populous who believed in the righteousness of the king to rule, they were more likely to cooperate.
The spring and autumn period of the ancient China refers to the period between 771 to 476 BC. It corresponds to the first half of Eastern Zhou dynasty. This time period is named after a book called the spring and Autumn Annals, which was a chronicle of the state of Lu. This period preceded the warring state period of the latter half of Eastern Zhou dynasty.
The tradition at the time was associated with Confucius. It was a time of turbulence and change in the economy, politics and military affairs. China’s feudal system of fengjian became irrelevant.
The five hegemons lived in the spring and autumn periods of the Zhou dynasty. the hegemon bestowed royal powers in military ventures. Duke Huan of Qi, Duke Wen of Jin and King Zhuang of Chu were the first three hegemons, Duke Song and Duke Qin the other two. Duke Huan reformed Qi to centralize its power structure. Others followed.
This slogan became the justification for such endeavours: ‘supporting the king, and expelling the barbarians’ In 643 BC, five of Duke Huan’s sons contended for the throne, badly weakening the state so that it was no longer regarded as the hegemon.
The Qin dynasty is ancient, but others, previously thought to be mythical, existed before. The Shang dynasty 1500 BCE has been evidenced thanks to oracle bones uncovered in 1899. Before this dynasty the Xia dynasty probably existed but no evidence has been found for this so far.
Even before the Xia there is oral history discussing the 3 Sovereigns and 5 Emperors period nearly 3000 BCE. Whether this was a set of dynasties is really not known at all. The well known Dynasties in northern China succeeded one another from 907 AD to 960 AD.
The Later Liang Dynasty, Later Tang Dynasty, Later Jin Dynasty, Later Han Dynasty, and Later Zhou Dynasty. But these are not all the dynasties in China.