General Introduction to Xia Dynasty

Xia Dynasty tool Xia dynasty of China is the first dynasty to be described in ancient historical chronicles such as Records of the Grand Historian and Bamboo Annals. According to Warring States and Han Dynasty texts, the Xia Dynasty was established by the legendary Yu the Great after Shun gave his throne to him, and was later defeated and replaced by the Shang. According to the traditional chronology based upon calculations by Liu Xin, the Xia ruled between 2205 and 1766 BC; however, according to the chronology based upon the Bamboo Annals, it ruled between 1989 and 1558 BC.


The Xia Shang Zhou Chronology Project concluded that the Xia existed between 2070 and 1600 BC. Because there are no textual records earlier than about 13th century BC in China, it is impossible to prove the existence of the Xia, despite efforts by Chinese archaeologists to link the Xia with the Erlitou archaeological site.


The tradition of tracing Chinese political history from heroic early emperors to the Xia to the Shang, etc., comes from the idea of the Mandate of Heaven, in which only one legitimate dynasty can exist at any given time, and was promoted by the Ru school (including Confucius) in the Eastern Zhou period, later becoming the basic position of imperial historiography and ideology. Thus although the Xia is an important element in early Chinese intellectual history, reliable information on the history of China before 13th century BC can only come from archaeological evidence.


Origins and Early Development of Xia Dynasty

According to ancient Chinese texts, before the Xia Dynasty was established, battles were frequent between the Xia tribe and Chiyou's tribe. The Xia tribe slowly developed around the time of Zhuanxu, one of the legendary Five Emperors. The Records of the Grand Historian and the Classic of Rites say that Yu the Great is the grandson of Zhuanxu, but there are also other records, like Ban Gu, that say Yu is the fifth generation of Zhuanxu. Based on this, it is possible that the people of the Xia clan are descendants of Zhuanxu


Gun's attempt to stop the flood

Gun, the father of Yu the Great, is the earliest recorded member of the Xia clan. When the Yellow River flooded, many tribes united together to control and stop the flooding. Gun was appointed by Yao to stop the flooding. He ordered the construction of large blockades to block the path of the water. The attempt of Gun to stop the flooding lasted for nine years but it was a failure because the floods became stronger. After nine years, Yao had already given his throne to Shun. Gun was ordered to be executed by Shun at Yushan (Chinese: 羽山), a mountain located between the modern Donghai County in Lianyungang, Jiangsu and the Linshu County in Linyi, Shandong.

Yu's effort to stop the flood

Yu, was highly trusted by Shun. So Shun appointed him to finish his father’s work which was to make the flooding stop. Yu’s method was different from his father’s; he united all the people of every tribe and ordered them to help him build canals in all the major rivers that were flooding and lead it out to the sea. He did this for 13 years, without going back to his home village. Legend says in those 13 years, he passed by his house three times without going in which is a sign of his perseverance in his work. The people who noticed him praised his perseverance and were so inspired by him that other tribes joined in his work as well. In the end, after 13 years, he was successful in stopping the floods and was greatly praised by his people.

Establishment of Xia dynasty

Yu was successful in stopping the flooding and increased the produce from farming (since the floods usually destroy the crops), the Xia tribe’s influence strengthened and Yu became the leader of the surrounding tribes. Soon afterwards Shun sent Yu to lead an army to suppress the Sanmiao tribe who continuously abused the boundary tribes. After defeating them, he exiled them south to the Han River area. Their victory strengthened the Xia tribe’s power even more. Shun, since he was getting old, started to think to whom he will pass his throne to. Shun abdicated the throne in favor of Yu which he deemed worthy.


This succession of Yu as the king is the start of the Xia Dynasty. Soon before his death, instead of passing power to the person deemed most capable to rule, Yu passed power to his son, Qi, setting the precedence for dynastic rule or the Hereditary System. The Xia Dynasty began a period of family or clan control. Jie, the last ruler, was said to be a corrupt king. He was overthrown by Tang, the first king of the Shang dynasty.


After the defeat of Xia by Shang, some members of the royal family of Xia Dynasty survived as the Qi (Henan) state until 445 BC. The Qi state was well recorded in the Oracle script as the one major supporter of the Xia Dynasty.[4] The Kings of the state of Yue, and therefore its succesor state Minyue, also claimed to be descended from Yu the Great.


Decline of Xia dynasty

The Skeptical School of early Chinese history, started by Gu Jiegang in the 1920s, was the first group of scholars within China to seriously question the traditional story of its early history: “the later the time, the longer the legendary period of earlier history... early Chinese history is a tale told and retold for generations, during which new elements were added to the front end” Yun Kuen Lee's criticism of nationalist sentiment in developing an explanation of Three Dynasties chronology focuses on the dichotomy of evidence provided by archaeological versus historical research, in particular the claim that the archaeological Erlitou Culture is also the historical Xia Dynasty. “How to fuse the archaeological dates with historical dates is a challenge to all chronological studies of early civilization.