Difference between revisions of "World History Lecture Three"

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Ch’in was the first unified Chinese empire, and its king was Shih huang-ti.  It lasted until the Han dynasty rose to power in 206 B.C.  The Han dynasty then lasted 400 years until A.D. 220, and its name is still used to describe the ethnicity of 93% of Chinese today.
Ch’in was the first unified Chinese empire, and its king was Shih huang-ti.  It lasted until the Han dynasty rose to power in 206 B.C.  The Han dynasty then lasted 400 years until A.D. 220, and its name is still used to describe the ethnicity of 93% of Chinese today.
We will discuss these important dynasties below.  But first, let's examine the prevalent religious beliefs of ancient China.
=== Taoism ===
=== Taoism ===

Revision as of 14:21, 7 February 2009


World History

Third Lecture – Ancient History

Instructor, Andy Schlafly


This week we cover the great ancient empires in the East: India and China. This requires learning about many new religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Then we conclude by discussing the rise of Christianity.

Ask yourself at the outset: why learn about any religion other than Christianity? That is a good question to ask. Many Christians could conclude that, having found their faith, there is no reason to study non-Christian religions.

There are several valid reasons to study other religions, however. Christian missionaries, for example, need to understand the religions of the peoples they are attempting to convert. World leaders and travelers should understand the different religious views of peoples they encounter, even if they are not trying to convert them. In business it is important to know the values and beliefs of people with whom you deal.

Just as language shapes a culture's success and way of thinking, religion plays a large role in society. It's easy to see the differences between, for example, Islamic and Christian culture. Each has its own way of life, dress, social structure, and much more.

It is possible that learning about other religions, and how they differ from Christianity, can strengthen one’s appreciation of Christianity. Christianity has spread more than any other religion, moving from the Roman Empire to the Northern Barbarians in Europe and eventually to America. But Islam has always been strongest in the Middle East, where it began, and hasn't spread nearly as much as Christianity.

It is also fascinating to see how distant peoples struggled with religious issues without the benefit of Christianity and came to certain conclusions about life, morals, and unseen truth.

So let us proceed:


Little information survives concerning the history of ancient India. There was a massive immigration into the country around 3000 B.C. by people who called themselves “Aryans” or “nobles”. They spoke an Indo-European language which formed the basis for Sanskrit, which is the standard ancient language of India just as Latin is the standard ancient language of Europe. Yet while Latin is a dead language today, Sanskrit is still an official language in India and the scriptures of Hinduism are written in Sanskrit. The most sacred of these scripts form the Vedas and Upanishads, which are considered to be of the greatest authority, importance, and antiquity.

Ancient India

The roots of ancient India were settlements in the fertile Indus River Valley in what is now Pakistan and northwest India. This was one of the most fertile regions in the world at the time, with plentiful farm products and animals. The region was surrounded in the north by the Himalaya mountains, protected to the west by the Indu Kush mountains, and insulated from the east by the Great Indian Desert. Like Egypt, this region had unique geographic protections against invasion by foreign enemies. Two cities have been discovered there: Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa (huh-ROP-uh). Other small towns have also been unearthed. This ancient civilization existed from about 3000 B.C. to 1300 B.C., and its peak was 2600 to 1900 B.C. It is known as the Indus Valley Civilization or Harappan Civilization, named after its big city, Harappa. These early settlements existed long before classical Indian civilization, which was from 300 B.C. to A.D. 500, and are among the largest ancient civilizations we know of.

Writings have been found from ancient India, but no one has been able to decipher them yet. The reason these writings are so difficult to decipher is that the symbols are extremely tiny, and all the writings we have contain only a few of these symbols.

In terms of technology, the inhabitants of these cities were quite advanced. The ancient peoples of the Indus River Valley civilization had advanced use of water: pipes, drains and indoor bathrooms. They were precise with mathematics, and used this skill to measure weight and mass quite accurately. But unlike most other civilizations at the time, the ruins of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa do not contain any large palaces or monuments to false gods.

The people survived on agriculture and traded with Mesopotamia, but a good portions of the inhabitants were tradesmen, as artistic artifacts from Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa bear testament. The fertile land and geographic protection of the Indus River Valley allowed early civilizations to thrive there.

The Sarasvati River, which is named after a Hindu goddess, was the largest in ancient India, flowing west of Delhi and providing water to a fertile region as described in the Rig Veda, which is the most fundamental of the sacred Vedic Hindu texts. (The river has since completely dried up, but was proven to have existed by satellite photographs of India.) Food and commerce in the Indus River Valley was based on barley (yava), copper (ayas) and cattle. By 2600 B.C., the Indus-Sarasvati civilization became the largest civilization in the ancient world, spreading from Pakistan to many areas of India today. It had links to Mesopotamia, Afghanistan, Central Asia and elsewhere. Its population is estimated to have been 100,000.

By 2000 B.C., the world’s population was 27 million, 22% of which lived in India. Interestingly, India still contains a high percentage of the worlds population. Today India has 16% or so of the world’s population. Three of the world’s ten most populated cities today are in India: Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi.

Around 1500 B.C., nomads known as “Aryans” invaded through the Bolan and Khyber passes in the Hindu Kush mountain range. The Aryans spoke Sanskrit, an Indo-European language. They conquered the Dravidians and caused them to south into India. Religious literature describes these struggles in the “Rig Veda” and two long poems known as the “Mahabharata” and the “Ramayana”. By 900 B.C. iron smelting was discovered and became useful in making weapons and tools to clear fields and the jungle for agriculture. The Aryans were very successful in cultivating the land along the banks of the Ganges River Valley, aided by winds known as monsoons that brought rain from the Indian Ocean. Rice was the most popular crop, and remains the world’s leading crop even today.

By 975 B.C., the King Hiram of Phoenicia encouraged trade between India and King Solomon of Israel. In 950 B.C., Jewish people arrived in India in King Solomon’s merchant fleet, and later established colonies there. Around the same time, perhaps due to increased trade, Sanskrit began to decline as the spoken language of India. Priestly Sanskrit was later refined between 750 and 250 B.C.

Perhaps the people migrated southeast to what is India today. The Vedic (pronounced VAYD-ik) civilization existed from about 1500 to 500 B.C., and is credited with developing the religion and culture of Hinduism (explained further below). But the “classical” civilization of India came later, after this foundation had been laid. Classical India consisted of two major empires: the Mauryan Empire (322-185 B.C.) and the Gupta Empire (A.D. 320-467). Before, during and after these empires there was very little in the way of a central government, and thus, India is best understood by studying its major religion, Hinduism. This is one of the oldest and longest-surviving religions in the history of the world, thriving to this day. India is also the origin of two other major religions, Buddhism and Jainism. One of Jesus’ Apostles (Thomas) went to India and established a Christian community there that thrives to this day.

Classical Indian Civilization

The beginning of classical India was when the Achaemenid Persians invaded the Indus Valley region in 572 B.C. Aryans led by Magadha joined together to repel the Persians, but internal religious conflict prevented unity.

Later Alexander the Great invaded in 327 B.C., spreading Greek influence in the region. The time Alexander's troops spent in India was a strange experience for them. For example, they had never seen elephants. Imagine their surprise when the Indians fought aboard these massive creatures during a battle on the banks of the river. In that same battle, Alexander's favorite horse, Buchephalus was injured and died. After that, Alexander wanted to continue East, but his troops refused, and he was forced to leave India unconquered.

Afterwards, in 322 B.C., Chandragupta Mauryan defeated the Greek general Seleucus, who ruled a large part of East Asia which Alexander the Great had conquered. Chandragupta Mauryan and became king of Seleucus' land, creating the largest Indian empire in India's history. He built an elaborate capital city at Pataliputra, which surpassed even the splendor of the great Persian cities, and was the largest city in the world at that time, with over 150,000 inhabitants. Pataliputra was also home to several Buddhist monasteries.

Chandragupta Mauryan built a massive army of 500,000 soldiers and his advisor, Kautilya, wrote a book how to maintain political power called the Arthashastra. He wrote that punishment was the key to government. In other words, Chandragupta was a tough dictator. But his name is revered, as many Indians to this day bear the last name of “Chandra” or “Gupta”.

His grandson, Ashoka, underwent a religious conversion from Hinduism to Buddhism while he held power (268-232 B.C.). Buddhism emphasizes non-violence and Ashoka’s conversion caused him to rule as a benevolent dictator, stressing compassion and even apologizing for his role in killing 150,000 Indians! He displayed tolerance towards all religions and helped erect shrines to Hinduism and Jainism, another religion of India. He elevated the status of women, who were already highly respected under the Hindu culture. In Buddhism women could become monks. He also promoted trade with the expanding Roman empire to the West, and the growing Han dynasty in China to the East. But after Ashoka died, the empire fell into civil war, and became vulnerable to outside invaders, such as the Bactrian Greeks in the second century B.C. and the Buddhist Kushan in 100 B.C. A council of Buddhist monks was convened under Kanishka, King of Kushan, to regulate Buddhism, and the result was Mahayana Buddhism.

The other major Indian empire was the Gupta empire, from A.D. 320 to 467. In A.D. 320 Chandra Gupta I, who had no connection to the prior ruling Chandragupta Mauryan, rose to power, conquered the Ganges Valley, and established a new Hindu dynasty. Trade with the rest of the world flourished under his regime. He had a policy of religious tolerance. Intellectual and economic achievement was high. One famous poet and playwriter was Kalidasa, who wrote plays that were much more upbeat and happy than the dreary Greek tragedies and several epic poems. The Indian number system, known as “Arabic numerals,” was developed and is now used worldwide. A Buddhist monastery at Nalanda established a university that attracted thousands of students. A great Indian doctor named Caraka developed a code of medical ethics, and the practice of medicine flourished. The Indians also developed a form of iron that could withstand rust, and it was used in buildings.

In short, Ancient Indian civilization achieved much socially, artistically, religiously, and politically.


The key to understanding India lies in its ancient religion of Hinduism, a polytheistic religion using multiple gods who were ultimately understood to be part of one god: Brahma, the supreme god of life. The name “Hindu” comes from the word Hindustan, the word for riverland, and the birth of Hinduism was the merger of the Upanishadic and Vedic religious traditions in ancient India. Muslim invaders of the A.D. 11th and 13th centuries started using the term to describe Indians who were not Buddhists and refused to convert to Islam. In the A.D. 16th century European merchants and missionaries started using the term also. But while Hinduism is not limited to one set of clear beliefs, it does represent a common belief system and today there are 1.05 billion adherents to Hinduism in the world, nearly all of whom live in India. (There is also a significant Christian population in India today, and Mother Theresa won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1980 for her Christian charity work there.)

Hinduism focuses on “The Eternal Way,” which means that certain spiritual principles are true for eternity, transcending what is man-made. This is like a science of consciousness. The advancement of knowledge is emphasized by Hinduism, and today many Indians can be found obtaining PhDs or medical degrees. Many Indians are entering engineering and similar high-tech professions, and American companies are gradually hiring more and more Indians for these jobs because of the high quality of their work and their competitive prices. Hindus in the United States are predominantly Republican.

Hinduism is practices through meditation using yoga. Historically, Hindus believed in reincarnation, a belief that spread even to the Greek philosopher Pythagoras in 560 B.C. Visitors to India are impressed or surprised by seeing cows wandering about, disrupting traffic and commerce. The expression “sacred cow” comes from the belief in reincarnation, and the view that a cow may be the reincarnation of one of your ancestors or deceased relatives.

The basic belief of Hinduism is in a cycle of life often represented by a dancing woman in a ring of fire, who is the god “Shiva” representing creation and destruction. Other symbols are the god Brahma representing creation and the god Vishnu representing preservation or continuance of life. In Hindu statutes a flat palm facing the onlooker represents peace, while a drum symbolizes creation.

In 1966, the Supreme Court of India defined what Hinduism is for legal purposes:

1. Belief in the authority of the Vedas (an ancient hymns to the gods, written in Sanskrit). The oldest collection of hymns in the Vedas is the Rig Veda, which was written between 1800 and 1300 B.C. The greatest Veda hymn is the “Bhagavad Gita,” a section in the Mahabharata concerning life’s never-ending spiritual journey towards perfection, to be attained by adhering to a code of conduct. The Bhagavad Gita is a spiritual guide to life’s problems, like the parables of Christianity.

2. Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and respect an opponent’s view.

3. Belief in world rhythms: long periods of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession.

4. Belief in reincarnation (rebirth) and pre-existence.

5. Belief that there are many ways to salvation.

6. Belief that the number of gods to be worshiped may be large, although some Hindus reject the worship of gods altogether.

7. Unlike most other religions, Hinduism is not defined by a specific set of philosophical concepts.

Lacking from this modern legal definition is the caste system set forth in the Code of Manu, whereby the accumulation of a person’s good deeds (or evil acts) in his prior lives (his “karma”) determine whether he is born into a family at a higher or lower caste level, or even lower as an animal or plant. Upon full compliance with the Hindu moral code, the person is released from the “wheel of life” and attains unity with Brahma (universal all). This belief is known as “Moksha”.

The highest caste is the “Brahmans” (priests and scholars), a term used today in English to describe wealthy, aloof New England families, like John Kerry’s. (The English non-religious term is spelled “Brahmins”.) The traditional goal of Hindus is to reach Brahma, or spiritual perfection, by observing dharma (DER-muh) (moral or religious duties of your caste). Below the Brahmans in the Hindu case system are the Kshatriya (rulers), the Vaishya (peasants), and then the serfs (Shudra). Below the lowest caste level are the “untouchables” or Harijans, who are slaves and outcasts.

In Hindu society, a woman was generally treated like a dependent to be taken care of and supervised by her father, husband or brother. Government was by a local prince or “raja”, also spelled as rajah. The English word “raj” means reign.

The omission of the traditional caste system from the Indian Supreme Court’s modern definition illustrates how Hinduism adapts to changing times, which has helped it survive for thousands of years and become one of the oldest surviving religions. For example, Hinduism survived the threat posed by the rival religion Buddhism simply by treating the founder of Buddhism like another god and adding him to the religion. Today India is 82% Hindu.

Hinduism holds a special reverence for all living creatures, and violence against life is prohibited. Abortion has historically been very rare in India. The attitude towards women in Hinduism is of special respect in the family structure. Women obeyed their husbands under Hinduism. A much-criticized and rare practice in India was for a wife, after her husband’s death, to throw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre to die as a way of honoring him. This is known as “sati” or “suttee” (suh-TEE).

If you go to a doctor in this country of Indian descent you may find the “Oath of the Hindu Physician” hanging on his wall: “... Speak the truth; Not eat met; Care for the good of all living beings; ... Be simply clothed and drink no intoxicant; ... Consider time and place; Always seek to grow in knowledge; ... Never take a present from a woman without her husband’s consent; ... What happens in the house [of the patient] must not be mentioned outside ....”

Hinduism has been the backbone of Indian culture for thousands of years. The religion enabled Indians to survive countless invasions, such as by Alexander the Great in 327 B.C. when he conquered most of the Indus valley. But he could not change the Indian culture much. Hinduism has also withstood both Islam and communism. The Hindu faith is extremely resilient to foreign beliefs, and the survival of Hinduism protected the Indian culture and way of life.


Jainism is a branch of Hinduism that emphasizes the principle of non-violence towards all life. Jainism requires strict vegetarianism, for example. Jainism was founded by Mahavira (540-468 B.C.), who taught self-denial and non-violence against any form of life. Jainism’s strict requirements of self-denial caused it to lose popularity, but the religion remained strong and today has over 4 million adherents worldwide (including 7000 in the U.S.). It influenced Gandhi later in India, and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the United States. Jainism strictly prohibits abortion.

Jainism rejects the authority of the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of Hinduism.


Siddhartha Gautama was a royal Hindu prince who lived from 563 to 483 B.C. As a young prince he was disturbed by seeing suffering in old people and sick people. On one occasion, he saw a dead body (corpse) and was deeply upset. As a Hindu, Prince Siddhartha believed in reincarnation and the possibility of repeated suffering in many lives disturbed him further. He meditated for a long time under a tree and emerged from it as the “Enlightened One” who founded a new religion of Buddhism. Once he became the Buddha, his followers referred to him as “Buddha Shakyamuni” (“Shakya” is the name of his royal family and “Muni” means “Able One.”), or “the Buddha” for short. The term “Buddha” today can also apply to any “Awakened One” in the religion of Buddhism.

Siddhartha declared that happiness is found not by improving one’s “karma” under Hinduism, but by embracing Four Noble Truths: (1) suffering is universal, (2) craving or desire causes it, (3) the cure is to eliminate the craving or desire, and (4) following the Eightfold Path helps eliminate this desire and attain “nirvana”. Nirvana is a release from suffering to attain inner peace and complete contentment. The Eightfold Path is a multifaceted guide to nirvana that relies on wisdom (right view and intention); ethics (right speech, action & livelihood); and mind (right effort, mindfulness & concentration). In other words, the Eightfold Path is a system of meditation that can be followed by anyone at any social or caste level.

Forty-nine (49) days after the Buddha’s enlightenment, he began teaching. He taught the first Wheel of “Dharma” (one’s duty or nature) to achieve protection from suffering. The Buddha also taught the Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle, of Buddhism. Later, the Buddha taught the second and third Wheels of Dharma. Together these teachings became the source of the Mahayana, or Great Vehicle, of Buddhism. The Hinayana teaching describes how to attain freedom from suffering for oneself alone. The Mahayana teaching describes how to attain full enlightenment (“Buddhahood”) for the sake of others. The Buddha encouraged everyone to practice Dharma to improve inner peace and happiness, and improve the quality of life. Inner peace is considered under Buddhism to be the key to outward peace.

What is the practice of Buddhism like? Buddhists seek a moral life that emphasizes meditation. The goal of the meditation is to end cravings and desires and attain a release from suffering, or “nirvana”. Buddhism encourages increased wisdom and understanding. Buddhists tend not to proselytize aggressively, but fully accept converts. There are Buddhists in most countries today.

Founded in India, Buddhism has grown to become the fourth largest world religion (behind Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, in that order). A strict version of Buddhism spread in Southeast Asia (e.g., Cambodia and Vietnam). A more liberal (less strict) version spread into China, Japan and Korea. Buddhism has a larger following in the U.S. today than Hinduism, but Hinduism is much stronger than Buddhism in India.

There are many statues of the Buddha, and they vary from country to county to show the Buddha as an inhabitant of the local country. The hand position (mudras) in the statute shows whether the Buddha is teaching, giving a blessing, or meditating.

Comparison of Hinduism with Buddhism

The biggest difference between Hinduism and Buddhism is that Buddhism is less moral, and welcomes all. Hinduism is highly moral but based on castes and reincarnation.

But there are many similarities between the two religions. Buddha himself was a Hindu. Here is a list of what Hinduism and Buddhism have in common:

1. Both religions promote meditation or other forms of spiritual practice.

2. Both religions preach non-violence towards all forms of life.

3. Both religions believe in karma in binding people to this world, and believe in a cycle of births and deaths (reincarnation).

4. Both religions believe in multiple hells and heavens.

5. Both religions emphasize detachment and renunciation of materialism, and treat desire as the major cause of suffering.

There are also many important differences between the two religions:

1. Buddhism does not believe in the existence of souls or “first cause” (God). For this reason many do not consider Buddhism to be a true religion, but merely a belief system. Hinduism believes that Brahman is the Supreme Creator and that the soul (Atman) does exist.

2. Buddhism views the world as filled with sorrow, and the highest goal of human life is to end sorrow. Hinduism has four major goals for everyone to pursue: religious duty (dharma), wealth (artha), desires (kama) and salvation (moksha).

3. Hinduism believes in four stages in life (ashramas), while Buddhism rejects this.

4. Hinduism is a religion of the individual and thus has no monks. Buddhism has many monks.

5. Hinduism does not have any prophets, while the Buddha founded Buddhism.

6. Buddhism rejects the sacred scriptures of Hinduism, the Vedas.

The Hindu response to the competition presented by Buddhism was to treat the Buddha as another god of Hinduism (the incarnation of Mahavishnu, one of the gods of the Hindu trinity). This enabled Hinduism to remain far more popular than Buddhism in India, but not outside India.

India’s Contributions

What can we thank ancient India for? Our Arabic numerals, which are derived from Hindu numbers. Also, the game of chess was probably invented in India, but maybe not until A.D. 500. The original game lacked the powerful “queen”, and Muslim versions of the game lack the queen to this day. Vedic mathematics, which is an ancient math system found in the Hindu scriptures, is taught to this day. It emphasizes solving complex math problems orally. India first discovered the concept of “zero” around the sixth century, which remarkably was not part of mathematics before then, but has been essential ever since.

Indian religion adds a transcendental quality that has found popularity worldwide in the form of meditation, and in the mid-1800s American writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson began citing Indian practices after abandoning Christianity. Emerson wrote, “I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavat-Gita. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spake to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions that exercise us.”

Today, the popularity of the English language in India, its low cost of living, and its intelligent workforce make it an attractive place for large American companies to relocate their jobs.

Today India is more than a country. It is a subcontinent. It is vast in size: two-fifths the area of all of Europe. 150 different languages are spoken there today. In this century India will most likely surpass China as the most populous country in the world. Even though it has traditionally been a poor country, for decades it has produced more food than it can consume. The highly religious people of India are advancing the frontiers of medicine, mathematics and many other fields today.


China, like India, is significant because it has so many people. But there the similarities end. There is no Hinduism in China. There is very little ethnic diversity in China, in contrast to India and many Western countries today. Christianity has struggled to convert the country, and only about one out of nine Chinese are Christian. And even that small number is due almost completely to courageous efforts in the face of much governmental persecution of religion.

China has always been isolated by geographic protections. The highest mountains in the world, the Himalayas, separate it from India. The Himalaya Mountain Range is famous for giants like Mount Everest and K2.

Vast amounts of semi-desert land known as the Gobi desert separate China from the Middle East and the area which was Mesopotamia in ancient times. In the south of China, the Yangtze river flows for 3000 miles, navigable from the sea for half of its course.

In the north is the Yellow river, which gets its name from the murky tan color of its waters. The Yellow River is known for its tendency to flood surrounding lands with disastrous results. The silt and sand carried in the muddy water builds up on the bottom of the river until it blocks the water's flow and causes the river to divert its course, flooding into another area. Floods like these make the course of the Yellow River very changeable.

Ancient China

The earliest archaeological evidence in China is of the Shang dynasty, 1766-1122 B.C. By folklore it began when the virtuous and wise man named T’ang overthrew the decadent emperor Chieh of the Hsia dynasty. The Shang dynasty was ultimately overthrown and replaced by the Chou dynasty.

The Shang dynasty built cities in northern China, along the eastern banks of the Yellow River. It did not control all of the land that belongs to China today. Sometimes called the Yellow River civilization, the Shang dynasty benefited from bronze that Mesopotamia had introduced to China around 2000 B.C. Bronze had been invented in Mesopotamia around 3000 B.C.

The Shang dynasty had writing in the form of oracle bones: questions and answers inscribed on actual bone. The bones were quite common and created during the pagan oracles involved in ancient Chinese religion. For archaeologists, these bones were the first concrete evidence that the Shang dynasty really had existed. Before that, it was widely regarded as nothing more than a myth. But if oracle bones were so common, why didn't archaeologists find them sooner? Oracle bones were widely sold as "dragon bones" and believed to have magical healing properties. Thus, oracle bones were generally ground up and used as medicine. No one realized what the bones were until a high ranking official who was sick noticed that the bone which was to be ground for his medicine was covered in strange glyphs. His discovery proved the existence of the Shang dynasty.

The Shang empire consisted of city-states, with much war between the various cities but particularly against the non-urbanized, agricultural populations in the rural areas. The capital cities shifted as often as power changed hands. The Shang dynasty perfected the wheel and used chariots in warfare.

China used a pictographic form of writing that it continues to utilize to this day, albeit in a more developed form. Often the word looked like its meaning, though today the characters are much more complex.

The Zhou or Chou dynasty replaced the Shang dynasty in 1027 B.C., and benefited from the Iron Age. The Iron Age is the period of human history characterized the smelting of iron and its use in industry in western Asia and Egypt. The Zhou dynasty lasted longer than any other one in Chinese history, ruling until 221 B.C. However, the dynasty ruled on the eastern part of China during the last few hundred years of its reign. The multiplication table, which is essential to modern mathematics, was developed during this dynasty.

Early Chinese religion consisted of worshiping a supreme god called “Shang Ti,” or “Lord on High.” Shang Ti ruled over the lesser gods of the sun, moon, wind, rain and other aspects of nature. The ancient Chinese people worshiped these gods with human sacrifices. When a king died, for example, hundreds of slaves and prisoners would be sacrificed in his honor. There were also sacrifices on a smaller scale when a temple or palace was constructed.


The great figure in ancient China was Confucius, who lived from 551 to 478 B.C. He lived around the same time as the early Greek philosophers, and taught social ethics to the people. His real name was Kung Fu-tze, or Master Kung. The name Confucius is simply a Latin translation of his real name. His disciples wrote down his teachings in a book called the Analects, which focused on man’s duties to obey a universal natural law. Moderation in conduct, or “li”, was emphasized, and filial piety (respecting the older members of one’s family) was the goal of the practices outlined in the Analects. Age itself is greatly honored in Chinese culture, unlike Christianity: the older a person was, the wiser he must be. Confucius taught rulers to be just, and said those being ruled should be loyal to their rulers.

Confucius wrote little himself, but his disciples recorded his teachings in the Analects. This book had become a classic and has had enormous influence over Chinese history. Confucius emphasized rational analysis with a touch of flexibility. He disavowed any original insight or knowledge, and opposed anything egotistical. He once said, “I for my part am not one of those who have innate knowledge. I am simply one who loves the past and who is diligent in investigating it.”

After Confucius died there was an era of the Warring States, from 481-221 B.C. During that time several teachers emerged with their own interpretations of Confucian thought. The two leading ones were Mencius (371-289 B.C.) and Hsun-tzu (298-230 B.C.). Mencius felt that mankind was essential good and that philosophers like himself should run the country. Hsun Tzu, in contrast, fell that man was intrinsically evil and that a wise and powerful ruler was necessary to maintain order. Hsun Tzu's ideas became powerful, and laid the intellectual groundwork for the brutal Chinese dictatorships that followed the Warring States: the Chi’in or Qin state (221-206 B.C.).

Ch’in was the first unified Chinese empire, and its king was Shih huang-ti. It lasted until the Han dynasty rose to power in 206 B.C. The Han dynasty then lasted 400 years until A.D. 220, and its name is still used to describe the ethnicity of 93% of Chinese today.

We will discuss these important dynasties below. But first, let's examine the prevalent religious beliefs of ancient China.


Taoism (also known as Daoism) eventually caught on in China and Southeast Asia (e.g., Vietnam) more than other religions, probably due to its greater compatibility with the Confucian foundation. Taoism is more philosophical than the world’s largest religions of Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. The symbol for Taoism, for example, is the Taijitu or “Yin and Yang,” in which a curved half of a circle divides a shaded from a clear region to represent a constant interaction in nature between two forces having opposite qualities:

The Yin (darker side) is passive or negative or feminine; the Yang (lighter side) is active or positive or masculine. While western philosophy views this dualism as a struggle, in China the goal is to harmonize these complementary forces. Taoism and Confucianism strive to obtain harmony, though in Taoism is the focus is on nature while in Confucianism the focus is on men.

The basic differences between Confucianism, Taoism and a third philosophy in China called “Legalism” were the following. Confucianism emphasized education, tradition, reference for elders and ancestors, and a strong government. Taiosm emphasized harmony with nature, and preferred the least amount of government. Legalism, the forerunner to modern communist China, held that a strong government was essential to control the people.

Buddhism emphasizes personal salvation more than Taoism. It makes little difference today in China, where the communist dictators impose atheism as the official religion (lack of religion). But in ancient China, before communism, these religions competed with each other for followers. Taoism advanced at the expense of Confucianism, which lost ground until northern rulers reestablished the Mandate of Heaven, the theory that heaven blessed good rulers but overthrew bad ones, which was first used by the Zhou Dynasty to justify overthrowing the Shang Dynasty. These northern rulers obtained control in A.D. 589 under the Sui and Tang Dynasties.

Imperial China

The first imperial or national Chinese dynasty was the Qin or Ch’in dynasty (221-206 B.C.), which was founded by the ruler of the Zhou vassal state Qin, Prince Zheng. The Qin dynasty was superb in battle, using chariots and iron weaponry, and that enabled Prince Zheng to conquer all the Chinese states and unify the country. The Qin dynasty built many internal improvements, such as roads, canals and irrigation, using iron and bronze tools. It was the Qin dynasty that began to construct the Great Wall, which stretches today for 1,400 miles. China has always feared and been threatened by foreign invaders, and the wall was a way to defend itself. It is from “Qin” that the name “China” is derived. But the Qin dynasty’s highly legal approach led to rebellion.

The Han empire or dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D 220, with only a brief interruption from A.D. 6-23) built on the foundation of the Qin dynasty, extending the walls and roads. Liu Bang was the first Han ruler, and imposed a centralized government that was stable for many years. Empress Lu was a woman who seized power from 195-180 B.C. and then installed her sons as emperors while they were still infants. Han Wudi (141-87 B.C.) was the longest serving Han ruler. He was known for appointing efficient provincial administrators.

The Han dynasty expanded the territory of China into Vietnam and Korea, and administered the country from a centralized and organized civil service. This was the most significant of all Chinese dynasties, and is compared by historians to the Pax Romana period in the Roman empire. The Han dynasty valued education highly, and even created a scholar class of people known as “shi”. Historians criticize the Han dynasty, however, for treating women in an inferior manner.

The Han dynasty developed the famous Silk Road: 5,000 miles of interconnected roads linking China to the Mediterranean region, which enabled trade in silk and fine goods to greatly increase. Buddhism spread widely along the Silk Road, promoted both by traders and Buddhist monks, and reached China in A.D. 100. A new religion designed to appeal to merchants, Manichaeism (named after its founder Mani (A.D. 216-272)), also spread to Turkish nomads by teaching self-denial and acceptance of both Buddha and Jesus as prophets.

Trade flourished on the Silk Road, which China used to transport silk, spices gems, wine, cosmetics and even grain to the Mediterranean. By land the traders carrying the goods included all groups in the Middle East; by sea the Malay sailors mastered the tricky monsoon wind patterns. The Silk Road was influential from 150 B.C. to A.D. 900. Perhaps one might compare its enormous influence to the internet today!

The state philosophy of the Han dynasty was Confucianism. Technology advanced during this time, as did the arts. Paper, porcelain, the compass, the rudder, the seismograph and possibly acupuncture were all invented under the Han dynasty. Detailed historical records were maintained. Most Chinese were farmers, but China’s discovery of iron enabled it to do some highly profitable manufacturing.

The Han dynasty declined similar to the decline and fall of the Roman empire, though a bit earlier. Historians cite the same reasons for the decline of both empires: too vast an empire to administer and keep together, invasions by barbarians, hardship caused by the spread of disease and poor harvests, and overall economic failure. In both cases, leaders of the armies gained power as the empires declined, but the generals could not save the empires.

But historians credit both the Han dynasty and the Roman empire with lasting contributions to the world: roads and, for a while, peace and prosperity. The Han dynasty left us with paper, a greater emphasis on education, and the marvelous Silk Road. The Roman empire left us with a system of laws, a powerful language (Latin), and the spread of Christianity.

But just as the West fell into disorganization once Rome fell, so did China when the Han dynasty collapsed. China was ruled by regional governments known as the Three Kingdoms (A.D. 220-280). Many legends arose during this period, as described in a Chinese literature classic entitled, “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.”

It was not until A.D. 589 that the Sui Dynasty arose to reestablish centralized government. Subsequently the longer Tang and Song Dynasties ruled China also.

China’s Contributions

What inventions do we owe to ancient China? A great deal: gunpowder (not until A.D. 850), paper, fireworks, the compass, the umbrella, the fan, spaghetti, acupuncture, bamboo, harvesting silk, and perhaps the first planetarium. English philosopher Francis Bacon said this about three Chinese inventions: “Printing, gunpowder and the compass: These three have changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world; the first in literature, the second in warfare, the third in navigation; whence have followed innumerable changes, in so much that no empire, no sect, no star seems to have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs than these mechanical discoveries.”

The Rise of Christianity

The ancient world had several founders of great religions, but only one performed miracles: Jesus of Nazareth. His resurrection is the single greatest event in the history of the world. Do we know when it occurred?

It is easy to calculate the date of His crucifixion because we know it was during the reign of Pontius Pilate, who served from A.D. 26 to 36, thereby encompassing the entire period of ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus himself. A Roman historian named Philo described Pilate as inflexible, obstinate and merciless, and Pilate was hated by the Jewish people under his rule. The Gospels describe the savage retaliation by Pilate against Galileans as follows: “Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.” Luke 13:1 (NAS). Eventually the Romans removed Pilate from power for being too cruel.

A detailed analysis of the Gospel and historical sources places the date of the Crucifixion at Friday, April 3, A.D. 33, although some historians think it occurred in A.D. 29. You can review the evidence yourself at: http://www.themoorings.org/apologetics/69weeks/weeks4.html

From these dates come the traditional view that Jesus was 33 years old when He rose from the dead. However, the Gospels do not specify His age and it is not clear exactly when Jesus was born. We do know from the Gospels that He was less than 50. Many historians place his birth between 6 and 4 B.C. The description of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Luke refers to King Herod, whose brutal reign was from 37 to 4 B.C.

Here is where a slight mistake in the dating of our calendar from Christ’s birth may have been introduced. In the sixth century A.D., the Roman monk Dionysis the Little changed the calendar to recognize the birth of Christ. He calculated that Jesus was born the year that King Herod died, and modern historians agree. However, the monk thought that Herod died 753 years after the founding of Rome, instead of the correct 749 years after the founding of Rome. (King Herod is the ruler who ordered all babies in Bethlehem younger than 2 to be killed in his unsuccessful attempt to murder Jesus, whose family fled to Egypt to escape this.) Thus the monk estimated that Jesus was born four years later than He probably was. What was intended to be A.D. 1 was actually 4 B.C. Note that there is no year “0”, as the concept of “0” was unknown to the Greeks and not even discovered until the seventh century by mathematicians in India. The year that follows 1 B.C. is A.D. 1.

The teachings of Jesus are well-known to all of us, and were recorded in the Gospels (Greek for “good news”) by two of His apostles (Matthew and John) and two disciples (Mark and Luke). The Gospels were originally written in Greek, the common lingua franca (common or commercial language among diverse peoples) of the Roman Orient. No original Gospels have been found in Aramaic; the only discovered Aramaic Gospels are translations from Greek versions. The general consensus is that the Gospel according to Matthew was written particularly for Jews; the Gospel according to Mark was written particularly for Romans; the Gospel according to Luke was written particularly for Greeks; and the Gospel according to John was written for everyone. Jesus had emphasized that scribes were part of those He sent forth to proselytize the world. “I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes ….” (Matt 23:34 (NAS)).

Luke was a Greek physician (see Col 4:14) who accompanied Paul and also wrote the Acts of the Apostles describing the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Unlike the firsthand Gospels of Matthew and John, the Gospel of Luke records eyewitness accounts of others, much as a doctor asks a patient for his medical history and then writes it down in the medical file. Due to Luke’s professional nature, his Gospel is very comprehensive about Jesus’ life and resurrection, and it also conveys the great sense of joy that Jesus’ family, friends and followers felt. In the Battle of the Bulge in World War II (the surprise Nazi counterattack in Dec. 1944), which was one of the worst military defeats in American history, a minister’s son who had memorized Luke’s description of the Nativity recited it for his fellow soldiers on Christmas Eve while together in the trenches. Many of them died soon afterwards in battle.

The greatest writing in the history of the world is the Gospel of John, the Apostle whom Jesus loved the most. John likely revised and perfected this Gospel for decades before releasing it to others. As was typical for many of the greatest authors in history, such as Copernicus, John’s work was probably not released to the public until he passed away. Isaac Newton, to take another example, delayed publication of his great mathematical discoveries for decades. As long as something can be improved and developed further, there may not be any reason to publish it prematurely.

American soldiers in World Wars I and II would carry copies of the Gospel of John with them as they journeyed to faraway battles. This single book has done more to shape human thought and behavior than any other work. Our uniquely American First Amendment right of free speech is based on ministers preaching of the “Word” of God as described in the first few verses of the Gospel of John.

Archaeological discoveries in Jerusalem confirm, to the dismay of skeptics, many references in the Gospels about Jesus’ work. The Pool of Bethesda has been discovered (John 5:1f). The Pavement has been found (John 19:13). The setting of Jacob’s well has been discovered (John 4). Because Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70 (see discussion below), it would have been impossible for a writer after A.D. 70 to make up any of these details.

Paul of Taurus (now southern Turkey) was Jewish and converted to Christianity within a year or two of the Crucifixion while on the road to Damascus (now located in Syria), and afterwards spread the Good News far and wide within the Roman empire. He was both a prolific writer and scholar, and a prodigious missionary who traveled on three great missions throughout the Roman empire before being executed by a beheading in Rome in A.D. 62 (as a Roman citizen, Paul could not be scourged or crucified). Several of Paul’s letters are included in the New Testament, and often quoted to this day. (For example, in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he condemns homosexuality. Romans 1:27.) Peter, who was not a Roman citizen, likewise spread the faith before being crucified in Rome, by his choice upside down out of the utmost respect to Jesus’ own Crucifixion.

Many misconceptions about early Christians persist to this day. Americans are often taught that all the disciples were ignorant fishermen who could not read or write. This is plainly false, as several communicated by letter while held in jail by Roman authorities. Many of the insights and truths revealed in the Gospels by the Apostles could only have been understood and taught by people of tremendous intelligence and faith.

Christianity was taken by the early Christians as far and wide as possible. The religious celebrations consisted of a communal meal, called “communion” today but given the Greek name for “love feat” then: “agape”. This reenacted the Last Supper of Christ as described in the Gospels. The concept of Christian love had a profound effect on the world and forever changed it for the better.

Mark founded a church in Egypt under the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, first converting Alexandrian Jews such as Theophilus and also converting many native Egyptians who were neither Greek nor Jewish. It was for Theophilus and the Egyptian community that Luke wrote his Gospel and Acts of the Apostles, addressing Theophilus in the beginning of each. Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1. The local language in Egypt was Coptic, and translations of the Gospels into that language have been discovered which date from the first half of the second century. Coptic Christianity remains in Egypt to this day, although Islam has become the most popular religion there. Some cite the acceptance of Arabic as a liturgical language by the Pope of Alexandria as aiding the rise to dominance of Islam there. Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas each year on January 7th, which is a national holiday in Egypt.

The Apostle Thomas, known as the “Doubting Thomas” traveled as far as India and established a Christian community that remains there to this day, although the country is still majority Hindu.

Christianity differs from other major religions in its peaceful evangelism, spreading its truths through freedom of speech. Christianity is unlike religions that lack an evangelical component, such as Judaism and Hinduism, and Christianity also differs from Islam in the manner in which force is used.