Xia Dynasty — the First Hereditary Kingdom in China

Restoration Map of the Palace of the Xia Dynasty

Restoration Map of the Palace of the Xia Dynasty

 

What Is Xia Dynasty?

 

Xia Dynasty (about 2070 BC — 1600 BC) was the first hereditary kingdom in the history of China,  which was established in the Yellow River area by descendants of the Yellow Emperor (or Huang Di).

In about 471 years of Xia's ruling period, about 17 kings had reigned the empire.

Yellow River or Huang He in Henan Province

Yellow River or Huang He in Henan Province, Photo by Guo Ping.

 

Facts About the Xia Dynasty

  • Xia's founder Yu the Great tamed the Great Flood, established the Xia Empire, and then divided his land into nine administrative divisions. 

 

He was widely believed as the writer of the Classic of Mountains and Seas

 

  • Besides the central kingdom, 11 big clans paid tributes and pledged their loyalty. 

 

Outside of the Kingdom Xia, there were other states, most of whom were mentioned in the Classic of Mountains and Seas.  

King of the Xia Dynasty and the Vassal Lords
  • There is still no direct archaeological evidence that can prove the existence of the Xia Empire.

 

This kingdom has only been recorded in ancient Chinese historical documentation and literature. 

 

This leads to an extensive debate that whether archaeological evidence is the only standard to prove the existence of a dynasty, and the credibility of ancient written records.

 

  • The unearthed Erlitou Culture in the Yellow River valley areas is quite likely to be the relic site of part of the Xia Dynasty. 

Bronze Wine Cup (Jue) Unearthed from Erlitou Site

Bronze Wine Cup (Jue) Unearthed from Erlitou Site — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

 

Brief History of the Xia Dynasty

 

Establishment of the Hereditary Monarchy

Yu the Great was assigned to lead people to defend the Great Flood. During this period, he visited many places and united large numbers of people. 

 

After they succeed in controlling the flooding, Yu gained most people’s love and respect; soon he accepted the throne from King Shun and subjected more states to his rule. His Clan, the Xia, became the Xia Empire. 

 

After Yu passed away, his son Qi took the throne and defeated all the people who were against his crown; after Qi's death, he was succeeded by his son as well.

 

Since then, the Abdication System was officially replaced by the Hereditary System in the ancient history of China. 

Bronze Artifact Decorated with Turquoise Unearthed From Erlitou Site

Bronze Artifact Decorated with Turquoise Unearthed From Erlitou Site — Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Losing and Regaining the Throne

Decades later, a lord of a dependent country defeated the king of Xia and announced the throne. 

Several years later, King Si Shaokang took the throne back and rebuilt the royal kingdom.

 

His son, King Si Zhu invented armor, and largely expanded their territory eastward to the sea. Their ruling was believed one of the most prosperous periods of the Xia Dynasty. 

 

Gradually, more people were included in Xia Empire’s governance, while more complied lords were enfeoffed. 

Ritual Jade Weapon (Yue) of Early Xia Dynasty

Ritual Jade Weapon (Yue) of Early Xia — Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Declining and Falling of the Xia Dynasty

 

In the following decades, the relationship between Xia’s royal family and some dependent countries became deteriorated, when the tributes to the kings of Xia were largely decreased. 

 

Si Jie, the last king of the Xia Empire, was very strong and aggressive; he had initiated many wars to conquer those who didn’t comply. He then took many beautiful women from those conquered countries, and his queen was one of them. 

This queen was also suspected as a spy, who kept sending messages to Yi Yin, the prime minister of the State Shang. Afterward, the Xia Dynasty began to fall rapidly. 

Unearthed Grey Pottery Cup of Xia Dynasty

Unearthed Grey Pottery Cup of Xia — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Whereabouts of the People of Xia

 

In the year 1600 BC, the Lord of the State Shang initiated wars against King Jie; after a series of intense battles, they finally won. 

King Jie was then banished to a desolate mountain and passed away there. 

Some of Xia’s people surrendered to the King of the Shang Dynasty and stayed in the middle kingdom. They were rewarded noble titles and were in charge of offering sacrifice ceremonies to their ancestors. 

The rest of those who refused to surrender were separated into two groups, one went to the south, while another migrated northward and was believed as ancestors of the Xiongnu. 

Unearthed Ritual Jade Bi of Early Xia Dynasty

Unearthed Ritual Jade Bi of Early Xia — Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Photo by Dongmaiying)

 

Political Structure and Social Systems of the Xia Dynasty

 

Official Selection System:

 

Aristocratic Hereditary. 

 

Political System:

 

Specialized officers were assigned to be in charge of historic documentation, food, sacrifice and worship ceremony, military activity, divination, astrology, law and judiciary, horse and chariot, tax, etc.

Currency of the Xia Dynasty

Shell Currency of the Xia Dynasty

Tax:

 

People should help with the cultivation of some public farmlands, which belonged to the royals.

 

Military Service:

 

Everyone in the kingdom had the obligation to fight in their army and protect their family.

Ritual Jade Spear of Xia Dynasty

Unearthed Ritual Jade Spear of Xia — Nanyang Cultural Relic and Archaeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)

 

Scientific Achievements of the Xia Dynasty

 

  • Appearing of winemaking. 

 

  • Jade ware and Chariots were widely produced and used.

 

  • Bronze wares appeared.

Unearthed Bronze Weapon (Yue) with Exquisite Decorations of the Late Xia Dynasty

Unearthed Bronze Weapon (Yue) with Exquisite Decorations of the Late Xia — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)