Xia Dynasty — the First Hereditary Kingdom in China
In about 471 years of Xia's ruling period, about 17 kings had reigned the empire.
Yellow River or Huang He in Henan Province, Photo by Guo Ping.
Restoration Map of the Palace of the Xia Dynasty
Xia Dynasty Facts
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 to be the writer of The Classic of Mountains and Seas.
Besides the central kingdom, 11 big clans paid tributes and pledged their loyalty.
Outside the Kingdom Xia, there were other states, most of which were mentioned in the Classic of Mountains and Seas.
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 about 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 — 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 many people.
After they succeeded 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 also succeeded by his son.
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 — 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 and rebuilt the royal kingdom.
His son, King Si Zhu invented armor and expanded their territory eastward to the sea.
Their rule was believed to be one of the most prosperous periods of the Xia Dynasty.
Gradually, more people were included in the Xia Empire’s governance, while more complied lords were enfeoffed.
Ritual Jade Weapon (Yue) of Early Xia — Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Decline and Fall of the Xia Dynasty
In the following decades, the relationship between Xia’s royal family and some dependent countries deteriorated when the tributes to the kings of Xia were largely decreased.
Si Jie, the last king of the Xia Empire, was powerful 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 of being 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 — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Whereabouts of the People of the Xia Empire
In 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 who refused to surrender were separated into two groups; one went to the south, while another migrated northward and was believed to be the ancestors of the nomadic Xiongnu.
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 Empire
Official Selection System
The Xia Dynasty operated on an aristocratic hereditary system, where political power and leadership were passed down within privileged and noble families.
Specialized officers were assigned to be in charge of historical documentation, food, sacrifice and worship ceremonies, military activity, divination, astrology, law and judiciary, horse and chariot, tax, etc.
Shell Currency of the Xia Dynasty
In the context of taxation during the Xia Dynasty, the system involved citizens contributing to the cultivation of specific public farmlands, which were owned by the royal or noble families.
Every individual in the kingdom bore the obligation to enlist in the army, actively participating in the defense of their land and ensuring the safety of their own families.
Unearthed Ritual Jade Spear of Xia — Nanyang Cultural Relic and Archaeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Xia Dynasty Achievements in Science and Technology
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 — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)