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Chinese Dynasties | Xia Dynasty

Updated on February 28, 2014

The Xia Dynasty Was First of the Chinese Dynasties

There's still debate if this dynasty actually existed. In 1959, however, archaeologists uncovered ruins at Erlitou in Yanshi, Henan Province, dating back to the time of the Xia. Until this evidence can be matched to what little written historical evidence remains, there will be controversy about whether this civilisation is just a legend described in the Records of the Grand Historian and Bamboo Annals.

The Xia lived in the West of Henan and South of Shanxi Provinces of China. Their political structure was a patriarchal clan system, the head of the Xia clan being the emperor. They made pottery, crafted bronze-ware (including weapons) and had an agricultural base. It was a slave society, and the rulers had complicated rituals to convene with the gods. The Xia Dynasty lasted nearly 500 years, is the 1st in Chinese history and included the reign of 17 emperors.

Image: Public Domain | Lens Updated: March 1st, 2014 @ 2:20 am Beijing time.

The Xia Dynasty History

... encompassed the timeline

2,070 to 1,600 BCE (see below)

Dating of Chinese Dynasties:

Prior to 841 BCE, all historical dates are a subject of dispute. The convention used here is to use the official "Xia Shang Zhou Chronology Project" results for the first 3 Dynasties!

The Xia Dynasty on Wikipedia!

Read what the online reference source says...

The Xia Dynasty (Chinese: pinyin: Xià Cháo; Wade-Giles: Hsia-Ch'ao;ca. 2070 BC-ca. 1600 BC) is the first dynasty in China to be described in ancient historical chronicles such as Records of the Grand Historian and Bamboo Annals, succeeded by the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC-1046 BC). 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.

read the rest of the Wikipedia article

Accuracy of Dates:

841 BCE is the first date generally accepted as accurate in Chinese history. All dates prior to this are subject to dispute by experts.

Xia Dynasty Bronze Jue
Xia Dynasty Bronze Jue

Transition From Neolithic Society in Chinese History

The use of metallurgy became a critical factor in transforming society...

Mining and metallurgy led to the discovery of bronze in China, resulting in more enduring objects of art and implements of warfare. Not as brittle as iron, and more aesthetically pleasing, bronze became an additional material to the preceding use of ceramics and pottery. Bronze Xia artefacts have been found at Erlitou.

Xia Bronze Jue Image: Wikimedia

Is The Xia Dynasty a Legend?

Western archaeologists state that there is not enough documentary evidence whereas Chinese experts claim Erlitou is proof the Xia existed!

The Erlitou Ruins: Proof of the Xia Dynasty?

"One of the centres of where (public sacrifices and ritual interaction with ancestors) seems to have taken place is a site called Erlitou, which is in the West of modern day Hunan Province, and possesses one of the most elaborate of the early palace complexes - a number of buildings. These buildings are built with what we call a post and beam system of construction. Up on the rammed earth platform, a series of upright posts would be erected and then beams laid along the top of those posts, and a roof built up on the surface, on the top of that.

This is a very useful form of architecture for North China. It uses a relatively minimal amount of timber. Timber was not in great abundance, so you couldn't build big elaborate structures out of wood, but by building using this post and beam system you could create a framework that then could be filled in with what is known as "wattle and daub" a kind of woven organic fibres plastered with mud. That allowed the walls to be very light, not to have to carry a lot of weight, all the structural weight was born by the posts, and it allowed you to enclose a fairly extensive interior space. That space where people could be assembled inside to observe and participate in these ritual activities." 1

Have a Say: Are Western Archaeologists Right?

Was the Xia Dynasty Fact or an Ancient Legend?

Xia Dynasty Emperors ~ a Timeline!

Historical Timeline from circa 2070 to 1600 BCE!

1st Xia Emperor - Yu the Great! Ruled for around 45 years (circa 2070 to 2025 BCE)... was famous for his flood mitigation works. His father, Gun, spent nine years unsuccessfully trying to use earthen dikes to hold back the waters of the Yellow River. He was executed by King Di Shun for his failure. Di Shun then gave this task to Yu, who built canals to drain the waters and provide irrigation channels for the farmers.

Yu was so dedicated to his task that, on three occasions, he passed his house and refused to visit his family. Imagine how long a marriage would last today under these circumstances! His dedication and the effectiveness of his work resulted in him being bestowed with the kingdom.

2nd Xia Emperor - Qi, Son of Yu... ruled for around 9 years (circa 2025 to 2016 BCE). There is some doubt whether Qi grabbed power for himself by assassinating his father's preferred successor, Boyi, the son of Gao Yao (Yu's trusted advisor), or it was thrust upon him by Xia leaders who revered his father so much they installed Qi and introduced a hereditary system.

According to the Bamboo Annals, Boyi took the throne and became the King of the Xia, but later Qi assassinated him and supplanted him! Another version cites Boyi as being installed as regent but proved unpopular, so the Xia leaders voted Qi into power!

3rd Xia Dynasty Ruler - Tai Kang, Son of Qi... Ruled for around 19 years (2016 to1097 BCE). The third Xia King was reported to be an unremarkable ruler who preferred hunting to royal duties. He established his kingdom at Zhen Xun, and drowned in a lake, several years after losing his throne.

4th Xia Dynasty Ruler - Zhong Kang, Younger Brother of Tai Kang... Zhong Kang ordered his military chief, General Zeng, to invade Yihe, as their king drank alcohol heavily and had many concubines. This resulted in the people living a profligate lifestyle. Zhong Kang made Kun Wu his prime minister and his son the Duke of Deng. Towards the end of his reign his son, Xiang, left his family home to live in Shangqiu with a minister named Pi.

5th Xia Dynasty Ruler - Xiang, Son of Zhong Kang... Battles on horseback commenced during this period. Established his capital in Shangqiu. In the first two years of his reign, he sent troops to battle the Huai, Fei, Feng and Huang Barbarians. Xiang led a military empire for around 40 years, that was shared with a great archer Houyi and a rival named Han Zhuo. During this kingdom, Han Zhuo killed legendary archer, Houyi, (who has become deified) with his son Jiao.

Later, Han Zhuo ordered his son to kill Xiang and his pregnant wife, Queen Ji, but this plot was partially foiled. Xiang was assassinated, but Ji escaped and gave birth to a boy, named Shao Kang, who later executed Han Zhuo and claimed the throne.

6th Xia Dynasty Ruler - Shao Kang (Ning), Posthumous Son of Xiang... ruled for about 21 years and was, by legend, responsible for restoring the reputation of the Xia emperors who had been squandering their reputations and the family fortune. Prior to his reign, the people were becoming dissident because of the poor administration of his predecessors..

7th Xia Dynasty Ruler - Zhu, Son of Shao Kang...

8th Xia Dynasty Ruler - Huai, Son of Zhu...

9th Xia Dynasty Ruler - Mang, Son of Huai...

10th Xia Dynasty Ruler - Xie, Son of Mang...

11th Xia Dynasty Ruler - Bu Jiang, Son of Xie...

12th Xia Dynasty Ruler - Jiong, Younger Brother of Bu Jiang...

13th Xia Dynasty Ruler - Jin, Son of Jiong...

14th Xia Dynasty Ruler - Kong Jia, Son of Bu Jiang... enjoyed drinking wine and bedding beautiful women. Kong Jia was a very superstitious ruler and the power of the Xia dynasty declined from his reign onwards.

15th Xia Dynasty Ruler - Gao, Son of Kong Jia...

16th Xia Dynasty Ruler - Fa, Son of Gao... An earthquake happened in Shandong province, near Mount Tai during his rule. He was second last of the Xia rulers, succeeded by his notorious son, Jie.

17th Xia Dynasty Ruler - Jie, Son of Fa... had the reputation of being a cruel and despotic tyrant. He was influenced by a concubine, Mo Xi, who was extremely beautiful but corrupt and completely lacking in moral propriety. She was said to have had the King ordered a lake to be made of wine and 3,000 men to drink it dry. The royal couple amused themselves, laughing as the victims drowned in the lake.

Eventually, Jie abandoned Mo Xi for the two beautiful daughters, Wan and Yan, of a neighbouring king who he defeated in battle. He took them as his wives, renaming them Zhao and Hua, and built a pyramid on top of the royal palace for them to live in. Tiring of Jie's outrageous behaviour and cruelty, Tang of Shang waged a war on him and overthrew Xia Jie to create the Shang Dynasty.

A Brief Overview of The Xia Dynasty - Predecessors of The Shang Dynasty...

Map of Xia Dynasty
Map of Xia Dynasty

Located around the Yellow River, the Xia suffered greatly from flooding of this watercourse. They were agrarian people, with basic skills in pottery and rudimentary bronze weapons. The ruling families used elaborate and dramatic rituals to confirm their power to govern. The rulers often acted as shamans, communicating with spirits for help and guidance.

The Xia period begins roughly 2,200 BCE. The archeological record of the Xia consists of a number of significant features. Perhaps most imposing and striking is the emergence of large palace forms of architecture... large structures, large buildings, built up on rammed-earth platforms. This construction techniques was very important, not only for building platforms, but for building walls around settlements. This is a technology that involves putting up wooden frames, filling them with dirt and then using flat stones to ram, to pound down the soil to create a very compressed and firm layer. Then you put more dirt on top and buid up layer after layer of this very tough, resiliant material.

Building these rammed earth platforms, and then walls made of rammed earth surrounding either particular complexes of buildings or entire settlements becomes characteristic of urban places in Chinese history. Its emergence at the beginning of the Xia period marks a real shift in settlement. Most people - ordinary farmers, ordinary peoples continued to live in the partially excavated structures that have been characteristic of earlier times. The palace architecture that emerges is exactly that, or at least apparently that, - buildings that were used for the ruling elite, buildings that were used for the ritual ceremonial purposes for public functions, not as the dwellings for the large majority of people. Nonetheless, the appearance of these buildings suggests that there is a further development in the degree of social hierarchy or social differentiation.

The domestication of grain the development of agricultural society, of settled communities gives rise to is the development of a surplus (more grain is produced than is necessary to sustain the farming community population). What this allows for is the emergence of groups within society who don't engage in farming, who can devote their time and energy to other activities. Some of these people become artisans, craftsmen, specialists in different kinds of handicraft production. Others become warriors or military specialists.ssome become political leaders, initially probably ritual or spiritual leaders, but as time goes by they become more and more clearly state oriented, more political in their nature.

The large scale buildings, the ritual centres that we see in early Xia archeological sites were probably used, by these newly emerging political elites, for the performance of activities that cemented and egitimised their rule. The performance of public rituals, probably was a way to display their power, but also for them to perform actions which made people believe in their power, accept their power and leadership in society. It seems that the central feature of this was worship... a spiritual practice.

Early cultures and communities in China participated in what we sometimes refer to totemism, a form af Shamanism, where animal spirits are associated with particular tribal, clan or family groups. The Xia state or dynasty seems to have been a period where the worship of the totems of one particular family is transformed into a type of royal or ancestral cult. That is to say the spirits, not only nature but of the ancestors of the present day rulers, came to be seen as divine powers who could affect life in the present world. The leaders of the Xia appear to have performed public sacrifices in the memory of their ancestors and perhaps (not sure) engaged in a ritual interaction with the ancestors in which they asked the ancestors for help or for advice in erms of how to deal with the problems of the day to day world. 2



1 From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History, Lecture 2 - "The First Dynasties" ~ Professor Kenneth J. Hammond, B.A., A.M., Ph.D. Associate Professor of History, (Head of History Department, New Mexico State University).

2 Ibid

Did you enjoy reading about the Xia Dynasty? Leave your comments and questions below. Please take the time to rate this lens a "thumbs up" at the top LH corner of the page. If you enjoyed it, you may care to mark it as a favourite as well. Not a Squidoo member yet? You're missing out on all the fun. Squidoo is free to join and use, and you can even make some money for your favourite charity, our even for yourself (gasp). Go ahead, make my day and make your first lens now.

Leave Your Comments on The Xia Dynasty! - Don't forget to have your say. Is this dynasty a legend?

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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      It`s very hard to answer your qutsoien because you don`t have any pictures or written words. Usually, every dynasty had had their own symbol(s). For example, the Soong Dynasty 420 to 581 A.D. you can see the North Soong 北宋, it was before the aggression of the Mongolians and the 南宋,those very troublesome years that the Chinese fighting for the last drop of blood to drive the Mongolians out of their land.Because China has got 5,000 years of history, it`s really hard to state them all.References : 485 Might be the Library could help. Please get a digital camera to get some photos. I think that might be easier for your research and study.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      anything about the xia battles??

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      heaps on info on every thing i needed thank you

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great lens and well structured and writ.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Lots of good information here.. Gave you a "like" and lensrolled too !

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice lens.. Five stars and a lens roll !

    • MsSnow4 profile image

      Carol Goss 

      9 years ago

      Interesting lens , Lots of great information. Blessed by an angel :)

    • minirich profile image


      9 years ago

      Great thing, i learned something new. Only the language sounds a little bit bumpy, try to make it more verbose to get a better flow.

    • Commandrix profile image


      9 years ago from Benson, IL

      Good lens; I'd just do some editing to make the English flow better. One example: "Di Shun then gave this task to Yu to solve, who built canals to drain the waters and provide irrigation channels for the farmers." I'd eliminate the words "to solve." Also, if you have information on the rulers after the 5th Xia Dynasty Ruler, Xiang, Son of Zhong Kang, be sure to add it. I like the info you included though.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      9 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Another good one!


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