The Xia dynasty was described in classic texts such as the Classic of History (Shujing), the Bamboo Annals, and the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji) by Sima Qian. According to tradition, the Huaxia were the ancestral people of the Han Chinese.

Origins and early development

Traditional histories trace the development of the Xia to the legendary Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. According to ancient Chinese texts, before the Xia dynasty was established, battles were frequent between the Xia tribe and Chi You’s tribe. The Xia tribe slowly developed around the time of Zhuanxu, one of the 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, tradition ascribes the ancestry of the Xia clan to 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 imprisoned for life to reform the Eastern Barbarians by Shun at Yushan (Chinese: 羽山), a mountain located between modern Donghai County in Jiangsu Province and Linshu County in Shandong Province.

Yu the Great’s attempt to stop the floods

Yu was highly trusted by Shun, so Shun appointed him to finish his father’s work, which was to stop the flooding. Yu’s method was different from his father’s: he organized people from different tribes and ordered them to help him build canals in all the major rivers that were flooding and lead the water out to the sea. Yu was dedicated to his work. People praised his perseverance and were inspired, so much so that other tribes joined in the work. Legend says that in the 13 years it took him to successfully complete the work to stop the floods, he never went back to his home village to stop and rest, even though he passed by his house three times.

Establishment

Yu’s success in stopping the flooding increased agricultural production (since the floods were destructive). The Xia tribe’s power increased and Yu became the leader of the surrounding tribes. Soon afterwards Shun sent Yu to lead an army to suppress the Sanmiao tribe, which continuously abused the border tribes. After defeating them, he exiled them south to the Han River area. This victory strengthened the Xia tribe’s power even more. As Shun aged, he thought of a successor and relinquished the throne to Yu, whom he deemed worthy. Yu’s succession marks the start of the Xia dynasty. As Yu neared death he passed the throne to his son, Qi, instead of passing it to the most capable candidate, thus setting the precedent for dynastic rule or the Hereditary System. The Xia dynasty began a period of family or clan control. It is believed that Zhenxun (modern Gongyi) was one of the capitals of the dynasty.

Overthrow

Jie, the last king, was said to be corrupt. He was overthrown by Tang, the first king of the Shang dynasty. Tang is said to have given the small state of Qi as a fief to the remnants of the Xia ruling family. This practice was referred to as 二王三恪.

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