The first prehistoric dynasty is said to be Xia, from about the
twenty-first to the sixteenth century BC. Until scientific excavations
were made at early bronze-age sites at Anyang, Henan Province, in 1928,
it was difficult to seperate myth from reality in regard to the Xia. But
since then, and especially in the 1960s and 1970s, archaeologists have
uncovered urban sites, bronze implements, and tombs that point to the
existence of Xia civilization in the same locations cited in ancient Chinese
historical texts. At minimum, the Xia period marked an evolutionary stage
between the late neolithic cultures and the typical Chinese urban civilization
of the Shang Dynasty.
Jue (Wine Vessel) in Xia Dynasty (click here to zoom in)
The Xia Dynasty is traditionallly supposed to have
begun with the reign of Yu the Great and ended with the fall of Jie,lasting
for more than 400 years, from approximately the 21st century BC to a little
earlier to the 16th century BC. THere were altogether seventeen kings
in fourteen generations. According to an ancient version of history, however,
it was not Yu, but his son Qi, who founded the dynasty.
Towards the end of the Xia Dynasty, social contradictions and confict grew sharper. Tradition has it that in the 16th century BC, the last ruler of Xia, Jie, abused his power and increased oppression. He exhausted the resources of the people to build palaces and pavilions for himself. The people were also forced to go to war.
Filled with hatred for Jie, the people could no longer put up with his despotic rule and fled in large numbers. Even his court officials cursed him and wished his death, although that might mean that they themselves would perish.
Shang Tang sezed this opportunity. took a revolt and finally overthrew the Xia Dynasty and founded the house known as the Shang Dynasty.