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The Growth of Civilization in Early India

early india

Two hundred years before Columbus discovered America, a certain Marco Polo told strange, exciting stories to his friends and neighbours in Venice, a city in northern Italy. He had travelled, he said, to distant lands in Asia and had become rich. Europeans at that time had some general knowledge of eastern Asia and of its products, but Polo furnished detailed and colourful descriptions of magnificent cities, of strange customs and of powerful rulers who owned many palaces and lived in unheard of luxury. Marco Polo had visited the court of the khan, or ruler, of an empire that included most of east Asia as well as great islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Polo had been made a public official. He had been sent on errands to the cold wastes of present day Siberia and the green Spice Islands where it was always warm. He had seen civilizations of many kinds — some primitive, some more magnificent than those in Europe. Marco Polo’s stories were so amazing that not until long after his death did most people believe them. “How,” thought Europeans, “could Asians have travelled so far on the long road from savagery without our help?” Today we know that Marco Polo’s stories were true, atleast in all important respects. We know that while Egyptians were building their pyramids and the Sumerians their temple towers in Mesopotamia, civilization was growing in India. We know also that while the Greeks and Romans were creating “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome,” the Chinese were developing their own civilization and way of life. You will not find the empire of Alexander or the Roman Empire on a modern map of the world, as you know, but India and China still exist. Many changes have taken place …

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Japan’s Change and Slow Growth A.D. 838-1150


BETWEEN THE ninth and twelfth centuries, Japan developed at a slower pace. It was as if the people knew that they needed time to digest what they had learned. After 838, the government sent no more official missions to China. The Japanese continued to value Chinese civilization as highly as ever, but they went about things in their own way. Slowly, Japan became thoroughly Japanese. Prince Shotoku’s dream of a strong central government had come true. In time, however, the same evils that plagued Chinese dynasties in their later stages began to plague Japan. Thanks to their high positions at court, the noble landowners did not have to pay taxes. As a result, they grew richer and were able to buy more land. Although more Japanese land was being farmed all the time, less and less of it could be taxed. The government’s income fell while its expenses rose. Naturally, the government tried to make the landowners pay taxes. This move was bound to fail, for the officials who were supposed to carry out the order were the very men who profited most from not having to pay taxes. It was like asking them to pick their own pockets. Failing in this attempt, the government raised the taxes of landowning peasants instead. To escape paying these taxes, some peasants put themselves under the protection of the nearest great landowners, while the more adventurous headed north for the thinly settled Ainu country of North Honshu. Either way, their taxes were lost to the government, which became weaker and weaker. In China, a foreign invader or a rebel leader would have overthrown the sickly government and made himself ruler. In Japan, nothing of the sort happened. For one thing, there was no enemy at Japan’s borders, only miles and miles of empty …

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The Land of the Great Wall 4000 B.C. to A.D. 220


For many generations, the ancestors of P’an Keng had considered themselves kings in northern China. Yet this family of kings, the Shang Dynasty, had never governed from a central capital. About 1380 B. C., P’an Keng decided it was time to set up a capital. He found what seemed to be the perfect site at Anyang. Situated near a bend in the Yellow River, the fertile plains were ideal for farming and pasture, while the mountains behind it had timber and wild game. Only one thing remained: P’an Keng had to find out if the move was approved by the gods and his ancestors. P’an Keng sent for a diviner, one of the wise men who could read the will of the spirits. Everyone consulted the diviners for help in making decisions, whether it was the king planning a battle or a farmer wanting to know when to plant. Usually the diviner used animal bones in which small oval pits had been drilled. The diviner would heat a bronze rod in a fire and touch its point to the side of a pit. The heat cracked the bone slightly and by examining the size and angles of the cracks, the diviner interpreted the message of the spirits. For special occasions, the diviner used a large piece of tortoise shell in place of bones and the choice of the capital was such an occasion. P’an Keng began to ask his questions, “should the capital be set up at Anyang?” “Was the dream a good sign?” “Does Shang Ti, the great god approve?” “Will Tang, founder of the Shang Dynasty, aid this move?” P’an Keng was overjoyed to hear the diviner interpret the answer to each question as “Yes” or “Fortunate”. This meant that the spirits approved. Since this was such an …

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Civilization comes to India 3500 B.C to 200 B.C.

For thousands of years during the Stone Age, only scattered groups of people had lived in India. With only the simplest tools of bone, wood and stone, they hunted and gathered food. Cut off from other peoples by the mountain and the sea, the first Indians made few advances in their primitive way of life. Then, sometime between 3500 B. C., new settlers began to appear along the Indus River Valley in northwestern India, a region that would be called West Pakistan thousands of years later. It seems almost certain that these newcomers were from the mountains and plateaus to the northwest, the modern lands of Iran and Afghanistan. When they arrived, the new commers were already able to make pottery, to farm and to raise animals. Most likely too, some of them knew of the cities far to the west, on the plains of Mesopotamia. From those more advanced cities, the Indus valley people learned about new objects, such as copper and bronze tools. They also heard tales about how those distant peoples controlled the river’s water, or how they scratched signs in clay tablets to record words. However much they may have borrowed, the Indus Valley people worked out their own ways. By 2500 B. C., a distinctive civilization had begun to develop along the Indus River. The river itself played an important part in this civilization. Sometimes it flooded so badly that it wiped out villages and fieldworks, or even changed its course entirely. Usually however, it overflowed just enough to leave a rich soil for each season’s crops and the people worked together to take advantage of it. The river also made it easy for the various settlements to exchange goods and ideas. The People of the Indus Of the dozens of villages, two soon grew …

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