According to legend, the Xia Dynasty ruled China beginning more than four thousand years ago. Although no firm documentary evidence has yet been found for this period, it is possible that some form of evidence exists, like the oracle bones that have proved the existence of the Shang Dynasty (1600 - 1046 BCE).
The Xia Kingdom supposedly grew up along the Yellow River, and its first leader was a sort of community organizer named Yu who got all of the people to cooperate in creating dams and canals to control the annual river floods. As a result, their agricultural production and their population increased, and they selected him to become their leader under the name of "Emperor Yu the Great."
We know about these legends thanks to much later Chinese historical chronicles such as the Classic of History or Book of Documents. Some scholars believed that this work was compiled from earlier documents by Confucius himself, but that seems unlikely. Xia history is also recorded in the Bamboo Annals, another ancient book of unknown authorship, as well as in Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian from 92 BCE.
There is often more truth than we might guess in ancient myths and legends. That certainly has proved true in the case of the dynasty that came after the Xia, the Shang, which was long thought to be mythical until archaeologists discovered the above-mentioned oracle bones bearing the names of some of the "mythical" Shang emperors.
Archaeology may one day prove the doubters wrong about the Xia Dynasty as well. Indeed, archaeological work in the Henan and Shanxi provinces, along the ancient course of the Yellow River, has turned up evidence of a complex early Bronze Age culture from the correct time period. Most Chinese scholars are quick to identify this complex, called the Erlitou culture, with the Xia Dynasty, although some foreign scholars are more skeptical.
The Erlitou digs reveal an urban civilization with bronze foundries, palatial buildings, and straight, paved roads. Finds from the Erlitou sites also include elaborate tombs. Within those tombs are grave goods including the famous ding tripod vessels, one of a class of artifacts known as ritual bronzes. Other finds include bronze wine jugs and jeweled masks, as well as ceramic mugs and jade implements. Unfortunately, the one type of artifact not discovered so far is any trace of writing that conclusively states that the Erlitou site is one and the same with the Xia Dynasty.
China's Xia Dynasty
- Yu the Great, c. 2205 - c. 2197 BCE
- Emperor Qi, c. 2146 - c. 2117 BCE
- Tai Kang, c. 2117 - c. 2088 BCE
- Zhong Kang, c. 2088 - c. 2075 BCE
- Xiang, c. 2075 - c. 2008 BCE
- Shao Kang, c. 2007 - c. 1985 BCE
- Zhu, c. 1985 - c. 1968 BCE
- Huai, c. 1968 - c. 1924 BCE
- Mang, c. 1924 - c. 1906 BCE
- Xie, c. 1906 - c. 1890 BCE
- Bu Jiang, c. 1890 - c. 1831 BCE
- Jiong, c. 1831 - c. 1810 BCE
- Jin, c. 1810 - c. 1789 BCE
- Kong Jia, c. 1789 - c. 1758 BCE
- Gao, c. 1758 - c. 1747 BCE
- Fa, c. 1747 - c. 1728 BCE
- Jie, c. 1728 - c. 1675 BCE
To learn more, go to the list of China's Dynasties.