Power and Privilege

Characteristics of Chinese civilization—centralized government intertwined with ethical systems and a strong sense of family—stabilized over two thousand years ago during the Han dynasty and have remained enduring components of Chinese culture. For centuries, the emperors of China were deemed supreme sovereigns, intermediaries between heaven and earth who maintained harmony in accordance with the Mandate of Heaven. Order within the home, the social classes, and the government was often dictated by ethical systems and distinct gender roles throughout China’s dynastic history. In addition to people and systems, art was also used to enforce and celebrate power, communicate values, and establish worth.

Key Points

  • Art and artifacts provide evidence of the characteristics of Chinese societies and values through time.
  • Military power, state bureaucracy, legal codes, belief systems, written language, and trade networks contributed to China’s development as a large and powerful empire.
  • Throughout China’s dynastic history, ancient values of social order, harmony, and respect for authority were invoked to maintain the power of emperors and a centralized government.