Many Daoists turned from the “unnatural” ways of society. Some became hermits, artists, or poets. Daoists viewed government as unnatural and, therefore, the cause of many problems. “If the people are difficult to govern,” Laozi declared, “it is because those in authority are too fond of action.” To Daoists, the best government was one that governed the least.

Confucianism and Daoism Evolve

Although Chinese scholars followed Laozi's original teachings, Daoism evolved into a popular religion with gods, goddesses, and magical practices. Chinese peasants turned to Daoist priests for charms to protect them from unseen forces.

Sketch of a landscape including trees, mountains, and bodies of water.

Living in harmony with nature is one of the central ideas of Daoism. Daoist paintings reflect that philosophy with a focus on trees, mountains, rivers, and other objects found in nature.

Instead of accepting nature as it was, Daoist priest searched for a substance to bring immortality, or everlasting life. They experimented with alchemy (AHL kuh mee), trying to transform ordinary metals into gold.

To achieve this goal, alchemists mixed chemistry and magic. Sometimes, their experiments led to advances in science. Their experiments may have contributed to discoveries in medicine. Daoists are thought to have invented gunpowder, which they first used in firecrackers to frighten ghosts.

Confucian and Daoist ideas influenced everyone from nobles and scholars to the poorest peasants. Although the philosophies differed, people took beliefs and practices from each. Confucianism showed them how to behave. Daoism influenced their view of the natural world.

A Time of Achievements in Early China

The Chinese made progress in many areas during the Shang and Zhou periods. Astronomers observed Halley's Comet, studied the movements of planets, and recorded eclipses of the sun. Their findings helped them develop an accurate calendar with 365 and ¼ days. In addition, the Chinese also made remarkable achievements in the art and technology of bronze-making. They produced stunning bronze weapons and ritual vessels covered with intricate decorations.

Illustration of ancient ladies working on silk looms.

Silk thread or silk woven into magnificent fabrics were key trading items for the Chinese. Because of this, the process of converting raw silk to smooth cloth was a closely guarded secret.

Discovering the Secret of Making Silk

By about 1000 B.C., the Chinese learned how to make a silk thread from the cocoons of silkworms. Soon, the Chinese were cultivating both silkworms and the mulberry trees on which the worms fed.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments