The ancient Chinese civilization thrived along the banks of the Yellow river. The political and social history of China dates back to developments during the 1550BCE - 1046 BCE era. The Shang Dynasty is credited with the earliest records, written on turtle shells, while the Zhou reign is credited with the development of a unique culture, literature, traditions and philosophical school, as we know them today. The Zhou Dynasty contributed to the longest lasting era in Chinese history, an era that witnessed the evolution of the ancient oracle script into modern writing. Thereafter, the feudal and individual city states witnessed what is referred to as the 'Warring States Period', till the reign of Qin Shi Huang, in 221 BCE. The Qin ruler not only united the warring kingdoms, but also established the first empire and a bureaucratic system. It is also important to recognize the periods of political unity and disharmony and the influx of cultural and political influences that made their way across the Great Wall.
Chinese religions were formed and followed along the ramparts of immigration, assimilation of philosophies and territorial expansion. They are commonly recognized as the Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.
All through the Bronze Age, the Chinese worshiped many different gods and spirits. One important deity was Ti or the 'deity above'. Ti was attributed with the power to punish offenders and reward those who appeased him. The Chinese pantheon then comprised spirit gods that represented the elements of nature, two gods of the earth, ancestors, nobility, priests, intermediaries or augurs and the yin and the yang. It was from this base that the ideologies of Taoism and Confucianism developed in isolation. Their intellectual standpoint and spiritual elements have resulted in followers beyond the geographical boundaries of China.
Confucianism is the philosophy propounded by Confucius, a politician and philosopher. Though he did not preach the dictates of any religion, his teachings have evolved long after his demise. He questioned bias and internal conflict during Chou reign and personally experienced corruption of the state. He firmly believed that most of what befell his people was the outcome of their abandoning of the traditional way of life and thought. He infused new life and meaning into age-old concepts of politeness, honor, social responsibility, and sense of morality.
Taoism existed in China earlier than Confucianism. The early stages of the religious development that Confucius himself reverted to, form the roots of Taoism or 'the path'. Taoism is believed to be the source of all things in nature. Lao-Tzu is considered the earliest Tao master, who wrote down his 'wisdom' while leaving the geographical confines of the heartland. After he left China for good, the book he wrote made its way across the globe. Taoism preaches the pursuit of Tao or nature's purest form.
Buddhism is the religion or 'way of life' founded by Siddhartha Gautama, in India, in 500 BC. The 'Enlightened One' or 'Buddha' preached a way of life not different from the teachings of Taoism. Buddhism made its way into ancient China along the silk-route. Buddhism encourages self-interest and encourages meditation and 'correct' living. It propounds man's ultimate goal as 'attaining a state of bliss' or 'no suffering'. Buddhism teaches the way to 'Nirvana', the physical paradise; a religious pursuit not only in China, but across the globe even today.