China prior to Confucius was ruled by a number of dynasties, including the Xia, the Shang, and finally the Zhou. The latter claimed authority through the Mandate of Heaven, which stated that heaven and earth were so closely related that heavenly forces chose an earthly ruler who must rule justly to maintain the harmony between heaven and earth. If he failed to do so, disharmony would result and he could be removed from power. The Zhou dynasty eventually collapsed and war lords throughout the country fought for control in a particularly tumultuous period known as the "Period of the Warring States." It was in response to this period that Confucianism developed. Confucius, whose real name was Kong Fuzi and was called "Master Philosopher Kong" by his disciples, was not a ruler; but rather a philosopher who developed a philosophy of government. Confucianism is also not a religion; but deals strictly with effective government, although it was later extended to personal conduct.
Socially, there was class distinction early in China. The wealthy lived in large mansions constructed of pounded earth and dined on fish, rabbit and pork, peasant and mutton. Possession of bronze was a sign of distinction and the wealthy hoarded it in all forms, from bells to weapons. The poor often lived in underground dwellings and worked the lands of the wealthy. Their diet was primarily a porridge made from grains. The society was strongly patriarchal; and in lieu of religion the ancient Chinese practiced veneration of ancestors: the belief that ancestors could intervene with heavenly forces.
Economically, China was largely agricultural, although there was some trade conducted by sea. All indications are that the Chinese traded as far as Mesopotamia; although there is no indication of the items which they traded for the tin and other items they received in return. There is some speculation that they traded in silk, but no concrete evidence exists.