The Heritage of Chinese Civilization Albert M. Craige

Chapter 1

Human life in China goes back several hundred thousand years to "Peking man" (homo erectus), whose remains were first found on the North China plain but have since been found in other areas as well. Peking man was about five feet tall and had a smaller cranial capacity than modern humans. "Peking man" was similar to "Java man" and to varieties of homo erectus found in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. These early humans lived by hunting deer and other animals and by fishing and gathering. Men were slightly larger than women and there was probably a division of labor by gender, with women doing the gathering. Nothing is known of their language capability, social relations, or beliefs, but we do know that they made chipped stone tools and cooked with fire. Bashed-in skulls suggest that they are brains in some circumstances.

Large-brained modern human beings (homo sapiens), who may have developed one hundred thousand years ago in Africa, entered China about fifty thousand years ago, supplanting Peking man. They made tools with finer stone blades: The history of progress during the Old Stone Age is dimly perceived through successive layers of tools found in archaeological sites, and distinctive regional variations in the tools have been noted. They buried their dead. Population remained sparse, however, for humans were still subject to ecological constrains. (缺少部分内容)

Of the thousands of Old Stone Age cultures in the world, only a few developed the combination of agriculture, pottery, domesticated animals, and better polished stone tools that we caharcterize as the "New Stone Age." Better tools were useful both for hunting and agriculture. Perhaps it was women, gathering while men hunted, who discovered how to plant and care for seeds and gave crops the constant attention they required from lanting to harvest. They stored dry food in baskets and liquids in pottery jars. The greater production of food led to denser populaitons, and they built settlements in clusters near their best fields. These changes transformed the prehistoric world as science is transforming our own.

Agriculture began in China between 5600 and 4000 B.C.E in the Wei valley of the Yellow River. This is the northernmost of East Asia's four great river systems.  The others are the Yangtze in central China, the West River in southern China, and the Red River in what is today northern Vietnam. All drain eastward into the Pacific Ocean. In recnet millennia, the Yellow River has flowed through a deforested plain, cold in winter and subject to periodic droughts. But in the sixth millennium B.C.E., the area was warm and moist, with forested highlands in the west and swampy marshes to the east. The bamboo rat that today can be found only in semitropical Southeast Asia lived along the Yellow River.

New Stone Age Chinese cleared land and burned its cover to plant millet, cabbage, and later rice and soybeans. When soil became exhausted, fields or whole village were abandoned. Tools were of stone: axex, hoes, spades, and sickle-shaped knives. The early Chinese domesticated pigs, sheep, cattle, dogs. and chickens. Game(?) was plentiful and hunting continued to be important to the villayge economy. In excavated garbage, heaps of ancient villages are found the bones of deer, wild cattle, antelopes, rhinoceros, hares, and marmots. Grain was stored in pottery painted in bold, geometric designs or red and black. This pottery gave way to a harder, thin black pottery, made on potter's wheel, whose use spread west along the Yellow River and south to the Yangtze. The tripodal shapes of Neolithic pots frefigure later Chinese bronzes.


The traditional history of China tells of three ancient dynasties

2205-1766 B.C.E Hsia

1766-1050 B.C.E. Shang

1050-256 B.C.E. Chou

Until early in the twentieth century, modern historians saw the first two legendary. Then, in the 1920s, archaeological excavations at "the wastes of Yin" near present day An Yang uncovered the ruins of a walled city that had been a late Shang. Other Shang cities have been discovered more recently. The ruins contained the archives of the department of divination of the Shang court, whith thousands of thousands 'oracle bones' incised with archaic Chinese writing. The names of kings on the bones fit almost perfectly those of the traditional historical record. The recognition that the Shang actually existed has led historians to suggest that Hsia may also have been an actural dynasty, Perhaps the Hsia existed either. Some scholars even identify a site just south of the Yellow at Erlitou as the Hsia capital. Perhaps the Hsia developed black pottery, bronze: the earliest, still-missing stage of Chinese writing.

The characteristic political institution of Brone Age China was the city-centered state. The largest was the Shang capital, which, frequently moved, lacked the mental architecture of Egypt or Mesopotamia. The walled city contained public buildings, altars, and the residences of the aristocracy; it was surrounded by a sea of Neolithic tribal villages. By lage Shang times, several such cites were spotted across the Northren China plain. The cahracteristic form of social organaizaiton was the royal or noble clan(.)

The Shang kings possessed political, economic, social, and religous authority, and the rulers of other states acknoledged their authority. When they died, they were sometimes succeeded by younger brothers and sometimes by sons.

The military aristocracy went to war in chariots, supported by levies of foot soldiers. Their weapons were spears and powerful compound bows. Accounts tell of armies of three or four thousand troops and of a battle involving thirteen thousand. The Shang fought against barbarian tribes and, occasionally, against other city-state in rebellion against Shang rule. Captured prisoners were enslaved.

The three most notable features of Shang civilization were writing, bronzes, and the appearance of social classes. Scribers at the Shang court kept records on strips of bamboo, but these have not survived. What survived are inscriptions on bronzes and the oracle bones. Some bones contain the question put to the oracle, the answer, and the onucome of the matter. Representative questions were: Which ancestor is causing the king's earache? If the king goes hunting at Ch'i(杞国/齐地), will there be a disaster? Will the king's child be a son? If the king sends his army to attack an enemy, whill the deity help him? Was a sacrifice acceptable to ancestral deities?

What we know of Shang religion is based on the bones. The Shang Chinese believed in a supreme "Deity Above," (昊天上帝/上帝)who had authority over the human world. Lesser natural deities-the sun, moon, earth, rain, wind, and the six clouds-served at the cout of the Deity Above. The Shang king sacrificed not to the Deity Above but to his own ancestors, who interceded with the Deity Above on his behalf. Kings, while alive at least, were not considered divine but were the high priests of the state.

In Shang times, as later, religion in China was often asscociated with cosmology. The Shang people observed the movements of the planets and stars and reported eclipses. Celestial happenings were seen as omens from the gods above. The chief cosmologists also recorded events at the court. The Shang calendar had a month of 30 days and a year of 360 days, and adjustments were made periodically by adding an extra month. The calendar was used by the king to tell his people when to snow and when to reap. Bronze appeared in China about 2000 B.C.E., a thousand years later than in Mesopotamia and five hundred years later than in India. The Shang likely developed bronze technology independently, however, because Shang methods of casting were more advanced than those of Mesopotamia and because the designs emerge directly from te preceding black-pottery culture. Bronze was used for weapons, armor, and chariot fittings, and for a variety of ceremonial vessels of amazing fineness and beauty.

Among the Shang, as with all early river valley civilizations, the increasing control of nature through agriculture and metallurgy was accompanied by the emergence of a highly stratified society in which the many were compelled to serve the few. A monopoly of bronze weapons enabled aristocrats to expoit other groups. A hierarchy of class defined life in the Chinese city-state. The king and the officials of his court lived withiin the walled city. Their houses were spacious, built above the ground with roofs supported by rows of wooden pillars, resting on foundation stones. Their lifestyle was, for ancient times, opulent: They wore fine clothes, feasted at banquests, and drank wine from bronze vessels. In constrast, a far large population of agriculture workers lived outside the city in cramped pit-dwellings. Their life was meager and hard; archaeological excavations of their underground hovels have uncovered only pots.

Nowhere was the gulf between the royal lineage and the base born more apparent than in the Shang institution of human sacrifice(人殉制度). One Shang tomb 39 feet long, 26 feet wide, and 26 feet deep contained the decapitated bodies of humans, horses, and dogs, as well as ornaments of bone, stone, and jade. When a king died, hundreds of slaves or prisoners of war, together with some who had served the king during his lifetime, might be buried with him. Sacrifices also were made when a palace or an altar was built.


To the west of the area of  Shang rule, in the valley of the Wei River tributary of the Yellow River, and near the present-day city of Sian, lived the Chou people. Culturally closer to the Neolithic black-pottery culture, they civilized and more warlike than the Shang. References to the Chou in the oracle bones indicate that the Shang had relations with them-sometime friendly, sometimes hostile. According to the traditional historical record, the last Shang Kings were weak, cruel, and tyrannical. By 1050 B.C.E., they had been debilitated campaigns against nomads in the north and rebellious tribes in the east. Taking advantage of this opportunity, the Chou made alliances with disaffected ciyt-state swepy in, conquering the Shang.

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