The NEW Story of China’s Ancient Past

Late afternoon, lying next to my cats, on the floor in front of our garden door, as the cascaded sunlight slid past, I was reading July Issue of National Geographic Magazine. It has a feature story on China’s Shang (ÉÌ) Dynasty’s Bronze. How newly discovered sites proved that China during Shang period (1600 to 1045 B.C.) was not a unified China; how the originally confirmed Shang king only had control to a small area the size of three river valleys, in Yellow River plain centered in Anyang(°²Ñô); how two independent sites discovered in Sichuan(ËÄ´¨) demonstrated equal if not superior skills in bronze technology and artistic accomplishment; how these two long neglected sites show the political influence in Chinese archaeology. Is it possible that Chinese Han Culture didn’t start in Yellow River plain, but from Yangtze River Valley?

Regarding archaeology being used to justify political ideology .

…Under the communist government, archaeologiests emphasized Shang “slavery” beause it was an essential developmental stage of the Marxist social progression that led, like some Darwinian beast rising from the muck, to feudalism, capitalism, and finally the pinnacle of communism.

…In the West, European archaeology first flourished during the 19th centure, inspired largely by the ascendant middle classes. In part, the bourgeoisie became interested in tracing the devlopment of ancient societies – stone to bronze to iron – because this path implicitly justified their own faith in material progress.

Inscriptions on oracle bones, the first artifact proved the existence of Shang dynansty, the oldest writing record of Chinese language.

…But even as scholars looked back at the Shang, the inscriptions revealed that the Shang had been gazing into the future:
“In the next ten days there will be no diasters.”
“If was raised 3,000 men and call upon them to attack the Gongfang, we will receive abundant assistance.”
“Lady Hao’s childbearing will be good.”

…And yet some inscriptions ring across the centuries with haunting beauty and mystery:”In the afternoon a rainbow also came out of the north and drank in the Yellow River.”

…Sometimes the court engravers later recorded whether the prediction held true. One memorable epilogue reads: “After 31 days…[Lady Hao] gave birth; it was not good; it was a girl.”

Fascinating Read!
The NEW Story of China’s Ancient Past

In a related note, there was a pretty interesting radio interview in last week’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross: Paleoanthropologist Tim White:

He was the co-leader of the team that discovered three very important skulls in Ethiopia. The human remains are about 160,000 years old and offer evidence of the earliest ancestors of modern humans. They bolster the theory that modern humans emerged in Africa and are not related to Neanderthals, who lived in Europe. White is a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley.

The part of this interview that I enjoyed the most was his description of his life in the desert plain of Ethiopia. They drove SUVs up and down cliffs, seeing ancient animal fossils from four million years ago, washed out by rain, stood in the sand: hippos, giraffe, crocodile, etc. The life of an archaeologist! It seems so remote and romantic. Like the people in Ondaatje¡¯s the English Patient, or Crichton¡¯s Timeline, or Indian Jones. They are the favorite for many writers and movie directors. But I¡¯ve never known a archaeologist in real life. This interview painted a more realistic picture for me. Here is someone who truly loves what he does; I can hear his passion and his knowledge. He even sounded geeky from time to time. His talk also made me long for the desert plain of Ethiopia, where I have seen in the golden African light when I watched the National Geographic series Africa.

Maybe, someday¡­

4 thoughts on “The NEW Story of China’s Ancient Past

  1. Be careful next time you’re landscaping and digging up your yard. Maybe you’ll turn up something interesting…

  2. haha, I like all the comments regarding Lady Hao. It really cracked me up when I read about them (the excavation team) having a political meeting afterwards criticizing Lady Hao for her exploitation of the proletarians!

  3. 🙂 my mom thought that was funny too. She said during the meeting they probably shouted revolutional slogans from time to time too, such as “Long Live Chairman Mao”. While it might have made more sense for them to reflect on how Chairman has been exploiting the proletarians!

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