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HomeResearch workExploration on the origin of Chinese civilization
Some Problems on the Origin of Chinese Civilization
From: Chinese Archaeology  Writer:Wang Wei  Date:2005-09-18

 

 

I Ecological and geographic contexts of the origin of Chinese civilization

1 Relatively circumscribed geographic environment

China is a relatively closed geographic unit with the sea in the east and southeast, the Tibetan Plateau and Gobi in the west and southwest, and the Steppe in the north. This special geographic context determines that the origin and early development of Chinese civilization was mainly caused and affected by the interactions among different groups within the closed geographic unit. Outside cultures and immigration had never resulted in revolutionary changes.

2 Various natural environments within China

  There are distinct environmental differences between the coastal areas in the east and the highland areas in the west. Natural environments of the southern areas and the northern areas with the Qinling Mountains and the Huai River as the boundary line are also quite different. While rice is the main crop of the southern area, foxtail millet and broomcorn millet are dominated crops of the dry-land agriculture in the north. Patterns of the development of ancient cultures in China had been largely affected by the environmental variety. 

3 Changing climate contexts

As the climate became warmer after the end of Glacial Period around 10,000 B.P., the increasingly abundant vegetable species resulted in a noticeable development of gathering. The proportion of vegetable food in human diet gradually increased. The broad-spectrum gathering in turn triggered the emergence of food domestication. A warmer and humid phase, the Middle Holocene climatic maximum occurred around 8000 to 6000 B.P., together with a great improvement of agriculture.

II Premises and mechanism of the origin of Chinese civilization

1 Development of productivity

1) Development of agriculture

Improvement of production tools

Improvement of cultivation techniques

Increase of crop species

Enlargement of arable land

2) Animal domestication

Improvement of domestication techniques

Increase of species of domestic animals

3) Development of craft specialization

Improvement of techniques

Emergence of craft specialists and clans

2 Increase of population size

population pressure and competition of resources

population size and large scale constructions

population size and the expansion of social groups

3 Increase of surplus

  surplus and the possibility of inequitable distribution

  surplus and the development of exchange

  surplus and specialization (craft, administration, ritual)

  surplus and warfare 

4 Emergence and development of division

1) The division of agriculture and craft industry – emergence of professional or part-time craft specialists and clans

2) The division of manual labor and mental labor – emergence of professional managers such as clergy and chiefs

5 Emergence and development of warfare

1)       revenge for blood relations

2)       spoliation of the resources of enemy clans

3)       competition for natural resources such as land and water

4)       wars for conquest – from village level to social group level

5)       development of the power of military chiefs – power in war-time become permanent

6 Development of primitive religions

  formation of the ideology of super-nature and gods

  emergence of the ideology of man-god communication

  emergence of sacrifice systems

  from clan-level ritual to public ritual of the whole social group

  emergence of professional ritual clans

  the monopolization of man-god communication

  emergence of ritual power

7 Emergence of symbolic goods

  monopolization of symbolic goods by the chief

  the control of symbolic goods manufacture

symbolic goods as the marks of power and status

III The emergence of civilizations artificially accelerate the previously natural developmental process of human societies 

1The politically centralized population as a result of chief’s will – the emergence of central settlement

2 Despotism replace democracy when dealing with internal affairs

3 Development of inequality among individuals and clans

4 Emergence of power: minority controls the majority with ritual power and military power

5 Institutionalization of hierarchy system (lizhi) reflected on palace plan, presence or absence of ancestor temple, architecture standard, special appliance, raiment and ornaments

6 Imbalance of the development of social complexity in different cultural regions

  some earlier, some later; some faster, some slower

  different ways towards power: ritual, military, control on production and distribution of subsistence

IV Some scholars argue that the formation of civilization coincided with the changes from blood relation polity to territory polity, as well as from sacred power to secular power. However, in many cases it is difficult to make a clear dichotomy. The early state in China was in fact the patriarchal clan polity which was a combination of blood relation and territory relation.

V Interaction (conflicts, communication, amalgamation) among different social groups was one of the main dynes of the formation and development of Chinese civilizations.      

 

 

 

 

 
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