Chinese culture at the crossroads

August 20, 2009

Recent archaeological discoveries from far-flung corners of China are forcing scientists to reconsider the origins of ancient Chinese civilization - and a new crop of young archaeologists are delving into the modern nation's roots. In the August 21 issue of the journal Science, a group of articles by Science news writer Andrew Lawler explore how, over several millennia, the most populous and economically vibrant nation in the world evolved from a much wider array of peoples and cultures than once imagined.

Lawler crisscrossed China recently for three weeks, traveling from the country's steamy southeastern plains to the rugged westernmost province of Xinjiang, interviewing dozens of archaeologists at a host of sites. This special news package puts a spotlight on how the various archaeological findings of the past decade are challenging what the Chinese people once thought about their country and themselves. As a construction boom continues to alter the physical face of the country - inadvertently uncovering vital clues to China's past, illuminating ancient trade routes and long-lost cultures - a new and more complex history of the Chinese people is emerging right before their very eyes.

The wealth of these recent archaeological discoveries demands a re-write of some history books - and young scholars are even now questioning the existence of a legendary Chinese dynasty, the Xia. Less willing to take ancient texts at face value than their predecessors, this new generation of Chinese researchers is relying on physical data - and more "Western" methods - in their attempts to accurately retrace Chinese history.

But looting and development threaten to destroy the country's heritage. In a land full of wealthy tombs and poor farmers, grave robbing has been an ancient tradition. China's current construction boom poses yet another threat to archaeological sites, though new laws are attempting to halt such damage. Those who destroy evidence of the country's rich history now face jail time and even the death penalty (though no one appears to have been executed for looting yet). Meanwhile, archaeologists are finding novel ways to work with developers and provincial governments to rescue at least some ancient sites from the destruction that comes with the country's economic growth.

"The exciting discoveries made recently across China, coupled with the country's fast-paced development, make this an opportune time to dig into new questions about China's origins, the state of its threatened ancient sites, and the increasing expertise of its archaeologists," says Andrew Lawler, author of the Science news package.

Lawler's special news package on Chinese archaeology covers the accidental discovery and later excavation of Jinsha, an ancient site located near downtown Chengdu in Sichuan, and about 600 miles (1000 kilometers) from the traditional center of Chinese civilization along the Yellow River. Long assumed to have been a cultural backwater, researchers have only recently gleaned the real history of Sichuan's surprisingly ancient and rich culture, which is thousands of years older than they had once believed. Now, thanks to a group of savvy archaeologists and their allies in the city government, Jinsha has become a museum, protected from looters and complete with adjacent land reserved for further archaeological digs in the future.

Another article by Lawler illuminates the earliest Silk Road which brought valued goods like bronze from the west and possibly the staple grain of ancient China, millet, to the west. These recent discoveries have led Chinese researchers to acknowledge significant outside influence on their ancient culture, breaking an old taboo put in place when China was largely closed to the outside world.

Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science

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1 / 5 (1) Aug 20, 2009
History is written by the winner, destroyer, annilhilators,etc,etc.... All of you monkeys' descendants should realise it by now. History is bullS**t. All of them. Especially China's whom history consist of (1) Court intrigues, (2) Ripping off someone else and wrote glowing accounts of themselves for the events.
not rated yet Aug 20, 2009
"Especially China's whom history consist of (1) Court intrigues, (2) Ripping off someone else and wrote glowing accounts of themselves for the events."

Skepticus..You are so smart. How do you know these things. Don't get me wrong, I agree with. I know these things from experience from dealing with these Asian from the past. But how do you know it? If not from experience, then you are one smart dude.

Experience teaches all things to he who lives forever. But if you did not know this from experience, then you are one smart dude.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 20, 2009
Skepticus, I have a degree in historiography. And one thing we learned is that all groups want to interpret history in their own way. The group doesn't have to be a "winner", it just has to have power and a coherent voice. The Nazis were not winners. The KKK never "won" anything. A group of complete fools believes the moon landing never happened (why are these people allowed to vote?) Millions believe astrology has "some truth" in it. Yet their versions of history continue to have an influence.

Truth? What truth? The religious want to prove everything is guided by a deity. The non-religious want to prove nothing is. The scientific want to hold up the scientific method as a solution to everything. The ecology people want to preserve everything in nature. Britney Spears fans pay millions to watch their hero mime to recorded music.

Grr. Lol. Enough. Time to do some Wikipedia editing.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 21, 2009
So China was the original melting pot? Interesting. It's true that most of history was only ever written by "the winners" of battles and such. Much of history has been lost to the burning of books and records by the victors as well. Come to think of it... the New Testament that everyone swears is the word of God himself was subject to editing and voting in/out of various passages by humans...
1 / 5 (1) Aug 23, 2009
From what I have learned the first movable type was made in China? The bible says in Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun-- no new knowledge exists? How do you explain that Solomon was no way near China, yet what he says never is truly wrong or failing in thought? The answer is the legend of the thunderbird, just like what all the prophets ride to reveal their prophecies-- The ancient Chinese proverb is to learn from your mistakes or else you are bound to repeat them? Think about its like a huge balance in the sky .

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