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It is highly stylized, yet it exhibits the vitality and rhythm which is to characterize all Chinese art. The Yangshao culture is to be found in sites, usually near the fertile soil of rivers, along the middle course of the Yellow River, on the west-central plain, and up into the northwest of China and the tributary valleys of the Yellow River. The Longshan culture, which overlaps and seems to succeed it, is centered farther to the east, in northeast China, the Shandong coastal region, and part of the central plain.

In some places, particularly in Henan, Longshan pottery remains are found above Yangshao items on the same site, but the exact chronological sequence of the two cultures as a whole is still not clear. Longshan ware is thin, hard, black, and burnished. It has not been possible so far to assign dates with any certainty to these Neolithic cultures of north China, but a rough approximation can be reached with the aid of a Japanese parallel.

The earliest pottery in Japan has been dated by the carbon method to the eighth millennium b. It is thought highly Origins and Early History 13 Neolithic pottery jar. Yangshao stage, after b. This vessel, 17 inches in diameter, was found at Ban Shan in Gansu, in the far northwest.

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The geometric design, far from primitive, shows the successful treatment of a large curved surface and is much more effective because the lower portion is left plain. Buffalo Museum of Science unlikely that the first pottery on the continent would be any later in date. If that is so, then the developed cultures of Yangshao and Longshan probably arose after the year b. The archeology of this ancient period has been enriched by recent discoveries in the Tarim Basin in western China of more than naturally mummified corpses of people who lived there from 4, to 2, years ago.

Amazingly preserved in the arid climate, these mummies have unmistakably Caucasian features—long noses and skulls, blond or brown hair, thin lips and deep-set eyes—and are splendidly attired in colorful robes, trousers, boots, stockings, coats, and conical hats. From this evidence, Chinese archeologists believe that the earliest inhabitants of the region were almost exclusively Caucasian and that there were migratory movements of peoples through the region long before the historical records of the Silk Road.

Chinese scholars of a later date, always inveterate annalists and recorders, assigned the beginnings of their history to the year b. From the kings also came the discovery of medicine and the inventions of the calendar and the Chinese script. The last of the Five Rulers were the model emperors Yao and Shun. Then another great benefactor, Yu the Great, is said to have founded the first dynasty, the Xia dynasty.

He is said to have been so devoted to his work that when he came to his own district after an absence of nine years, he saw his home near the river but walked past and would not take time to go in. These myths, which cannot be fitted into any time framework established by archaeology, show that, although China has fought many cruel wars, the ideal has always been that of peaceful cultural achievement rather than feats of battle.

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The legend of Yu demonstrates that the needed culture hero is one who can organize men and make them combine to combat the natural disaster of a flood on a vast scale. Chinese society recognizes the survival value of working together for community ends, whereas the individualist credo dictated by the circumstances of the American frontier believes in the lone pioneer who, with family help, can carve out a piece of the wilderness to enjoy in freedom.

The Xia dynasty attributed dates — b. There was a tendency for the later annalist officials to push back as far as possible into the past the appearance of the Chinese state as a centralized, bureaucratic, and dynastic system. The historicity of Xia is thus in doubt, but scholars are becoming more cautious. It was thought at one time that the Shang dynasty, also known as the Yin dynasty traditionally — b.

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Yet the list of kings of this dynasty recovered from inscriptions of known Shang date was found to agree almost exactly with the traditional list as given by the great historian of the second century b. Judgment on the Xia must therefore be reserved until further evidence is in. It is a story comparable in its wider aspects to that of the decipherment of Linear B writing in Minoan Crete, where the dates of the originals happen almost to correspond.

This is also the period of the pharaoh Tutankhamun.


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The bones were valued as magic because they had symbols inscribed upon them. Serious work on the bones began in , but fuller results were to come only after extensive excavations from to at Anyang, near the great bend in the Yellow River, the area known as the cradle of Chinese civilization.

Altogether , of these bones—shoulder blades of deer and oxen and the carapaces of tortoises—have been unearthed and the results of research upon 15, of them published. The characters inscribed upon them, dating from about b. Some 5, characters have been distinguished and 1, of these deciphered. A major reform of Chinese writing in the second century b. Royal priests used the oracle bone writing in their divination methods to get in touch with the spirit world. These practices underlie the more sophisticated ones used later in the Yi Jing, Book of Changes, or Book of Divination see p.

All are based on the belief in an intimate correlation between the natural and human worlds found throughout Chinese history. The oracle bones, the superb bronze vessels, and the tombs of Shang reveal a civilization of splendor and of violence.

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Their kings were buried in coffins in immense pits with two or four sloping access ramps. A dog was sacrificed and placed immediately under each coffin, and numerous treasures 5, articles in one particular tomb were buried along with the monarch. Among the most valuable of these objects, and ranking as status symbols, were cult vessels of bronze and war chariots, with horses and charioteers previously killed and buried along with them. The chariots are similar to those described by Homer in the Iliad as existing in b.

The two wooden wheels are slender and have sixteen or more spokes. The box body, supported on axle and shaft running forward between the two or four horses, was small and light but of sufficient size to carry a charioteer and spearman as well as the king or noble owner. The hubs had to be long in order to distribute the heat generated by the friction of wood on wood, although pitch or animal fat was employed to lubricate them. Fine bronze fittings for chariot and harness have been preserved in the tombs.

A grim feature of Shang burials was the sacrifice of large numbers of human victims in groups of ten. They were ceremonially beheaded with large axes, also found in the tombs. These were prisoners taken in war or captured from nomad shepherd tribes on the western borders of Shang.


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  • Beneath was a vast peasantry hardly advanced beyond their old neolithic economy. There were satellite villages not far away from the central capital, and the state had a measure of control over communities at a greater distance. More than fifty sites of Shang finds, nine of them principal ones, have been identified, centered on the Yellow River and the north China plain.

    The location of the walled capital shifted, and two of the most noteworthy sites were Zheng Zhou probably the ancient Ao , a capital founded under the tenth king and occupied from c. The wealth and the command of skilled labor displayed in the tombs, comparatively great for this early stage in Chinese history, indicates that the Shang kings and nobles held positions of considerable power and prestige in society. The kings were able to put into the field armies of from 3, to 5, strong.

    It is clear from the oracle bone inscriptions that hunting was a major preoccupation of the leaders, and, as in the Mongol dynasty, hunting with organized drives for game was used as a means of training bodies of soldiers. Indeed, hunting, fishing, and food gathering remained an important part of the economy for the whole population, even though agriculture was long established as the mainstay.

    The chariots already mentioned were apparently used mainly to transport warriors to the battle site, where they dismounted to fight, again as in Homeric warfare. Among the weapons were spears with bronze blades and the great axes used also for ceremonial decapitation of victims. Bows of wood and horn are perishable and no examples have been found, but characters on bronze vessels hint that Shang bows were of the reflex or compound type, which deliver great power for a shorter bow length than the simple longbow. The compound bow with its double curve is thus valuable in the cramped quarters of a war chariot and was used with great effect at a later date by both nomads and Chinese on horseback.

    Swords were not in use in the Shang age. They occur first during the Zhou dynasty in the sixth century b. Origins and Early History 17 point continuing in the line of the shaft was added. Ceremonial examples of the ge are numerous, some with blades of jade and with decoration on the tang, guard, and ferrule at the bottom of the shaft. The chief glories of Shang art and craftsmanship are the magnificent vessels of bronze.

    These vessels, in a number of carefully prescribed shapes, were designed primarily for use in sacrifice to ancestors and gods, but they were also used to mark occasions of royal favor, such as the granting of a fief or an honor to a noble. Possession of bronze vessels was a conspicuous sign of wealth and a means of preserving it in the family.

    The forms of the bronzes, in many cases derived from earlier pottery shapes, are solid, dignified, and satisfying. The ornament is highly elaborated and beautifully adapted to the shape of the vessel. A main motif is that of the taotie monster mask, a stylized, symmetrical form of animal face viewed from the front. Minor decoration in the form of fretted or geometrical designs fills in the spaces of the main pattern.

    The vessels were cast in pottery molds. A higher than usual proportion of lead was added to the copper-and-tin mix in order to produce a free flow of the molten metal into the fine portions of the design and to prevent the formation of gas bubbles. The workmanship of these bronze pieces is so fine that the grooves can be seen under a lens to be not V-shaped but showing a full, open, square section with perpendicular sides, thus:. Shang bronze-working attained an extremely high standard, scarcely excelled anywhere else at any date. The rise of Shang bronze techniques appeared until recently to have been very rapid, and this led to speculation that knowledge of bronze casting might have been introduced from West Asia, then applied and developed in China.

    But discoveries in the s have revealed examples of earlier, thinner, and much more primitive bronzes, which point to a long development within China itself. It now seems likely that the Chinese invented the casting of bronze independently. A brilliant regional variation of Shang civilization was discovered in in Sichuan province. The site at Sanxingdui 40 km. Its two pits, whose function is still unknown, have yielded a trove of artifacts clearly related to the Anyang civilization, yet strikingly different.

    Objects are of bronze, gold, stone, jade, and amber as well as large numbers of elephant tusks and cowry shells. Life-size bronze heads some covered in gold have prominent eyes set wide apart, bulging pupils, elongated ears, and thin, wide mouths. Bronze masks have similar features, but some have flared nostrils or animal-like ears.

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    Most spectacular is a lifesized bronze figure of a man standing on a pedestal. His head has the same blocky shape and sharp features as other heads, as well as massive ears and a high crown.


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    • His arms reach forward as though offering a sacrifice, and his oversized hands appear to have held a sacrificial object, perhaps an elephant tusk. Another category of bronzes, utterly different from anything at Anyang, is a group of fantastical bronze trees whose contorted branches are festooned with weird shapes. One includes a parrotlike bird and a mysterious dragon. Shang dynasty, — b. Note the satisfying shape and the extremely fine lines of decoration, which are cast, not incised.