3 Things to Know About the Origins of Chinese Civilization

(Photo by Andrew Howley)
The ornate dragon in the center of this colorfully painted ceiling in the Forbidden City dates back some 300 or 400 years, but pulls from artistic traditions far older and still current today. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Two things everyone knows about China are that it is very big and it has been around a very long time (by the way, Happy New Year 4713!).

The look of the buildings, the style of art, and the form of the language almost seem to be timeless.

In presentations at the 2015 Dialogue of Civilizations being held this week in Beijing though, archaeologists are peeling back layers of history and revealing the latest discoveries and theories of the culture’s origins.

Here are some key takeaways so far:

1. China, Like Rome, Wasn’t Built in a Day

For as far back as certain elements of Chinese civilization and culture go, the build up was still a gradual one with plenty of ups and downs.

Professor Li Boqian of Peking University (PKU) and curator of the Sackler Museum there opened the conference discussing the development (seen in many places around the world) from hunter-gatherer chiefdoms to early settled agricultural states to full blown empires expanding and coordinating society over large areas.

Intricately decorated rams’ heads decorate the four sides of this large bronze wine vessel from 1300-1046 BC during the late Shang Dynasty, from the permanent collection of the Palace Museum, Forbidden City. The Shang has often been viewed as the dawn of Chinese civilization. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

Some 80 years of archaeology have shown though that it wasn’t a straight shot. Different sites in different parts of the region grew and shrank, combined and separated, and these different threads weave together to tell the full story of China’s beginnings. Some such key sites are Liangzhu, Shimao, —> Read More