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c. 6000 - 1700 B.C.

North-eastern China

North-central China

Eastern China

South-eastern China

South-central China

Most of the scientific research done the last 10-15 years points to a more varied picture of human developement than the early hunter/gatherer/farmer stereotypes. Everything points at climatic changes as the primal force in human developement towards a modern civilisation.

The appearance of a severe drought would explain much more than, the apperance of agriculture. We are experiencing a climatic change right now. In year 2000 soil erosion has forced Kazakhstan to abandon half its cropland since 1980. In the US, the Chesapeake Bay oyster beds yielded over 70 million kilograms annually a century ago, but less than 2 million kilograms in 1998. Imagine that in a paleolithic society living primarily on gathering oysters.

Anyway, The Neolithic period is defined by the appearance of argriculture and comes to an end with the rize of bronze early in the second millenium B.C.

The area that eventually would become China was populated by different tribes living in well organized cultures remaining virtually unchanged over several thousand of years. The different cultures we differentiate between today from this period is seen in the list above. Thanks to the rapid developement of modern China, huge areas are now excavated and our knowledge of Neolithic China is rapidly changing.

According to Chinese and Japanese archaeologists who studied 125 samples of rice grains, husks, plant remains, and grain impressions in pottery excavated from more than 100 sites along the Yangtze River rice cultivation began in China ca. 11,500 years ago, some 3,500 years earlier than previously believed. The oldest specimens were from sites on the middle Yangtze in Hubei and Hunan provinces, while samples from both upstream and downstream were dated between 10,000 and 4,000 years ago. The evidence suggests rice cultivation began in the middle Yangtze and spread from there. The new dates also show that rice cultivation preceded millet farming in northern China.

With the advent of farming the seasons and the keeping of a calendar became critical. To "know" the seasons exactly and be responsibly for the sun and rain coming in right time and proportions, was the responsibility of the King who finally came to be thought of as a communicating link between heaven and the earth. By the time of the Zhou dynasty this was formulated as the "Mandate of Heaven".

In the legends the Late Neolithic period is described such as that the Xia dynasty was preceded by a succession of three sovereigns and five emperors.

Fuxi, the first of the three sovereigns is generally acknowledged as the earliest ancestor of Chinese nation. He is supposed to have lived in northwest China's Gansu Province and later have led his tribe down the Yellow River to settle in central China. He is also renown to have created weaving and musical instrumental skills. Even the "Eight Trigrams" are said to have been worked out by him. Much after his death, a magnificent tomb and temple were built in his honor in his burial place, today's "Dragon City", Huaiyang County. Today, on the second day of February, thousands of people goes to Huaiyang to worship Fuxi in the hope of being protected by the spirit of the dragon. Fuxi is usually depicted alongside his wife and sister, the goddess Nugua. Fuxi and Nugua are human from the waist up and have the tails of dragons. Shun, the last of the five emperors, abdicated in favor of Yu, the first emperor of the Xia Dynasty ca 2200 B.C.

By about 2500 B.C. the Chinese knew how to cultivate and weave silk and were trading the luxurious fabric with other nations by about 1000 B.C. The production and value of silk tell much about the advanced state of early Chinese civilization. Cultivation of silkworms required mulberry tree orchards, temperature controls and periodic feedings around the clock. More than 2,000 silkworms were required to produce one pound of silk. The Chinese also mastered spinning, dyeing and weaving silk threads into fabric.

One more thing to consider to understand this period are the tribes on China's Northern borders who appears to have played a major role in the cultural development of China during antiquity. Ca. 1800 B.C. wool-weaving technology arrived with the western settlers of the Tarim Basin. By the first millennium B.C. the region's inhabitants were trading horses, wool, carpets and fur-articles in constant demand by their settled, urban Chinese neighbors. Trade, intermarriage and war between the pastoral tribes and the urban dwellers continued throughout the first millennium B.C. The artistic creations of the two groups reflect centuries of flourishing contact and complex interrelationships.

Another adjoining culture was to the west. Tibet supported a sophisticated culture long before the dawn of the Buddhist era in the 7th century. This earlier civilisation is closely connected with the Bon religion, with their indigenous deities such as the mountain gods and lake goddesses. Their belief system was also enriched by various traditions, in its turn coming from other adjoining countries.

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External link: SCIENCE MAGAZINE: The Slow Birth of Agriculture

The text is based on, CHINA - a Country Study by Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, Edited by Robert L. Worden, Andrea Matles Savada and Ronald E. Dolan. Research Completed July 1987. This version and Webpage © Jan-Erik Nilsson, Gothenburg, Sweden, 2002