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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: June 2014

2 - The development of complex society in China

Summary

When the Swedish geologist Johan Gunnar Andersson (1874–1960) discovered the Yangshao culture in western Henan in 1921 (Map 2.1), he did not fail to suppose a connection over a few millennia between this early Neolithic culture and the cultures known to have been those of the Zhou and Han, but he was also quick to trace the origin of the Yangshao culture far to the West, pointing to western Asia. In our time that no longer favors Diffusionist agendas; Neolithic cultures worldwide are more often than not regarded to have been products of particular regions and to be explained by regional environmental and ecological influences, rather than having a common origin. Regional cultures are related to one another through mutual influence or stimulation, and cultures in different regions have passed through similar stages of social development along a line of increasing complexity. Therefore, in the contemporary study of Neolithic cultures, “geographical regions” play a very important role in our understanding of the human past.

Theories of Neolithic Cultural Development in China

The early cultural development of China has been traditionally considered as a process of continuing expansion of civilization from the so-called “Central Plain” (or North China Plain), roughly corresponding to present-day Henan Province on the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, inhabited by a core Chinese population, to the peripheral regions that were known to have been lands occupied by the various groups of “barbarians.” This view was of course inherited in the traditional historiography of China which represented the worldview of the unitary political states based for the greater part of Chinese history on North China. When Andersson discovered the Yangshao culture, its location in western Henan seemingly lent support to this theory, although Andersson gave the culture an origin farther in the west.

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Early China
  • Online ISBN: 9781139034395
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139034395
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Selected Reading
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Falkenhausen, Lothar, “The Regionalist Paradigm in Chinese Archaeology,” in Kohl, Philip L. and Fawcett, Clare (eds.), Nationalism, Politics, and the Practice of Archaeology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
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Chang, K. C., and Pingfang, Xu (eds.), The Formation of Chinese Civilization: An Archaeological Perspective (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005).
Crawford, Gray W., “East Asian Plant Domestication,” in Stark, Miriam T. (ed.), Archaeology of Asia (Malden: Blackwell, 2006), pp. 77–95.
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Liu, Li, The Chinese Neolithic: Trajectories to Early States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
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Andersson, Johan Gunnar, Children of the Yellow Earth: Studies in Prehistoric China (New York: Macmillan, 1934), pp. 224–225
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