Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-n6p7q Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-26T18:01:48.625Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

China and the steppe: reception and resistance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 April 2017

Jessica Rawson*
Institute of Archaeology, University of Oxford, 34–36 Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2PG, UK (Email:


The development of several key technologies in China—bronze and iron metallurgy and horse-drawn chariots—arose out of the relations of central China, of the Erlitou period (c. 1700–1500 BC), the Shang (c. 1500–1046 BC) and the Zhou (1046–771 BC) dynasties, with their neighbours in the steppe. Intermediaries in these exchanges were disparate groups in a broad border area of relatively high land around the heart of China, the Central Plains. The societies of central China were already so advanced that, when these foreign innovations were adopted, they were transformed within highly organised social and cultural systems.

Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2017 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Anthony, D.W. 2007. The horse, the wheel and language: how Bronze-Age riders from the Eurasian steppes shaped the modern world. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Barfield, T.J. 1989. The perilous frontier: nomadic empires and China, 221 BC to AD 1757. Cambridge (MA) & Oxford: Blackwell . Google Scholar
Bunker, E. 1993. Gold in the ancient Chinese world: a cultural puzzle. Artibus Asiae 53: 2750. Google Scholar
Cao, D.Z. 2014. The loess highland in a trading network (1300–1050 BC). Unpublished PhD dissertation, Princeton University.Google Scholar
Chernykh, E.N. 1992. Ancient metallurgy in the USSR: the Early Metal Age. Translated by S. Wright. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Chugunov, K., Parzinger, H. & Nagler, A.. 2010. Der skythenzeitliche Füstenkurgan Aržan 2 in Tuva. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern.Google Scholar
Curtis, J. 2000. Ancient Persia. London: British Museum Press.Google Scholar
Di Cosmo, N. 2002. Ancient China and its enemies: the rise of nomadic power in East Asian history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar
Frachetti, M.D. 2012. Multiregional emergence of mobile pastoralism and nonuniform institutional complexity across Eurasia. Current Anthropology 53: 238. Google Scholar
Fuller, D.Q. & Rowlands, M.. 2011. Ingestion and food technologies: maintaining differences over the long-term in West, South and East Asia, in Wilkinson, T.C., Sherratt, S. & Bennett, J. (ed.) Interweaving worlds: systemic interactions in Eurasia, 7th to the 1st millennium BC. Essays from a conference in memory of Professor Andrew Sherratt: 3760. Oxford: Oxbow.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
GPICRA Gansu Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. 2014. Xi Rong yizhen, Majiayuan Zhanguo mudi chutu wenwu. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe.Google Scholar
Honeychurch, W. 2015. Inner Asia and the spatial politics of empire: archaeology, mobility, and culture contact. New York: Springer. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hsu, Y.K., Bray, P.J., Hommel, P., Pollard, A.M. & Rawson, J.. 2016. Tracing the flows of copper and copper alloys in early Iron Age societies of the Eastern Eurasian steppe. Antiquity 90: 357–75. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
IACASS Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (ed.). 2003. Zhongguo kaoguxue: Xia Shang juan. Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe.Google Scholar
Jackson, S.E. & Wright, J.. 2014. The work of monuments: reflections on the spatial, temporal and social orientations in Mongolia and the Maya lowlands. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 24: 117–40. Google Scholar
Jacobson-Tepfer, E., Meacham, J.E. & Tepfer, G.. 2010. Archaeology and landscape in the Mongolian Altai: an atlas. Redlands (CA): ESRI.Google Scholar
Jones, M., Hunt, H., Lightfoot, E., Liste, D. & Liu, X.. 2011. Food globalisation in prehistory. World Archaeology 43: 665–75. Google Scholar
Keightley, D.N. 2012. Working for His Majesty. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Khayutina, M. (ed.). 2013. Qin—the eternal emperor and his terracotta warriors. Zurich: NZZ Libro.Google Scholar
Kuzmina, E.E. 2008. The prehistory of the Silk Road. Edited by V.H. Mair. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Google Scholar
Ledderose, L. 2000. Ten thousand things: module and mass production in Chinese art. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Legrand, S. 2006. The emergence of the Scythians: Bronze Age to Iron Age in south Siberia. Antiquity 80: 843–59. Google Scholar
Li, F. 2006. Landscape and power in early China: the crisis and fall of the Western Zhou, 1045–771 BC. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Li, J. 2015. The landscape of China's participation in the Bronze Age Eurasian network. Journal of World Prehistory 28: 179213. Google Scholar
Lin, Y. 1986. A re-examination of the relationship between bronzes of the Shang culture and of the Northern Zone, in Chang, K.C. (ed.) Studies of Shang archaeology: selected papers from the international conference on Shang civilization: 237–73. New Haven (CT) & London: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Linduff, K.M. 1997. An archaeological overview, in Bunker, E. with Kawami, T.S. & Linduff, K.M. (ed.) Ancient Chinese bronzes of the eastern Eurasian steppes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collection: 1898. New York: Arthur M. Sackler Foundation.Google Scholar
Linduff, K.M. 1998. The emergence and demise of bronze-producing cultures outside the central plain of China, in Mair, V.H. (ed.) The Bronze Age and early Iron Age peoples of eastern Central Asia: 619–43. Philadelphia (PA): The University Museum.Google Scholar
Linduff, K.M. 2015. What's mine is yours: the transmission of metallurgical technology in eastern Eurasia and East Asia, in Srinivasan, S., Ranganathan, S. & Giumlia-Mair, A. (ed.) Materials and civilization: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on the Beginnings of the Use of Metals and Alloys (BUMA VII): 814. Bangalore: National Institute of Advanced Studies.Google Scholar
Mei, J.J. 2009. Early metallurgy in the Eurasian steppe and China: some challenging issues, in Mei, J.J. & Rehren, Th. (ed.) Metallurgy and civilization: Eurasia and beyond: 916. London: Archetype.Google Scholar
Mei, J.J., Chen, K.L., Shao, A.D., Yang, J.C. & Sun, W.G.. 2014. Qinshihuangdi lingyuan chutu qingtong shuiqin de buchuo gongyi ji xiangguan wenti chutan. Kaogu 2014 (7): 96104.Google Scholar
Michaelson, C. 1999. Gilded dragons: buried treasures from China's golden ages. London: British Museum Press.Google Scholar
Nanjing Museum. 2013. Jiangsu Xuyi Xian Dayunshan Xi Han Jingdu Wang ling yihao mu. Wenwu 2013 (10): 368.Google Scholar
Rawson, J. 2015. Steppe weapons in ancient China and the role of hand-to-hand combat. The National Palace Museum Research Quarterly 33 (1): 3797.Google Scholar
– Forthcoming. Revisiting Chinese bronzes, in Selbitschka, A. & Müller, S. (ed.) Essays in honour of Thomas Höllmann. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.Google Scholar
Rudenko, S. 1970. Frozen tombs of Siberia: the Pazyryk burials of Iron-Age horsemen. London: Dent.Google Scholar
Shelach, G. 2009. Prehistoric societies on the northern frontiers of China, archaeological perspectives on identity formation and economic changes during the first millennium BCE. London: Equinox.Google Scholar
Shelach, G. & Pines, Y.. 2005. Secondary state formation and the development of local identity: change and continuity in the State of Qin (770–221 BC), in Stark, M. (ed.) An archaeology of Asia: 202–30. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Shelach-Lavi, G. 2015. The archaeology of early China, from prehistory to the Han dynasty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar
Sherratt, A. 2006. The Trans-Eurasian exchange: the prehistory of Chinese relations with the West, in Mair, V. (ed.) Contact and exchange in the ancient world: 3061. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.Google Scholar
So, J.F. 2015. Foreign/Eurasian elements in pre-Imperial Qin, in Liu, Y. (ed.) Beyond the First Emperor's mausoleum: new perspectives on Qin art: 191211. Seattle: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
Stark, S. 2012. Nomads and networks: elites and their connections to the outside world, in Stark, S. & Rubinson, K.S. with Samashev, Z. & Chi, J.Y. (ed.) Nomads and networks: the ancient art and culture of Kazakhstan: 106–38. New York: Institute for the Study of the Ancient World; Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Tong, E.Z. 1987. Shilun woguo cong dongbei zhi xinan de biandi banyuexing wenhua chuanbodai. Wenwu yu kaogu lunwenji 1987: 1743.Google Scholar
Underhill, A.P. 2002. Craft production and social change in northern China. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum. Google Scholar
Wagner, D.B. 2008. Science and civilization in China, volume 3: chemistry and chemical technology, part II: ferrous metallurgy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Wu, E. 2007. Beifang caoyuan kaoguxue wenhua yanjiu: Qingtongshidai zhi zaoqi tieqi shidai. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe.Google Scholar
Wu, H.Y. 2013. Chariots in early China, origins, cultural interaction and identity (British Archaeological Reports international series 2457). Oxford: Archaeopress.Google Scholar
Yang, J.H. & Shao, H.Q.. 2014. Shang wenhua dui Zhongguo beifang yiji Ouya caoyuan dongbu diqu de yingxiang. Kaogu yu wenwu 2014 (3): 4557.Google Scholar
Yates, R. 1999. Early China, in Raaflaub, K. & Rosenstein, N. (ed.) War and society in the ancient and medieval worlds: 745. Cambridge (MA) & London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar