Jade comb
A 6,000-year-old jade carving said to be part of a comb unearthed from Liangzhu archaeological site.

Ever since Chinese freed themselves from second-class citizenhood and threw the alien Manchus out of Forbidden City in the early last century and started to communicate with the world, they have maintained they are the inheritors of a 5,000-year-old unbroken cultural tradition.

Many in the West are not convinced though.

Firstly – they say – Chinese civilisation did appear to have broken in at least two occasions, one under the Mongols’ occupation in the 13th century and another when Manchus entered and ruled China that lasted for nearly 300 years.

And secondly, the recorded Chinese history could only be traced back to 4,000 years ago during the Shang Dynasty when Oracle Scripts were invented.

While the first assertion might be hard to dispute, the new evidence discovered in as many as 135 Liangzhu Culture heritage sites seems to be in favour of the “5,000-year” claim.

The Discovery of Liangzhu Culture

One of the Liangzhu archaeological sites
One of the Liangzhu archaeological sites

Between the period of December 1936 and March 1937, three archaeological diggings were conducted on the outskirts of Hangzhou in northeast Zhejiang Province neighbouring Shanghai, and a large number of articles made with stone and ceramic were unearthed.

Based on relics discovered, Shi Xingen, a 25-year-old archaeology lover from Hangzhou West Lake Museum, crafted a detailed report on the diggings. But his work was forced to be put on hold when Japanese armies attacked Beijing on July 7, 1937, which marks the beginning of Japan’s full military occupation of China. Shi Xingen joined the resistance movement and soon died. Also perished in the war were many priceless relics from Liangzhu.

The report was eventually published in Shanghai in 1938, which drew great attention in archaeological circles. In 1959, archaeologist Xia Ding named the background from which the artefacts were produced Liangzhu Culture, an earlier civilisation that was previously unknown to historians. The radiocarbon dating of the relics determined the Culture existed in the period between 3300 B.C. and 2300 B.C, which lasted for a thousand years.

The Liangzhu Culture sphere is mainly centred in the region between Tai Lake in southern Jiangsu Province and along Qiantang River in northern Zhejiang Province, with heritage sites discovered so far in Hangzhou’s Shuitianfan (杭州水田畈), Ningbo’s Cihu (宁波慈湖), Jiaxing’s Quemuqiao (嘉兴雀幕桥), Shanghai’s Maqiao and Qingpu (上海马桥和青埔福泉山), Suzhou Wuxian’s Caoxieshan and Zhanglingshan (江苏吴县草鞋山和张陵山), Wu’s Xianlidun (无锡先蠡墩), Changzhou Wujin’s Sidun (常州武进寺墩) and Zhangjiagang’s Xujiawan (张家港徐家湾).

Chinese written language earlier than Oracle Bone Scripts

The earliest Chinese written language is commonly believed to have appeared about 4,000 years ago in the form of Oracle Bone Scripts during the Shang Dynasty. However, the evidence excavated from the Liangzhu Culture site near Hangzhou indicates there was a written language used in China at least 1,000 years earlier.

Some frequently repeated marks on stone plates, unearthed from Liangzhu, are found to be similar to that of Oracle scripts. By analyzing the overall pattern, the individual structure and the possibly associated meanings, Chinese archaeologist Xu Xinmin is convinced they are the base or one of the bases from which Oracle scripts was developed.

In fact, in the following 2,500 years or so when China existed as a loosely bound federation, each state had its own written scripts, until First Emperor Qin unified China as well as its written language in year 202 BC.

An illustration of Liangzhu City in the Yangtze Delta region existed about 5,000 years ago

In June 2006, archaeological excavations near Hangzhou led to the identification of the largest and earliest walled city in Chinese history.

The city measures 1.5 – 1.7 km from the east to the west and 1.8 – 1.9 km between the north to the south, with 290 hectares of total site area.

This walled settlement was built in the classic Chinese city planning fashion based on the principles of Fengshui, with mountains in the background, a palace in the middle on a 30 hectares raised platform, surrounded by clay walls more than 4 metres high and 40 to 60 metres wide, completed with 6 gates.

In the city area, there were man-made hills and streams, which could be part of the earliest-designed urban landscape.

The urban space was protected by a flood control system, formed by waterways and entrances both inside and outside of the city, that was linked to the river networks and connected to an 8 km-long dam.

In the fields outside the walls, ruins of the residences, tombs, altars, workshops, and docks with wooden piers boats and oars were found.

Pioneer of Chinese Agriculture

Archaeological evidence unearthed so far strongly suggest that, by then, Chinese had developed quite advanced technologies in paddy rice cultivation.

In 1936’s excavation in Hangzhou’s Liangzhu site, remains of various types of rice were recovered, that include Indica Rice and Japonica rice, the two most common rice crops in China to this day. The growth of these plants relied heavily on sophisticated farming tools and well-constructed irrigation systems.

Earliest ploughs were also discovered in Shanghai Qingpu’s Songze Culture site dating back to 5,800 and 5,100 years ago, but it was until the Liangzhu Culture period centuries later ploughs were widely employed by Chinese farmers around the Yangtze Delta region.

Chinese farming tool with sharp power ~_^ – a set of stone ploughs unearthed from a Liangzhu Culture site
Chinese farming equipment with sharp power 😉 – a stone plough unearthed from a Liangzhu Culture site

Earliest Chinese Industry

Evidence shows that during the time of Liangzhu Culture, the early form of Chinese industry appeared with the main products including pottery, silk, lacquer, ivory and jade.

A 5,000-year-old ceramic pot carved with 8 diagrams
A 5,000-year-old ceramic tri-pot
A 5,000-year-old food plate

The Source of Chinese Jade Culture

In traditional Chinese culture, jade is the material that can help people to communicate with the environment, so they used light blue jade as tributes to heaven and deep yellow jade as gifts to earth (苍璧礼天,黄琮礼地).

Most artefacts excavated in Liangzhu Culture heritage sites are no other but those made with jade. Apparently, the thousands-year-old of Chinese jade culture and craft technology was directly derived from Liangzhu civilisation.

5,000-year-old carved jade object as a symbol of authority
A jade in an overall square shape that represents layers of earth and a round hole in the centre symbolizing heaven
A jade in an overall square shape that represents layers of earth and a round hole in the centre symbolizing heaven
A 5,000-year-old carved jade object
5,000-year-old jade carving
A 5,000-year-old jade ring
A 5,000-year-old jade article carved with mythical guardian creatures
Yellow dragons that sputter water (instead of fire) are considered as the chief guardian mythical creatures for all Chinese, since more than 5,000 years ago.
5,000-year-old jade fish, jade turtle and jade cicada
A 5,000-year-old jade sword
On July 6, 2019, Liangzhu archaeological cultural site has been added to the World Heritage List.

(Edited on July 7, 2019)

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