China Prehistory

According to mathgeneral, the Chinese story is part of the history of East Asia and also touches on Southeast Asia and Central Asia. It started in the Stone Age.

In the catchment area of ​​the Yellow River and in the Great Plain, high cultures arose in the early days of human development .


A settlement in the Paleolithic is particularly attested by finds from Zhoukoudian (West Beijing), where human skeletal remains (known as “Peking Man”, Sinanthropus pekinensis, Homo erectus) came to light together with traces of fire and primitive stone tools (chopper / chopping tools). In the Middle Paleolithic, finds related to the Moustérien of Western Europe (e.g. triangular cuts) are only embedded in the local tradition. The human remains are classified as Neanderthal -like. Homo sapiens appeared in the Upper Paleolithic (Ordos region, Lower Hwangho, southwest China)together with a blade production roughly comparable to the Aurignacien / Périgordien of Western Europe; primeval pebble devices continued to exist next to it.

The Mesolithic period intensified the tendency towards small stone tools (microliths), which were probably used in tools and weapons made of organic material (including bone tools). The chopper and pebble tradition did not break off, especially in the southwest, and led to the Hoabinhien of Southeast Asia. In the upper cave of Zhoukoudian, sea shells indicate “long-distance trade”.

At the beginning of the Neolithic Age, simple ceramics with impressions of shaped boards wrapped in cord can be identified. In northern China, on the middle reaches of the Hwangho, began around 5000 BC. The Yangshao culture, named after an important site, with its painted red fine ceramics. Some patterns are interpreted as the original form of characters. In eastern China, around 4500 BC. The Longshan culture (rice cultivation; permanently inhabited villages), also named after a place of discovery, with black, unpainted ceramics with a clearly structured profile that is sometimes reminiscent of metal vessels. Nephrite and jade prove long-distance trade and a structured society. Between 3000 and 2000 BC The Yangshao culture was ousted by the Longshan culture.

In addition to these two cultures of prehistoric China, there are also archaeological evidence from Erlitou, west of Luoyang (around 2500 to 1500 BC). It is carefully interpreted only as a “phase”, as a link between the Longshan and the well-documented younger Shang culture. The Erlitou phase, on the other hand, falls into the time of the Xiadynasty (Hsia; approx. 21st – 16th centuries BC, traditionally dated 2205–1766), the historicity of which is questioned: on the one hand, it is not mentioned on the oldest Chinese writers, on the other hand, exists Centuries after their destruction, lists of rulers. For a long time in China, the history of the early period was shaped by the idea, conveyed by tradition, that civilization and culture were a creation of the wise original emperors (legendary emperors) of the 3rd millennium BC. BC, below Huangdi (Huang-ti), Yao, Shun and Yu (Yü), which also reflect the rich world of myths of that time.

Pre-emperor time

Shang (around 16th century to around 1045 BC)

Under the Shang dynasty, the first historically and archaeologically comprehensible empire was formed on Chinese soil. Numerous finds show a fairly uniform civilization throughout central and northern China for this period, but the political power of the empire, whose capitals, which changed several times, were located on the central section of the Hwangho, probably did not extend so far.

At the head of this empire, consisting of an association of tributary principalities, stood a kind of priest-king, supported by a noble civil service. The basis of society was formed by the serf peasants who lived in pits and were technologically at the Stone Age level. The highly developed bronze culture of weapons and cult implements made by a large number of slave craftsmen was reserved for the ruling class, who resided in the walled capital and were equipped with chariots. The basic food was millet; cattle, horses, pigs, ducks, chickens and dogs have been found on domestic animals, even working elephants.

In addition to the numerous natural deities, the Shang pantheon was populated by the ancestors, of whom the royal ones were the highest in the hierarchy. Predictions by oracles to all important areas of life took an important place. Specially prepared belly plates of turtles or shoulder blades of cattle, which were made to jump by heating, served as a medium for oracle interrogation. The king interpreted these leaps, which strengthened his authority. After the oracle taking, the objects of the oracle and the day (but not the year) of the oracle taking, as well as the prognosis and occasionally its verification, were recorded on the bones themselves. The oracle bones, hundreds of thousands of which have been excavated in the last royal residence of Anyang since the beginning of the 20th century, give a good insight into the Shang culture, although little can be said about its historical development due to the aforementioned peculiarities in the dating of the oracles. Chinese writing is already fully developed in its basic features.

China Prehistory

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