The first light of Chinese civilization revealed itself 7,000 to 8,000 years ago, as indicated by the ruins of the Daxi Culture in Sichuan and Hubei provinces, the Majiapang Culture in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, the Hemudu Culture in eastern Zhejiang and the Yangshou Culture along the middle reaches of the Yellow River and its main tributaries.
Fossils that have been found in Chinese territory include those of Yuanmou Man, the first Homo erectus, who lived 1.7 million years ago, those of Lantian Man, who lived 750,000 years ago, and those of the Peking Man, who lived at Zhoukoudian in today's suburban Beijing 600,000 years ago. The fossils of Shu Ape, a primate that lived 45 million years ago, (known as the "first anthropoid"), were discovered in China in 1994.
The Chinese nation is not only the most populous but also one of the oldest in the world. According to legend, the primitive tribes that inhabited the middle and upper reaches of the Yellow River were unified into 2 powerful tribes under the Yellow Emperor and Fiery Emperor, and began their push southward 5,000 years ago.
After years of warfare, they conquered the Sanmiao and Jiuli tribes active in south China under the leadership of Chi You. Part of the defeated tribe was incorporated into the tribes under the Yellow and Fiery emperors to become a component part of the Han people, which marked the beginning of the Chinese nation. This history has also given rise to the term 'descendants of the Yellow and Fiery emperors' that Chinese often use to refer to themselves.
Archaeological studies have revealed that around 5,000 years ago the Chinese entered the stage of patriarchal society. Not only did villages begin to appear but also the initial forms of cities formed. The Yellow Emperor invented the compass, which helped him defeat Chi You. More importantly, the invention of chariots greatly reduced labor intensity. Lei Su, wife of the Yellow Emperor, discovered silk making by raising silkworms, and produced the first garments, which allowed the ancient people to bid goodbye to the period when they wore animal skins and tree leaves. The tribe under Chi You in the south learned how to make weapons with copper, creating the conditions for making bronze vessels, metallurgy and alchemy of later times.
From 475 BC to the end of the 19th century, China went through a long feudal period. Before the 15th century, China was one of the most powerful countries in the world, occupying a leading position in the development of productivity and technology. Ancient China enjoyed a developed agriculture and advanced irrigation system, an independent tradition of medicine and advanced botanical knowledge. China's 4 great inventions, namely, the compass, gunpowder, movable type printing and papermaking, not only changed the world but also accelerated the evolution of world history.
China also kept the world's most detailed and earliest astronomical records. The first people to take note of such astronomical phenomena as comets, sunspots and new stars were all Chinese. It was also the Chinese who produced the most advanced astronomical observatory apparatus of the time. In metallurgy, China long held a leading position, producing cast iron on an industrial scale in the 10th century. Of the consistent traits identified by independent historians, a salient one has been the capacity of the Chinese to absorb the people of surrounding areas into their own civilization.
Their success can be attributed to the superiority of their ideographic written language, their technology, and their political institutions; the refinement of their artistic and intellectual creativity; and the sheer weight of their numbers. The process of assimilation continued over the centuries through conquest and colonization until what is now known as China Proper was brought under unified rule. The Chinese also left an enduring mark on people beyond their borders, especially the Koreans, Japanese, and Vietnamese.
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