Sunday, August 23, 2009

The origins of China   posted by Razib @ 8/23/2009 08:01:00 PM

Until the overthrow of the Manchus in the early 20th century the Chinese political-cultural system had exhibited an incredible amount of continuity for over 2,000 years, from the Qin and Han dynasties on. It seems a defensible position that just as the Mycenaean Greeks of 3,200 years ago were cultural aliens to Western elites in a way that the Classical Greeks of 2,500 years ago were not, so the Chinese bureaucrats could see themselves in the lettered gentry of 500 B.C.E, but not among the warlords of 1200 B.C.E, thanks to the crystallization of the canon during this critical axial age.

But the Greeks of the Classical period did not emerge out of a historical vacuum, and neither did the Chinese of the Spring and Autumn period. In hindsight the Duke of Zhou has been characterized in some ways as both the Lycurgus and Solon of ancient China, but one assumes that later commentators shaved off his harder edges and refashioned him in their own image, just as the Iliad which purports to tell a Bronze Age tale clearly reflects much of a Dark Age society.

Because of the thinness of the ancient textual evidence (if it exists at all), archaeology is often the only game in town. The new issue of Science has a series of articles putting a spotlight on the ancient physical history of what became China.