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Far East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Early Yangtze River Cultures (China)

FeatureThe system which has evolved to catalogue the various archaeological expressions of human progress is one which involves cultures. For well over a century, archaeological cultures have remained the framework for global prehistory. The earliest cultures which emerge from Africa and the Near East are perhaps the easiest to catalogue, right up until human expansion reaches the Americas. The task of cataloguing that vast range of human cultures is covered in the related feature (see link, right).

The view of what is now China's emergence into the historical record has been undergoing a revolution of rethinking and examination in recent decades. Gone (or as near so as makes little difference) is the view that regional history has been one smooth progression from start to finish.

Modern humans seemingly reached China at a surprisingly early stage of the general exodus from Africa via the Near East, a period which is covered under the entry for Early East Asia, and then under Early China.

Early cultures along the Yellow River are no longer being viewed as the only source of China's creation (although they do provide the foundation for the Sino-Tibetan language family which now dominates China and Tibet). Now a broader view is being taken which sees China evolving from the influence and input of many cultures from far afield, and not just along the Yellow River (such as the Sanxingdui).

The Yangtze River region also played a vital role in shaping China. The river is the longest both for China and Asia at 6,300km. Its source is on the Tibetan plateau, from where it flows through central China to reach the East China Sea. More than seventy-five percent of its course runs through mountains.

The Yangtze river basin sits in eastern China's monsoon region, which makes it ideal for the several rice agricultural economic and cultural zones which formed near its waters. Rice was being planted in this region for a considerable amount of time, providing one of the most important origins for rice agriculture.

The river's course and length means it contains populations which have a highly diverse ethnic background. It is mainly ethnic Tibetans who live in the highlands of the upper basin. The population of the Yunnan-Guizhou plateau is a mixture of Chinese (Han) agriculturalists and numerous ethnic minorities who combine some farming with herding and hunting.

The population of the middle and lower basins becomes progressively more Chinese although, especially in the middle basin, many other national minorities are represented. The Daxi culture along its length was contemporary with the Yellow River's Yangshao culture, one of the key progenitors of the early Chinese centralised state.

China's Yangtze River

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Times Atlas of Past Worlds, Chris Scarre (Ed, 1988), from the Encyclopaedia of China - The Essential Reference to China, its History and Culture, Dorothy Perkins (1999), from The Cambridge History of Ancient China - From the Origins of Civilization to 221 BC, Michael Loewe & Edward L Shaughnessy (1999), from Beginnings of China, Stuart B Schwartz, and from External Link: Encyclopaedia Britannica.)


King list Sanxingdui Culture
(c.1600 - 1000 BC)

The people of this civilisation were lost to history until 1929, living in a walled city on the banks of the River Minjiang, but without having developed any writing.

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