Chapter 4. Governance and societal evolution
4.7. About the institutions of governance
I touched very briefly on the subject of Chinese governance in "4.6.3. Societal reproduction – Individual communion 2. China unified its early kingdoms along the Yellow River some 3000 years BC under the '3 sovereigns' and the '5 emperors' ". What follows is an expansion on the content of that text.
Animism was the belief system that all tribesmen shared, starting roughly 100-150,000 years ago.
I stated, in "Chapter 1. About the formation of human knowledge. 1.1. The context: The long history of homo-sapients delineates two eras. 1. tribal societies – animism ", that: "...original tribal societies are similar in their functioning and in their belief systems all around the world. That does not mean that they were one and the same. The differences in their environmental contexts shaped different forms, colors, and sounds but the substance of their beliefs was based on the long haul observation of the rhythms of nature that are largely identical everywhere on earth and so the abstractions derived from those observations were largely of a similar nature: all particles in the whole were seen interconnecting among themselves, all particles were perceived as being animated by the energetic flow that powers the universe which gave its conceptual root to the tribal worldview or animism, the here and now was perceived as a constant transformation from one polarity to the other (day and night, white and black, etc…)."
220.127.116.11. The tribal societal context.
After emerging around 10-13,000 years ago agriculture fostered an increase in population which generated a differentiated societal response according to the different contexts tribes were living in:
The theory exposed here shows that the link between an increasing population and the size of the available alluvial plains is shaping a given societal outcome:
A. Continuity versus rupture
History confirms that the emergence of agriculture in a different physical context led to a bifurcation in societal ways:
Before disposing of a theory on the differentiation between continuity and rupture the question that always popped in my mind was why had the TriContinent-Area evolved so obviously, and so early on, on a path to power. I wrote the following about this question in:
"1. About the formation of human knowledge. The long history of homo-sapients delineates two eras.
2. power societies – ideology”: "How has power been justified to take over from non-power tribal societies? In other words how could people who lived as equals, and who took the group's decisions on the base of unanimous consent, agree to let go all of that for a master and slave relation?
The first answers we find come from written matters carved on stone and tortoise shells or painted on pottery some 4500 years ago at the earliest which is some eight thousand years after the power build-up started. So these first eight thousand years of power societies are largely unknown territory. This is nevertheless when the debates about power, the formation of religious worldviews, and the differentiation between men of knowledge and “artists” took place. The first written texts relate to the state of thinking reached at the end of these initial 8000 years. But we don't know how these ideas came to be what they were.
In other words the vast gap between the worldview of animism and the worldview narrated in the first written texts remains largely unexplained.“
That question should also be expanded to why did China chose such a different path. In other words how did animistic tribes evolve into power societies in present day China? The answers to these questions are found in the physical context in which agriculture emerged.
In, 7.2.1, I mentioned the following physical factors:
In order words a combination between the size of available alluvial plains and the nature of the exchanges with outside tribes (many exchanges or isolation) formed the physical context. In China the physical context helped to refine a worldview and culture that are intricate abstractions derived from the long haul observation of the rhythms of nature. In the TriContinent-Area the ruptures caused by growing populations within a narrow context led to cycles of power where the winner takes-all imposed his worldview on his newly conquered subjects. The worldview and culture had thus never the benefit of the very long haul to mature. Furthermore, as the men of knowledge had differentiated their worldviews in order to catch the ears of the men of power these narratives had slipped further and further away from the animistic accumulated knowledge base derived from the observation of the rhythms of nature over tens of thousands of years. This double trend would forcibly result in poor narratives about reality that privileged simple stories loaded with basic moral principles in order to control the minds of populations.
What starts to emerge is the idea that living for thousands of years in different physical contexts generated starkly contrasted worldviews and cultures. In China continuity provided time, over the long haul, to dig deep and to elaborate complex abstract systems of thought. In the TriContinent-Area rupture followed by short spans of stability constrained the narratives and obliged them to focus on ideas serving the reproduction of power.
B. Chinese continuity to empire
What do we know?
This period of history before the dynasty era is called legendary for a good reason. If there were any written traces from that period the fact is that they were not preserved. What we know comes mostly from “The Records of the Grand Historian” by Suma Chien (135 – 86 BC) and older texts which give a chronology and the names and places where the Sovereigns officiated during this mythical period. But since no archaeological traces have ever attested the veracity of the pronouncements of these texts that era has been considered as a legendary history. Archaeological studies started very late in China and only after the eighties were budgets being allocated to history departments in order to finance excavations. Since then we are witnessing a rapid succession of new finds that are starting to fill the gaps in our knowledge about the antiquity of China.
But what can we induce in term of the population increase from the information we gathered concerning the context in which the Chinese transition from tribes to empire takes place?
It’s all about the men of knowledge
The Chinese have been calling the trinity “Territory + Belief + sovereign” Tian Xia or “all under heaven ”. The term makes it in the literature starting with the oldest known Chinese texts dating from the Shang dynasty but, in reality, it must have been in use since far further down in history. The story of “all under heaven” has been unfolding in China, starting with tribal societies and then with the emergence of agriculture, its play-out in the Shang and Zhou dynasties is only the oldest documented form that is available today.
We saw in “18.104.22.168. context. B. Worldview and cultural context ” that the retreats by the men of knowledge focused on:
In "Continuity versus rupture", here above, we saw that: “The sharing of a worldview in its common contextual forms, over the centuries and milena, gradually drew the attention of all to the differentiations that had been building up between their own territory and their neighboring territories”. This differentiation I assume must have acted as the initiation of an awareness of being a people, a union of tribes, sharing the use of a common territory. In “22.214.171.124. the transition from tribes to empire” we saw that: “The retreats of the men of knowledge furthermore helped steer a path of co-existence between the tribes that over the many centuries gradually built a feel of belonging to a common nation”. In other words the awareness of being a union of tribes sharing the use of a common territory was further strengthened by exchanges between the tribes that were arranged by their men of knowledge while participating in their retreats.
The men of knowledge were steering a path of co-existence within the territory mainly by “steering” a territory wide societal response to 2 matters that in their minds were questions of life and death for the tribe (1):
Taking into account these new functions that the men of knowledge assumed, regulating population size and ensuring genetic variation, we get a more elaborate view of the importance of their retreats. These were meetings where the guys who were in charge of knowledge very opportunistically arranging pragmatic solutions to satisfy the finality of the tribe which was to impact the production of well-being in the daily life of all; individually and societally. Producing well-being and sharing with one’s fellow tribesmen was the ideal of each individual. Tribal life was indeed communal with no expression of the ego whatsoever and so, while the men of knowledge wanted to share some goodies of life with their fellow tribesmen, the discussions between them focused on what they were feeling was necessary to maximize the cycle of life:
Chain of causality towards a process of governance
I’m not suggesting here that the retreats of the men of knowledge were anything like the organized political governance of tribal affairs. What I want to suggest is that we are faced with a process that has been feeding upon itself completely out of the conscious control of its actors:
Tribes, Agricultures, villages
The retreats of the men of knowledge from their tribes started a process that has been feeding upon itself, totally out of their consciousness, and this process has gradually come to modulate the play between the Individual-societal polarities which is what creates the reality of the human species.
During that process the men of knowledge were confronted with various contextual changes that necessitated societal corrective answers. Among the most transformative contextual changes they encountered were – the expanding size of the known territory, – the eventual saturation of the territory, – the growing population size of their tribes. Their answers to these contextual changes eventually fostered local settlements and tribes soon transformed into villages that lived from the proceeds of agriculture. Villages were taking a lot less space to feed a same quantity of people than did tribal wandering and the adoption of agriculture helped to grow the population after the territory was saturated. A bunch of studies lately showed for a fact that the settlement in villages must have come late in the process of saturation of the territory. Jared Diamond shook the anthropologists with his in his 1987 article in Discover Magazine “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race” and his 1997 book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” reaffirmed his stance and also led other anthropologists to inquire if agriculture had really had such a negative impact on tribal life. Many studies confirmed the negative impact of agriculture which is thought to have been the reason why agriculture was only adopted late when the territory was already saturation by tribal splitting. Here is a short list of these negative impacts:
126.96.36.199. The transition from tribes to empires
The symbolism for unity, that the men of knowledge projected in the minds of all within the known territory, related to the knowledge of the sages that was shared by all. It appears indeed that in China the process of unification of tribes and villages was the fact of the men of knowledge and not the fact of the men of power as had been the case in the TriContinent-Area.
Once more we observe that the rule of continuity was in application in China.
A. What is an empire?
An empire is understood to be starting when, a set of signals indicate that, its institutions stabilized. Among the signals that apply more particularly in the TriContinent-Area and later in Europe I listed the following in “The axioms of civilization. 2. Imperial stabilization. 2.1. Signals of imperial stabilization ":
One of the greatest difficulties when speaking about empire in China relates to the definition of the concept. The concept “empire” is indeed a European creation that corresponds to the institution that took shape in the particular context of the TriContinent-Area and also of Europe. What I mean by this is that the context of these regions was defined first and foremost by the dominance of the men of power during the whole historical era from the agricultural revolution to the establishment of empires.
In China that whole historical era was defined by the men of knowledge and, as we have seen, they have imprinted a radically different perspective on the working of the Chinese society than the men of power in West-Asia and Europe. So the concept empire is not really representative of the initial unification and sovereign unification of the country.
B. In China the process of unification goes in 3 stages
C. Concepts (3)
This list of concepts is an expansion of my presentation of the axioms of civilization given in “Book 1. 08. From Modernity to After-Modernity. The Axioms of Civilization (3) ":
1. “taiji“ or "supreme ultimate": this concept corresponds to “the whole” or to the “one” I often refer to in the context of set theory and in this sense it is also often called the "great primal beginning".
The Chinese view of the ultimate is that it contains the principles that are applicable throughout the whole of its substance. This they call “the Tao” which they understand as the animation of the substance of the universe by the yin-yang polarity-play or, as the “chi ”, the energy that is flowing throughout the universe to power life, etc…
The taiji is also sometimes referred to as the “ultimate polarity” meaning the oneness out of which the yin-yang polarities originate. This ultimate polarity, that is represented by the universe, is given by the “wuji” or "the one without ultimate", or the “ultimate of beinglessness” or the "supreme ultimate", which is “nothingness”. The meaning that is conveyed by wuji refers to a bigger set that contains our whole universe. In that last sense wuji and taiji are viewed as the polarities of the universe: wuji is its principle or essence and taiji is its substance. Wuji is then the nothingness of “the Tao” that gives its substance to Taiji out of which emerge the “ten thousand things” that form “heaven and earth” which is the foundational concept of Chinese daily life pragmatism.
2. “yin-yang “: the polarities that animate all entities, that are present in the substance of the universe, through their polarity-play. In other words the Tao of the substance of the universe, among other, is yin-yang.
I have exposed earlier on how the yin-yang polarity-play acts as the mechanism that animates the universe. Philosophically yin-yang is a dualistic monism which holds that the universe is the ontological absolute reality which is being animated by the polarity-play of the yin-yang.
I gave a more thorough presentation about the yin-yang polarity-play in “Book 1. 08. From Modernity to After-Modernity. The Axioms of Civilization (3) .
3. “sancai ” or the “three powers”: The 3 powers can refer to the super-sets that contain the human individual: heaven, earth, and humanity (species).
Each of the primary 3 powers, heaven, earth, and humanity, have their own 3 powers: – the heavens have the sun, the moon and the stars, – the earth has: Yi the stems, Bing and Ding, – and humans have: Jing the vital essence, Qi the subtle breath, and Shen the spirit.
These 3 powers can also refer to what gives its substance to the concept “Tian Xia” or “all under heaven”: the known territory (the world), a worldview (the belief shared by all in the knowledge of the sage) and a sovereign who symbolizes the unity of all under heaven or humanity.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the 3 powers are also called the 3 elixir fields or fields: the palace of Nirvana at the center of the head, the Vermilion palace in the region of the heart and the Ocean of Qi in the abdominal region.
In TCM these 3 powers are also referred to as the 3 internal treasures: Jing the vital essence, Qi the subtle breath, and Shen the spirit.
There are also the 3 external treasures Tao the way, Jing the scriptures and Shi the teachers
4. “sixiang” or the four symbols: There are four mythological creatures in the Chinese constellations: the azure dragon of the east (also symbolizing wood/spring), the vermilion bird of the south (fire/summer), the white tiger of the west (metal/autumn), and the black turtle of the north (water/winter). They represents a direction and a season and they have their own origins and individual character.
These 4 symbols are derived from traditional Chinese astronomy that divides the heavens into constellations known as the "public officials". The constellations are divided into four groups: the “twenty-eight mansions” and the “three enclosures” of the northern sky (purple forbidden enclosure, supreme palace enclosure and heavenly market enclosure).
5. "Wu Xing " or 5 elements: The four symbols form the base of the philosophic theory of the 5 elements. A fifth element was indeed added later to these 4: “the earth” that is represented by the yellow dragon of the center which completes the philosophic theory of the 5 elements. This theory is used in Fengshui, in Traditional Chinese Medicine and was the material from which the bagua was derived.
6. “bagua”: The bagua has been derived from the sixiang which literally means the "eight symbols" or in English the “eight trigrams” that represent the 8 foundational concepts that ancient Chinese saw at work in reality. Each is a set of three lines: a "broken" line is yin and a "unbroken" line is yang. See the animated bagua in note 3 here under.
The relationships between the trigrams come in two arrangements :
7. ”I-Ching“: The Yi-Ching is known as the “Classic of Changes” or “Book of Changes” in English. It is the oldest among the Chinese classic books and it was used in divination. We know that at least two other such systems of divination were in existence: the Lianshan and the Guizang. These are cited in the book “the Rites of Zhou” a work on bureaucracy and management. Forecasting the future (divination) had always been an important part of the activities of the tribal men of knowledge and the Yi-Ching was an expansion and systematization of that aspect of animist thought. That’s how the cultural and worldview between tribes and empire implies was characterized by continuity. In other words the concepts from which the trigrams were induced were present already thousands of years earlier. The 5 elements theory, for example, were
Traditionally, the I-Ching is associated with the legendary ruler FuXi who is considered the creator of the bagua. The book the “Great Commentary” notes that Fu Xi observed the patterns of the world and from his observations induced the abstraction of the eight trigrams or the “bagua”.
Fuxi came first in the line of legendary rulers and is presented as launching patriarchy. The legend says that “Hua Hsu” gave birth to a twin brother and sister Fu Xi and Nü Wa (7). “On one of the columns of the Fu Xi Temple in Gansu Province the following couplet describes Fu Xi's importance: ‘Among the three primogenitors of Huaxia civilization, Fu Xi in Huaiyang Country ranks first’. During the time of his predecessor NuWa (who, according to some sources, was also his wife and/or sister) society was matriarchal and primitive” (6). The FuXi and Nuwa story depicts a successful example of spiritual partnership between a man and a woman. Both are depicted as men of knowledge or shaman. Was their spiritual partnership a collaboration between animist twin-souls? We’ll never have a proof of this but all signs point to that possibility.
D. Visual signs and written languages
The Chinese collection of visual signs, and their acceptance as a set of standards about shared meanings, has been a process that has spread over thousands of years. The men of knowledge did not know they needed a written language. It is more as if it was the written language that imposed itself in the minds as the result of an incremental build-up by generations after generations of men of knowledge who had used visual signs to share their visions with their fellow tribesmen. The abstractions in caves or in petroglyphs were indeed creations to share a common meaning in the minds of the men of knowledge. That common meaning could then be shared further with all in the tribes.
But going from tools to share meaning occasionally to a tool for storing and exchanging information systematically needed a quantum leap in increased consciousness that could only have developed in stages over long time spans.
As a rule written language is always the fact of men of knowledge. The concepts exposed here above were the foundation of the narrative of the men of knowledge in the late days of the transition from agriculture to empire or in the early days of empire.
The importance of these concepts in affirming and generating the new paradigm of imperial centralization can’t be overstated. It is being observed that written knowledge is one of the factors that are present at the start of any civilization.
Brute force, as I have noted earlier, is not sufficient to keep together a population that is spread over a vast territory. Therefore an empire can only start after the men of power ally with the men of knowledge whose narrative about what reality is all about can be shared by all citizens willingly or with the help of force. The sharing of such a narrative, or worldview, glues the minds of the individuals fostering unity among them which unleashes a wave of solidarity between the citizens. These are the sources of communion in society that allow it to reproduce over time. But what I just exposed here was the model of imperial emergence in the TriContinet-Area. In China the men of knowledge were still the ones steering societal endeavors in the stage of societal evolution we are concerned with here; I mean late-transition / early-empire.
The men of knowledge were sharing their worldview with the citizens of their tribes. After the territory expanded the sage and his visions were slowly called upon to symbolize the unity of a territory that was starting to escape the minds’ handling capabilities. Sharing a worldview with all within the confines of a vast territory was a complex undertaking. The narrative about the sage’s vision was shared with all the men of knowledge within the entire known territory. They were the ones who then did the sharing with the citizens of all the tribes or cities.
But the territory had expanded to such a size that the communication between all men of knowledge was not any longer feasible orally. A written language had imposed itself as an absolute necessity to share the vision of the sage to all the men of knowledge.
But what I describe here unfolded over thousands of years and, as such, nobody really perceived the necessity of a written knowledge. It all happened like organically and all the bits and pieces of a written language were like falling in place automatically.
In “The axioms of civilization. 2. Imperial stabilization. 2.1. Signals of imperial stabilization” I cited the following that was written by Paola Demattè who is one of the leading world authorities in the field of early written languages: "Many, but by no means all, Western scholars hold that oracle-bone inscriptions are the earliest form of Chinese writing, and that the latter began with little incubation during the Shang period in the middle–lower Yellow River Valley area. In contrast, for many (but not all) Chinese scholars Early Bronze Age inscriptions and Neolithic signs are evidence of the gradual development of Chinese writing over an extended period of time and from a variety of earlier graphic systems. These diverging opinions and their subsets have generated a contentious debate on the origins of writing in China. ... Ultimately, the question is not whether the Dawenkou, Liangzhu, Shijiahe signs are ‘writing’ (this depend on the inclusiveness of the definition), but whether or not they constitute the beginning of a thread that led to Chinese writing. Since they appear to be closely linked to the mature writing of the Shang period, I believe they do." (8)
So written language emerged as a process that spanned over thousands of years. In China that process started very early on (5000-8000 BC?) and concluded with written texts sometimes around 3000 BC.
E. Pragmatism = daily life apps
I summarized what I have in mind when talking about daily use applications in “1.3.4. The civilization of China = animism+”: “One of the signals of imperial stabilization is the apparition of a written language. So writing a compendium of the best practices in his field of excellence must have been something that the shaman used to distinguish himself from his pears. This is exactly what the earliest texts are all about. They are texts about the best knowledge of the day as pertaining to a particular field relating to peoples' daily lives”. Many texts relating to such best practices have been related to the legendary era of centralization and imperial stabilization. The most important among them are the following:
I described that traditional knowledge in the following terms in “1.3.4. The civilization of China = animism+. Animism+”: “The animistic knowledge was first and foremost pragmatic. It offered the citizens of the empire the practical means to handle daily life occurrences and as such it is a knowledge that formats the behavior of the Chinese in all fields. The preservation of health and the treatment of ailments is one of those fields and it illustrates the pragmatism of the Chinese worldview. To Western minds that knowledge will appear alien for the only reason of the rupture their civilization operated with its animist past.”
Pragmatism reflects an attitude that is totally focused on adapting to the context of the moment in order to derive a satisfactory outcome. Pragmatic knowledge is thus about knowing how to adapt one’s behavior in order to maximize the best outcome in the different fields of daily life: knowing how the future is going to unfold, knowing how to maximize one’s health, knowing how to hunt successfully, knowing how to reap a good harvest from growing cereals, etc…
The fact of the matter is that this traditional pragmatism is still fully at work in contemporary Chinese life. It is unfortunately an unknown quantity in the Western view of the world.
1. Dunbar number.
A theory attributed to Robin Dunbar. A sociologist and anthropologist who specialized in the study of “small groups”. Dunbar came to the “small group” idea while studying tribal societies. Original tribal societies having vanished, from the surface of the earth, he approached the study of small groups in contemporary settings. What he discovered was that small groups of Homo Sapients reach their optimum working capacity while being composed of 150 individuals on average. He further discovered that group size was linked to brain size and from this observation he derived “the social brain hypothesis” which relates brain size to group size. Applying the same rule to other species he calculated a theoretical average group number for their observed brain size. The calculated number was each time verified by the facts on the ground which proves the theory right.
Applying his number theory to tribes he came to the conclusion that tribes naturally, spontaneously, adapted a corrective response to any population move outside of the accepted limits of 120 to 180. This means that when the group reached a headcount of 180 it would have to split in 2. Some 120-130 individuals stayed in the existing group while 50 to 60 of them would have to leave:
Check the “China Rock Art Archive” by the Bradshaw Foundation.
In her Research Paper “The Rock Art of Inner Mongolia & Ningxia (China)” Paola Demattè seems also attracted by by the same kind of the idea I express here above: “The narrative about their knowledge then became the symbol of the unity of all tribes and cities in an expanding known territory ”. In Demattè’s terms “...the scattering of marked rocks in key locations suggests that petroglyphs were markers of identity essential for a people who were engaged in a dialectic contention with the expanding agricultural world.”
- I Ching
In my personal experience the I-Ching or “book of changes” contains the conceptual substance of what I call traditional Chinese culture. As continuity has been the rule along the whole of Chinese history knowledge is seen as an incremental build-up of add-ons on top of the existing knowledge base which is being accepted as the result of the long haul observation by earlier men of knowledge and which is also observed to work in contemporary settings.
The best translation of the Yi-Ching from Chinese to a Western language was realized by Richard Wilhem. It was in German. Here follow some useful links to English translations of Richard Wilhem’s German version by Cary F. Baynes:
- “The Yi-Ching Book of Changes”. German translation by Richard Wilhem rendered into English by Cary F. Baynes.
- “Introduction to the Yi-Ching”. German translation by Richard Wilhem rendered into English by Cary F. Baynes.
- “I Ching / Book of Changes”: Layout largely consistent with the printed 1967 Wilhelm/Baynes edition.
- “Yi Jing – I Ching, the Book of Changes”: from the Wengu collection of Chinese books. Translation from Chinese into German by Wilhelm, into English by Baynes.
See this Wikipedia presentation of Richard Wilhem.
- Animated Bagua: show the different stages
- Monad graph in wikipedia: “The circled dot was used by the Pythagoreans and later Greeks to represent the first metaphysical being, the Monad or The Absolute”.
“According to Hyppolytus, the worldview was inspired by the Pythagoreans, who called the first thing that came into existence the "monad", which begat (bore) the dyad(from the Greek word for two), which begat the numbers, which begat the point, begetting lines or finiteness, etc.” in Wikipedia Monad (philosophy)
- Yin-yang, from a philosophically standpoint, is a dualistic monism which holds that the universe is the ontological absolute reality and that this absolute reality is being animated by the polarity-play of the yin-yang.
- animated bagua: from wikimedia and realized by Distorted, based on the work of Idot.
The whole conceptual montage of Chinese traditional philosophy starts with the taiji which is one then adds the yin-yang polarity play of two and then adds the 3 forces and then the 4 symbols of the sixiang and then adds the 8 trigrams of the bagua. The I Ching is based on the same conceptual montage and adds one last layer that is given by the interactions between each of the 8 trigrams with the other seven to give 64 hexagrams (6 lines graphs).
- Origin of Bagua
“There are two possible sources of bagua. The first is from traditional Yin and Yang philosophy. This is explained by Fuxi in the following way:
The Limitless (wuji) produces the delimited (youji), and this demarcation is equivalent to the Absolute (taiji).
The Taiji produces two forms, named yin and yang(yinyang);
These two forms produce four phenomena: named lesser yin (shaoyin), greater yin (taiyin, which also refers to the Moon), lesser yang (shaoyang), and greater yang (taiyang, which also refers to the Sun).
The four phenomena (sìxiàng) act on the eight trigrams (bagua) which results in sixty-four hexagrams of the I Ching.
Another possible source of bagua is the following, attributed to King Wen of Zhou Dynasty:
When the world began, there was heaven and earth. Heaven mated with the earth and gave birth to everything in the world. Heaven is Qian-gua, and the Earth is Kun-gua. The remaining six gua are their sons and daughters".
4. About the legendary history.
What is called the legendary history is the narrative about Chinese history that is given in China’s ancient classic books. Among the most important figure the following:
But it is warranted to be wary of this labeling?
Before the 20th century, the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC) was the earliest Chinese dynasty whose records in the books had been verified by actual archaeological finds.
In 1928 a site (now called Yinxu) near Anyang, north of the Yellow River in modern Henan province, was excavated by Academia Sinica. More than 20,000 oracle bones were discovered which bore inscriptions of the same nature as those on bronze ritual vessels discovered in the Song dynasty. These bronze vessels’ origin was the Shang dynasty. The bone inscriptions provide insight into the politics, economy, religious practices, the art and medicine of the Shang dynasty. And so the Shang Dynasty was taken off the list of dynasties belonging to the legendary history...
To this day the Shang dynasty is the oldest era of Chinese history that has been verified by archaeological evidence.
What this shows us is that the narrative of the classics was right after all about the history of the Shang dynasty. This is why I think that we should give more credence to the narrative of the classics about the eras that came before the Shang.
5. The narrative of the legendary history varies depending on the source you consult: see “Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. Variations”.
More generally I think that what is called the legendary history is no more than the understanding, in the Late Warring States period, of the past 3000 years that had been transmitted to them through copies of copies of copies of copies… of older texts. Such a mode of transmission inevitably concluded in an impressionist vision that should be correlated with archaeological discoveries of China’s early cultures. What I mean by that is that archaeological excavations indicate the existence of different cultures but their chronology remains imprecise. An article published in the “Sino-Platonic Papers, 254” in January 2015 gives us a more precise chronology. That article “Majiayao Legacy” by Michael Turk is based on the work of David Pankenier who used computer astronomy programs to map the stars visible during specific events mentioned in early texts, thus establishing a secure chronology for the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties. Here follows his “Chronology of Northwest Chinese Neolithic Cultures”:
- Yangshao culture 4800–3000 B C
- Banpo phase 4800–4200 B C
- Miaodigou phase 4000–3000 B C
- Majiayao culture 3100–2000 B C
–- Majiayao phase 3100–2700 B C
–- Banshan phase 2700–2400 B C
–- Machang phase 2400–2000 B C
- Qijia culture 2400–1900 B C
- Erlitou culture 1953–1576 B C (Xia dynasty)
“Pangu was said to be the creation god in Chinese mythology. He was a giant sleeping in an egg of chaos. As he awoke, he stood up and divided the sky and the earth. Pangu then died after standing up, and his body turned into rivers, mountains, plants, animals, and everything else in the world, among which is a powerful being known as Hua Hsu.
Hua Hsu gave birth to a twin brother and sister, Fu Xi and Nü Wa. ...
Fu Xi was known as the "original human" and he was also said to be was born on the lower-middle reaches of the Yellow River...
In reality, many Chinese people believe that Hua Hsu was a leader during the matriarchal society (ca. 2,600 BCE) as early Chinese developed language skill while Fu Xi and Nü Wa were leaders in the early patriarchal society (ca. 2,600 BCE) while Chinese began the marriage rituals.”
in Fuxi Wikipedia.
Table from List of rulers of China: Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors
7. NuWa: In the list of sovereigns given in note 4 NuWa is said to have reigned over a span of 180,000 years. We can thus safely deduce that NuWa was not one person but the name given to matriarchy.
The legend gives her also as the twin sister and wife of FuXi who is considered, among other feats, to have instituted patriarchy and devised the mechanism that allowed the empire to reproduce over the generations. In this case Nuwa could have been a female twin-soul shaman collaborating with her counterpart twin-soul male shaman to reach universal consciousness.
8. Paola Demattè. “The Origins of Chinese Writing: the Neolithic Evidence “ Cambridge Archaeological Journal. 2010.