Rich cultural heritage in river basins

By ZHANG WEI / 08-25-2022 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

Bronzewares used in altar scenes unearthed from the Sanxingdui site are displayed in the Shenzhen Museum on July 29th. Photo: CFP

Archaeologists are expected to not only clarify the issue of “what,” but also excavate the spiritual culture behind material and cultural remains with multidisciplinary knowledge, explaining “why.” 

Enriching research paradigms 
Wang Lixin, a professor from the Research Center for Chinese Frontier Archaeology at Jilin University, noted that from the mid-1990s, with the promotion and popularization of the concept of settlement archaeology in field archaeology, and the introduction of new methods and new technologies, archaeology has experienced an important transformation in China. At present, the research paradigms and orientations of archaeology in China embrace processual archaeology that focuses on scientific interpretations, such as the study of prehistoric technological and economic evolution. Meanwhile, the discipline highlights post-processual archaeology that takes the interpretation of ideas, meaning, and symbols as the objective, such as the archaeological study of etiquette and customs, beliefs, systems, and the forms and evolution of early states in historical periods. 
From the perspective of early social development, Haidai [regions between the Bohai Sea and Mount Tai] in the Neolithic Age experienced three stages: the origin of agriculture, the origin of civilization, and the formation and initial development of a civilized society, providing an example of regional civilization for Chinese civilization. 
Luan Fengshi, a professor from the School of History and Culture at Shandong University, examined the background of the prehistoric culture in Haidai and its status in the “unity in diversity” network of Chinese Neolithic culture and early bronze culture, proceeding from “the zoning and staging system of Chinese Neolithic culture,” “the geographical location and natural environment of Haidai,” and “the chronology of archaeological culture in Haidai.” Luan delved into the development process of prehistoric culture in this area from three stages: “the types of the Bianbiandong cave site and the Houli culture,” “the Beixin culture and the early Dawenkou culture,” and “the middle and late Dawenkou culture and the Longshan culture.” 
Cultural heritage 
China’s cultural genes include ethnic identity and cultural identity based on ancestor worship, and the ritual and music culture is an important manifestation. According to Fang Hui, a professor from the School of History and Culture at Shandong University, after entering the Bronze Age, Chinese civilization evolved from pluralism to unity, exemplified by the Erlitou site in Luoyang, Henan Province, and the Sanxingdui site in Guanghan, Sichuan Province. The corresponding ritual and music culture gradually matured, and utensils showed clear classification and more complex hierarchy. 
The cradle of Chinese civilization is the Yangtze River basin and the Yellow River basin. In the early Shang Dynasty (c. 16th –11th century BCE), the political territory of the empire in the Central Plains reached the Yangtze River basin. Zhang Changping, a professor from the School of History at Wuhan University, took the concept of “south” as the entry point and the historical evolution of the Yangtze River basin as the timeline to elaborate on the civilizational process of the basin. Bronzewares unearthed in the Panlongcheng site in Wuhan, Hubei Province, an important archaeological site in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, are exactly the same in technology and decoration as those in the Shang City Ruins in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, indicating that Panlongcheng was an important stronghold formed by the Xia (c. 21th–16th century BCE) and Shang dynasties in the southern China or the Yangtze River basin. The rise of bronze culture in the Yangtze River basin can be understood as a “reciprocal pattern” between the empire in the Central Plains and the Yangtze River basin: the former can get bronze resources from the south, while the south can obtain technical support from the former. This shows that the Yangtze River basin really began to synchronize with the Central Plains culture, embodying epoch-making significance. 
The “Greater Zhouyuan” in archeology refers to the Zhouyuan area in the Shang and Zhou (c. 11th century–256 BCE) dynasties. According to related documents, it is the area where the Zhou people were active and the Zhou culture arose, roughly ranging from the Qishuihe River in the east, the Wei River in the south, the Beishan Mountains in the northwest, and the Baoji urban area in the southwest. At present, there is still a lack of settlement forms of Zhouyuan during the Shang and Zhou, requiring comprehensive and systematic research on settlements’ spatial distribution, hierarchical structure, and their relations with the natural environment. 
Lei Xingshan, a professor from the School of Archaeology and Museology at Peking University, through an analysis of 502 sites, found that Zhouyuan settlements in the Shang and Zhou dynasties were mainly located along the water, and their early activities were in the Zhengjiapo site on the east bank of the Qishuihe River in Wugong County, Shaanxi Province. In the late period of the pre-Zhou era, the settlement sites increased sharply, forming a distribution pattern of two horizontals and eight verticals. 
The distribution of iron mining and smelting sites in ancient China showed a trend from north to south. Especially since the middle of the Tang Dynasty (618–907), the iron industry, as an important part of the economy, presented a trend of rapid transfer to the Yangtze River basin, finally forming a new pattern that the iron production scale and metallurgy quantity in the southern region surpassed the Central Plains. Li Yingfu, a professor from the School of History and Culture at Sichuan University, explained that in addition to the social unrest in the Central Plains, the southward movement of ancient China’s iron industry was also caused by the large-scale reduction of forest resources in the Central Plains, the increasingly prominent contradiction between iron smelting and production and the supply of charcoal fuel, and the disruption of the iron industrial chain.