Liang Siyong

By REN ZHIYU / 04-06-2023 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

FILE PHOTO: Liang Siyong’s Archaeological Essays

On January 10, 1927, Tsinghua University held a meeting to celebrate the previous year’s archaeological excavations in Xiyin Village, Shanxi Province. The Chinese historian Li Chi and the geologist Yuan Fuli said in their speeches that they were waiting for a true professional in the field of archaeology. This person was Liang Siyong (1904–1954), the second son of Liang Qichao (1873–1929), China’s foremost intellectual leader in the first two decades of the 20th century. 

Before the 1920s, modern archeology was still seen as a strange, Western discipline. Liang Siyong chose such an unpopular major due in part to his father, who had vigorously promoted the development of Chinese archaeology. Liang Qichao introduced new historiographical ideas incorporating Western archaeological concepts to China and guided his children to become pioneers in the practice of these ideas. On hearing Li and Yuan were expecting his son, Liang Qichao wrote to Liang Siyong, who was studying at Harvard at that time: “On hearing this, I was happy for you, but also worried about you. How can you live up to the reputation of ‘China’s first professional archaeologist’ in the future? You have to work very hard.”

In 1930, Liang Siyong graduated and returned to China. In autumn, he went to Heilongjiang Province to excavate the Ang’angxi site. The archaeologist Chen Xingcan recorded that Liang and his colleagues traveled thousands of miles under extremely difficult conditions, and it took them 38 days to complete China’s first systematic archaeological survey of the northeast. In 1931, Liang took part in the excavations at the Yinxu site, Henan. He brought scientific archaeological concepts and methods to the excavations. At Hougang, Liang proposed the “three-layered accumulation” after exploring the layers consisting of the ruins of the Yangshao, Longshan, and Shang cultures. He thus became the founder of Chinese archaeological stratigraphy.

Liang lived up to his father’s expectations, devoted all his knowledge and efforts to Chinese archaeology, and kept working until the day he passed away.