Columbia Chronologies of Asian History and Culture

By John S. Bowman | Go to book overview
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China
ARTS, CULTURE, THOUGHT, AND RELIGION

PREHISTORIC AND LEGENDARY CHINA: 1,960,000–2208 B.C.

5,000–3,000B.C.: The Yangshao culture produces a distinctive painted pottery, reddish with black designs. Some Yangshao pottery vessels are marked with signs representing makers or owners, indicating that a form of proto-writing is emerging here.

In the settled farming areas below the south bend of the Yellow River, villagers decorate their painted pottery jars with animal and plant designs.

4000–2000B.C.: The Lungshan culture makes a pottery that is thin, black, and burnished. At Erlitou, remains from about 2000 B.C. include palace foundations, stone carvings, bronze and ceramic ritual vessels, royal burials, and even human sacrifices.

2698–2599B.C.: Legend credits the Yellow Emperor's recordkeeper, Cangxie, with inventing the written Chinese language.

2300–2200B.C.: Tradition claims that the Yaodian (Canon of Yao), outlining the principal events of the third millennium B.C., is written down at this time, but modern scholars agree that it was written many centuries later.


THE THREE DYNASTIES (XIA, SHANG, ZHOU): 2208–249 B.C.

1700–1600B.C.: The first bronze vessels appear. The Shang vessels are often used in sacrifices and burials. Possession of them is a sign of wealth.

1384–1111B.C.: The Shang use oracle bones—inscribed cattle shoulder bones and turtle shells—for divination. Some 100,000 bones will be excavated at Anyang between 1927 and 1938. They reveal the earliest known written form of the Chinese language, with some 1,500 characters deciphered.

c. 1000B.C.: The Chinese written vocabulary reaches three thousand characters. The first known Chinese poetry is believed to date from the Early Zhou dynasty. Poems from the Book of Songs (Shijing) are sung at important court ceremonials.

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