Early China: History, Legends, and Myths

Discussion in 'Military History' started by solarz, Nov 29, 2017.

  1. solarz
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    solarz Colonel

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    China is the longest continuous civilization in the world. Its documented history is unmatched by any other civilization in history.

    What is fascinating to me is how, as we go further back in China's history, we start to see history turning to legends, and legends turning into myths.

    The earliest surviving Chinese historical records date from the Zhou dynasty, iirc circa 3rd century BC (I'm referring to the time the records were penned, not the periods they covered). Those records describe the first Chinese dynasty, Xia. Aside from those records, written more than a thousand years after Xia fell, no "direct" archaeological evidence of a Xia dynasty exists.

    Did the Xia dynasty exist, or was it a fiction created by the ruling powers of Zhou to justify their conquest of Shang? Western archaeologists tend to follow this view. Chinese archaelogists are more divided.

    A though exercise: the Records of the Three Kingdoms was written shortly after the end of the Three Kingdoms era. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms was written 1000 years later, using elements from the historical text while adding its own embellishments.

    What if, in another 1000 years, only fragments of the Romance survived? (A very likely possibility, as the Romances are far more ubiquitous than the Records.) Would future historians compile a new history book using elements from a fictional novel?

    Still, whether Romance or Records, the existence of the Three Kingdoms are not in doubt. Yet, while we have found evidence of advanced societies dating to the time of the Xia dynasty, there is still no evidence that a hegemonic political power existed at the time.

    Nevertheless, it's worth noting that we had no evidence of the existence of the Shang dynasty until the discovery of the oracle bones in 1899, yet the writings on the bones matched Chinese historical accounts to an astonishing degree. We are always discovering new things, so a lack of evidence on the existence of Xia cannot be construed as evidence of its non-existence.

    Yet, while Xia is considered to be the first Chinese dynasty, it is not the earliest Chinese legend, by far. The Chinese people are said to be descended from the Yellow and Yan Emperors, whose battle with Chi You is probably the closest thing to the founding myths of the Chinese civilization.

    The famous Han historian, Sima Qian, considered the Yellow Emperor to be a historical figure. Sima Qian lived circa 100 BC, and the Yellow Emperor is thought to have reigned around the 27th century BC, so to him, the Yellow Emperor was as historical as the First Emperor is to us.

    Yet, even the Yellow Emperor had his predecessors. The Records of the Grand Historian notes "Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors". Among them are Fuxi and Nuwa, the latter a goddess who is said to have created humankind from mud, and repaired the Heavens when it cracked.

    If Nuwa is definitely Myth, then the Yellow Emperor and the Xia dynasty fall in the realm of Legends. Some might even argue that they're more Myths than Legends.
     
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  2. Equation
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    Equation Lieutenant General

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    That is why the current religious institutions are so threaten by this for some weird reason. They are afraid that another older and greater civilization can thrive for so long without adhering to their religious values and beliefs. Even though academia's and history has already proven this.
     
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  3. lucretius
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    lucretius New Member
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    What a shame China destroyed most of it's own cultural heritage.

    At least the Taiwanese managed to preserve some of it.
     
  4. Lezt
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    Lezt Junior Member

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    China still have a shit load of cultural heritage. Many were lost, but a lot remains.
     
  5. solarz
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    solarz Colonel

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    Indeed, it's another commonly peddled myth that the Taiwanese retain more of Chinese culture than the Mainland.

    What Taiwan inherited was really ROC culture: that is, the culture of late Qing and early Republic. The only cultural relics Taiwan have are the artifacts from the Forbidden City stolen by Jiang Jieshi and his cronies when they fled to Taiwan.

    Meanwhile, the Mainland has the Terra Cotta army, the Forbidden City itself, the Great Wall, the Erlitou and Erligang archaeological sites, countless ancient temples, monasteries, and pagodas.

    Although we rightly mourn for the lost heritage during China's tumultuous Cultural Revolution era, it is important to remember that, historically, cultural destruction is the norm, not the exception. Every dynastic change was accompanied by widespread destruction, followed by a rapid renewal and progress to even greater heights. The Golden Age of Tang occurred after nearly 400 years of constant strife and warfare.

    Just as a forest fire clears the land for new growth, the historical cycle of cultural destruction and renewal is what allows the Chinese civilization to achieve progress all the while retaining an unbroken tie to its far, mythical, origins.
     
    #5 solarz, Nov 30, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2017
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  6. Equation
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    Equation Lieutenant General

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    As long as the Chinese history and cultures and events had been recorded and stored, it is NOT a lost. Chinese history is so long and huge that it would take a person almost his/her lifetime to finish reading it and studying it from A to Z.
     
  7. Hendrik_2000
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    Hendrik_2000 Brigadier

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    The southern Chinese tradition and custom is alive and well preserved in overseas chinese community

    Nine emperor Go festival


    Or strangest of all hot oil dipping purification


    Fading Chinese street opera in Singapore I use to watch this years ago


    The craft is disappearing
     
    #7 Hendrik_2000, Nov 30, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2017
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  8. lucretius
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    lucretius New Member
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    Personally I would love to see the Chinese take a bit more pride in the cultural remains that have survived. Make an effort to take ownership, maintain them and where needed make sympathetic restorations.

    The Japanese are very good at this and the evidence is everywhere all over Japan.

    I hope to see a similar awareness and sense of responsibility emerge and flourish in China.
     
  9. solarz
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    solarz Colonel

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    I think you are confused.

    China is not Japan. What you see with Japan is not applicable to China. Japan still has an emperor. China became a Republic.

    What makes you think the Chinese do not take pride in their culture? The Chinese government spends billions of dollars maintaining and restoring heritage sites. The most popular travel destinations in China are cultural heritage sites: the Great Wall, the Palace Museum, the West Lake, the Shaolin Temple, the Terra Cotta Army, the Mogao Caves, etc. Where do you get this idea that the Chinese are not aware or feel responsible for their culture?
     
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  10. lucretius
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    lucretius New Member
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