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Paper Example: Regional Traditions of the Origins of Civilization and Social Complexity in China

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Wesleyan University
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Civilization refers to a society that is complex that is characterized by communication systems that are symbolic, urban development, and social stratification with the characteristics of a cultural elite. The development of a complex society differs from one society to another. Various factors contribute towards the emergence of a complex society. Some of the characteristics of social complexity are formation of settlement indicating hierarchy which is gradual in an administrative structure that is growing and also evidence of change that is cumulative in nature and specialized. The Chinese civilization has been given its distinct character by its great river systems, the Yangtze to the south and the yellow river to the north.

In China, some of the activities are associated with a particular culture. The early agricultural activities, the building of foundations and burials, tend to be associated with the Peiligang culture. The first cities from the Shang civilization were evidenced during the first half of the 2nd Millennia B.C. The Shang city sites can be considered to be areas of an estimated size of 30 and 40 km2 since due to lack of a visible trace that is above the ground of the Shang cities that can be considered as being significant. The areas have clusters of buildings which are of different types. As people moved away from the periphery, the cluster of the buildings are viewed as being sparse and are only dense at the center (Keightley, 1986) .

The river systems gave a distinct character to the Chinese civilization. Between the rivers, several people settled there and practiced farming. The land initially was not favorable for farming due to its hilly and swampy landscapes. As the population in the area increased the landowners prepared the land adequately for cultivation by the building of terraces, clearing of forests and draining of the marshes and lakes.

Rice was first grown in the southern China around the Yangtze valley region due to its warm wet climate which favorable for growing the rice. It is from this region that the spread of rice cultivation originated and spread to other regions of China and as well as the south-east Asia. Rice is more nutritious as compared to wheat and hence a large number of people can be sustained from the rice farming (Fuller, 2011).

The region around the yellow river is considered to be the area where the civilization of the Chinese started. The earliest Chinese dynasties were based around this region. The yellow river region was the heart of the Chinese world during the ancient period, and it is from this region that civilization started to other areas that were adjacent to it which included the Yangtze region. The last chapter of the ancient Chinese history which was at the end of the Han dynasty most of the modern China had been affected by the spread of the civilization (Deng et al., 2015).

Loess covered a large part of the northern China. This led to the cultivation of rice and wheat leading to the development of agriculture which was an evidence of archeological. By the time end of the 4000 BCE moated and walled towns had been developed which were growing in size at a high rate. In other parts of the Yello River region, some of the Chinese started practicing pottery. The people continued advancing. After c.3500 BCE there was a technological advancement that was witnessed which had led to the discovery of the potter's wheel and as well as the production of jade ornaments that were of high quality. It was evident that of a wealthy ruling elite among the people from the goods that were being produced and as well as the complex buildings. During the 2500 BCE period, China was able to get metallurgy which was mostly gotten from the Middle East through central Asia. The Metallurgy was mostly used for copper work purposes. Later the Chinese population became knowledgeable about the casting of bronze. The knowledge of bronze casting was first experienced in the yellow river valley region.

The archaeological culture of the Chinese had resulted in a Bronze Age civilization, urbanization, literacy and this led to the emergence of China into the full light of China under the Shang which was its first historic dynasties (Jing and Campbell, 2009).

The Chinese civilization has traditionally been divided in the form of dynasties. According to the culture of the Chinese, the succession was mostly from the father to the son. The reason for this was because of the dictates of ancestor worship. It was the responsibility of the ruler who was overriding to get a male heir. At times the dynasties that would be competing resulted in dividing the country (Feng, 2013).

Social complexities came out in China due to the process of cultural diffusion and political expansion from the Zhongyuan. Zhongyuan area is said to be the location of the first Chinese state which was the Xia dynasty. Some researchers challenge this model because it does not allow for significant contributions to the development of social complexities from regions outside the Zhongyuan. Concerning the early Bronze Age which is the period associated with the Xia dynasty most of the archeologists acknowledge the main premises of the model. They term the culture of the Zhongyuan as the most advanced and predict that if any intercultural will happen, they will happen within the boundaries of that area (Liu et al., 2004).

The Chinese archeologists have in the recent years had a very tough dispute over the archeological classification of the Xia dynasty. The archaeologists believe in the legitimacy of the historical documents although most of them were put down on paper thousands of years after the events. The dispute has led to very little understanding of the social practices and development of social complexities in ancient China (Liu, Hunt and Jones, 2009).

At most of the research sites, strata that belong to the Xiajiadian culture have been found to be overlying strata that belong to the Hongshan culture. The geographical distribution of these two cultures is comparable, but there is a very big difference in the expression of the two cultures with many researchers believing that the lower Xiajiadian culture did not develop directly from the Hongsan culture. There is a big disparity between the ceramic typology of the Hongsan and the lower Xiajiadian cultures. Some aspects of the lower Xiajiadian such as pottery, the earth building technique and the plastering of the walls and floors with white plaster show some connections with the Zhongyuan area. Other traits such as burial customs, painted pottery and use of stones as building materials cannot be found in any other area. There is also an inclusion of the lower Xiajiadian culture into what is known as the Chinese interaction sphere. This interaction sphere is used to refer to the similarities of a number of features of the late Neolithic cultures over the larger part of China. The similarities exist, but there is no close political or commercial ties that can be established (Shelach, 2006)

When the third millennium came to ending, then complex societies emerged all over China. The elites in this societies maintained their positions by developing contacts with the elites in the other societies. This contact between is what led to the development of the Chinese interaction sphere which promoted sharing of technologies, styles and social practices among cultures. In the third and fourth stages of the Erlitou culture, the area around Luoyang became more dominant than the other areas. The practice of expansion and gathering of political power started in the early Erligang period when the Shang dynasty controlled a bigger part of the Huanghe basin. This state formation did not only affect those areas under the control of Shang but even those that were politically independent (Mei, 2009).

In conclusion, the major regions that civilization started in China was at great river systems, the Yangtze to the south and the yellow river to the north. The first place that the civilization happened in China was the area around the yellow river which is the northern China during the 2nd and the 3rd millennia BCE. Most of this region is covered with loess soil. The region has the most fertile soil as compared to other parts of the world. Millet was the main crop that was grown in the northern China during the ancient times. Millet was considered to be nutritious and was grown in most regions in the world .In the growth and fall of the Lower Xiajiadian culture, a number of outside power was instrumental. The Shang and Zhou were in control of larger states and were much stronger than their northern counterparts in the early second millennium. The advantages of the models discussed here are that they allow us to view the outside contributions as opportunities.


Deng, Z., Qin, L., Gao, Y., Weisskopf, A.R., Zhang, C. and Fuller, D.Q., 2015. From early domesticated rice of the Middle Yangtze Basin to Millet, rice and wheat agriculture: Archaeobotanical macro-remains from Baligang, Nanyang Basin, Central China (6700500 BC). PLoS One, 10(10), p.e0139885.

Feng, L., 2013. Early China: a social and cultural history. Cambridge University Press.

Fuller, D.Q., 2011. Pathways to Asian civilizations: Tracing the origins and spread of rice and rice cultures. Rice, 4(3-4), pp.78-92.

Jing, Y. and Campbell, R., 2009. Recent archaeometric research on the origins of Chinese civilisation. Antiquity, 83(319), pp.96-109.

Keightley, D.N., 1986. Main Trends in American Studies of Chinese History: Neolithic to Imperial Times. The History Teacher, 19(4), pp.527-543.

Liu, X., Hunt, H.V. and Jones, M.K., 2009. River valleys and foothills: changing archaeological perceptions of North China's earliest farms. Antiquity, 83(319), pp.82-95.

Liu, L., Chen, X., Lee, Y.K., Wright, H. and Rosen, A., 2004. Settlement patterns and development of social complexity in the Yiluo region, north China. Journal of Field Archaeology, 29(1-2), pp.75-100.

Liu, L., 2009. Academic freedom, political correctness, and early civilization in Chinese archaeology: the debate on Xia-Erlitou relations. Antiquity, 83(321), pp.831-843.

Mei, J., 2009. Early Metallurgy and Socio-Cultural Complexity. Social Complexity in Prehistoric Eurasia: Monuments, Metals and Mobility, p.215.

Shelach, G., 2006. Leadership strategies, economic activity, and interregional interaction: social complexity in northeast China. Springer Science & Business Media.

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