China is an East Asian country with a large territory, a huge population and an ancient history. With written records dating back 4,000 years, it is recognized as one of the four great ancient civilizations of the world, together with ancient Egypt, Babylon and India. Moreover, it is the only ancient civilization that has continued to this very day.

China was one of the cradles of the human race. The Chinese nation is not only the most populous but also one of the oldest in the world. Fossils that have been found in Chinese territory include those of Yuanmou Man, the first Homo erectus, who lived 1.7 million years ago, those of Lantian Man, who lived 750,000 years ago, and those of the Peking Man, who lived at Zhoukoudian in today's suburban Beijing 600,000 years ago. The fossils of Shu Ape, a primate that lived 45 million years ago, which is known as the "first anthropoid", were discovered in China in 1994.

The first light of Chinese civilization revealed itself 7,000 to 8,000 years ago, as indicated by the ruins of the Daxi Culture in Sichuan and Hubei provinces, the Majiapang Culture in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, the Hemudu Culture in eastern Zhejiang and the Yangshou Culture along the middle reaches of the Yellow River and its main tributaries.

According to legend, the primitive tribes that inhabited the middle and upper reaches of the Yellow River were unified into two powerful tribes under the Yellow Emperor and Fiery Emperor, and began their push southward 5,000 years ago. After years of warfare, they conquered the Sanmiao and Jiuli tribes active in south China under the leadership of Chi You. Part of the defeated tribe was incorporated into the tribes under the Yellow and Fiery emperors to become a component part of the Han people, which marked the beginning of the Chinese nation. This history has also given rise to the term "descendants of the Yellow and Fiery emperors" that Chinese often use to refer to themselves.

Archaeological studies have revealed that around 5,000 years ago the Chinese entered the stage of patriarchal society. Not only did villages begin to appear but also the initial forms of cities began to become evident. Extensive communities indicated that the population at the time had already reached a fairly large size and agriculture had made great headway. The earliest discoveries took place during this period. Shen Nong tried and tasted various kinds of wild plants to select crops appropriate to be cultivated for food and herbal medicine to cure disease. The Yellow Emperor invented the compass, which helped him defeat Chi You. More importantly, the appearance of chariots greatly reduced labor intensity. Lei Su, wife of the Yellow Emperor, discovered silk making by raising silkworms, and produced the first garments, which allowed the ancient people to bid goodbye to the period when they wore animal skins and tree leaves. The tribe under Chi You in the south learned how to make weapons with copper, creating the conditions for making bronze vessels, metallurgy and alchemy of later times.

During the Xia Dynasty, 4,000 years ago, China entered the period of slave society. The Shang Dynasty (16-11th centuries BC), which replaced the Xia, saw the height of bronze culture, when superb smelting and casting techniques brought forth beautiful wares made of bronze. Pottery making also developed very rapidly with the appearance of primitive pottery wares. Sericulture and silk weaving reached maturity at this time.

From 475 BC to the end of the 19th century, China went through a long feudal period. Before the 15th century, China was one of the most powerful countries in the world, occupying a leading position in the development of productivity and technology. Ancient China enjoyed a developed agriculture and advanced irrigation system, an independent tradition of medicine and advanced botanical knowledge. China's four great inventions, namely, the compass, gunpowder, movable type printing and papermaking, not only changed the world but also accelerated the evolution of world history. Besides, China was rich in ceramics and silk textiles which were great inventions that exerted a great impact worldwide. China also kept the world's most detailed and earliest astronomical records. The first people to take note of such astronomical phenomena as comets, sunspots and new stars were all Chinese. It was also the Chinese who produced the most advanced astronomical observatory apparatus of the time. In metallurgy, China long held a leading position. When Europeans still could not turn out a single piece of cast iron in the 14th century, Chinese people had already produced cast iron on an industrial scale four centuries earlier.

In the field of thought, Confucius, founder of Confucianism, not only had far-reaching significance for China, but for the whole of East and Southeast Asia. The warfare strategies introduced by the noted military strategist Sun Zi are still studied and referred to today. Taoism was an important school of thought, and is known for its simple dialectical elements. Its position of "quietude and inaction" has many identical views with the thoughts of modern man. Taoism, based on the Taoist doctrines, is an independent religion established in China.

When commenting on the relationship between China's civilization and that of the rest of the world, the late Joseph Needham, historian of China's science and technology and professor at Cambridge University, once said that people must remember that China was way ahead of the West in almost every discipline of science and technology, from chart making to gunpowder, in early times and into the Middle Ages. Western civilization, he went on to say, did not begin until the era of Columbus, and China had left the Europeans far behind in science and technology before that time.

Unfortunately, the country's feudal bureaucratic system held back science and inventions from making further progress, and prevented Chinese society from developing modern science, resulting in China staying long in the experimental stage in science and technology.

Modern China is experiencing a completely new era in which respect for science and inventions and encourage creativity have become the guiding principles of society. Looking back at the contributions China's civilization has made to the world, we have reason to believe that a more prosperous and stronger China will surely make new contributions to the civilization of mankind.

 

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