Guangxu poisoned!

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:51 pm

Update on this breaking story here and here

I’m not sure how important this will turn out to be. I always thought it was fairly obvious he had been bumped off, but even now it is hard to know who did it. Still, it is nice to see this apparently cleared up. Now if we can just find out exactly what happened to Lin Biao all of history’s mysteries will be cleared up.


Down with the Xia!

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:37 pm

People who have been following the Three Dynasties chronology debate have already seen this article by Li Liu and Hong Xu “Rethinking Erlitou: legend, history and Chinese archaeology” For those who are even more behind on this controversy than I am, the basic issue is over attempts (described here) to create a solid chronology of early Chinese history. It originates out of  bluntly nationalistic desires to make early Chinese history as solidly grounded as early Egyptian history. There is nothing wrong with that motivation, of course, but Li and Hong are claiming that the attempt to tie archeological finds to historical texts (and a single narrative of Chinese development) are no longer helpful. Specifically, attempts to fit the Erlitou site (1900 B.C. to maybe 1500 B.C.) into the Xia-Shang chronology are doing more harm than good. The article has the a nice short description of the Eritou site, which is a very important palace and workshop complex that clearly has an important role in understanding Chinese protohistory. However…

“For more than 40 years of excavation at Erlitou, much attention was placed on its ethnic and dynastic affiliations, but little progress has been made. This approach has overshadowed other research orientations, such as craft production, agricultural practic, urban population parameter, and urban-rural interactions. As a result, we know little about the political economy of this first urban center in China.”

I’m not sure how much overall effect this will have, but it is nice to see a firm call to move away from the centralized narrative that has dominated Chinese protohistory for so long.

via aardvarchaeology


Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis*

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:27 am

How did the modern Chinese historians create a national history? One aspect of this is the creation of protohistory, explaining what was going on in a place before there was much of a recorded history. This was a big problem in Europe in the 19th century. Having cut loose from the biblical narrative there were a lot of years to fill up, very little archaeological evidence, some vague references in classical works and a host of stories about ancient heroes. (Did you know that Adam was actually buried in England? I think Aeneas visited too.) A lot of work went into creating a reasonably accurate narrative of European protohistory, much of it built around successive waves of invaders.

Chinese historians took to this problem surprisingly well. Before the Qing there was not much on the origins of China, as distinct from the origins of civilization, although they did have a longer timeline and plenty of stories to fit in there. Liu Shipei and Zhang Binglin were both believers in the “Western origins” theory which held that the Chinese had originally been called the Baks and came from Mesopotamia. They roamed around Central Asia for a while then, under the leadership of Huangdi, they moved into the Yellow River valley, displaced the Miao and started calling themselves Han.

I get this from Peter Zarrow1 who says that it was a popular theory in the late Qing, especially with anti-Manchu revolutionaries (trying to draw a more clear divide between the Manchus and the Han?) but he does not know much about it.2  It strikes me as possibly having been influenced  by missionary writings, given that 19th century people seem (to my limited knowledge) very wrapped up in  tying their protohistory to the Bible and the Middle East (The first Irish person, for instance, was Cessair, the granddaughter of Noah). It certainly does not seem to have had much influence in the present, when popular understanding of Chinese history is pretty anti-diffusionist.

*and the rise of the sons of Aryas, obviously

  1. “The New Schools and National Identity: Chinese History Textbooks in the Late Qing” in Hon, Tze-Ki, and Robert J. Culp. The Politics of Historical Production in Late Qing and Republican China. BRILL, 2007. []
  2. he cites a couple of Taiwan articles I will try to get hold of []


Breaking news

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:46 am

The top 10 Chinese archaeological finds for 2007 have been announced (Chinese descriptions are a bit longer).1 The winner is the Lingjing Paleolithic Site in Henan. As always some cool stuff. It is interesting to see that the Yellow River valley and, by extension, the “origins of China” seem to be getting the lion’s share of the attention.

Still, the sites identified seem a lot more “scholarly” in the sense that they seem to be more sites that help us to explain things about the past than “Indiana Jones-y” focusing on spectacular artifacts that anyone would find cool.

  1. They were actually announced in April. I apologize to all the artifacts that have waited thousands of years to be discovered and then had to wait another month for me to get this post up. []


The Chinese are way more advanced than the Americans

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:35 pm

Geoff Wade sent a long message to H-Asia detailing the current status of the raising of the Nanhai1, a large Song dynasty (or maybe Ming dynasty, accounts vary) cargo ship being raised off the coast of Guangdong. The thing I find most interesting is the scale of the project, the first bit of underwater archeology done by the Chinese1 We do have underwater archaeologists in the West, but they are poorly funded. This seems to be a huge project, and part of the motivation is keeping the treasures of China’s cultural heritage out of the hands of foreign treasure hunters.

What impresses me most is what they are doing with it. The whole ship is being moved to shore and put in a giant pressurized tank so that it can be displayed and people can watch the underwater archaeologists work on it. China is truly at the forefront of Public History with Chinese Characteristics.

This is a really big tank being built to hold the Nanhai1 in its new exhibit (from the BBC)

NanHai1 tank

  1. Press accounts are not very clear on who is doing this. A university? The state? A special commission? []


China reconstructs

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:25 pm

One thing about China is that they are always re-building historical sites. Here are some guys building a new…something…. at the old Ming palace in Nanjing.

Building at ming palace

The thing they are making is made out of concrete, and just a generic “traditional” decoration, nothing particularly to do with the site. Much more common in the U.S. is the idea of public history that produces things like this




A stupid idea that will never work

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:54 am

Via Mutant Palm I learn that at 13-mile long dragon is being built in Henan

Hunan Dragon

It is being built on a hill that is supposedly the home of the First Emperor, and when complete it will be covered with jade and gold scales and have nightclubs and such inside. The local environmental protection people are not happy, and there are lots of reasons why this is a really silly idea. Still, I kind of like it. I assume one of the reasons this is being built is as a ego-trip for the builder, and possibly also to attract tourists. Strangely enough,  it might work. Lots of famous historical things that mark landscapes all over the world were pretty obviously nuts when they were first built. Neuschwanstein pops immediately to mind. If your goal is to attract tourists all you need is to build something impressive and wait a couple decades. Ignore the petty types who say that it is a stupid idea that will never work.


Asian History News Dump, March 2007

This is a “dump”: all the Asia related stuff I’ve saved over the last…. two months? Anyway, nobody else has blogged about it, so I thought I’d toss it out there. I hope to resume more … measured blogging soon.
[Crossposted at all three Frog Blogs; sorry about the irrelevant stuff.]


Han Dynasty Pig Sty-Latrine

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 3:29 pm


© Minneapolis Institute of Art

This is posted on the Institute’s rich and well organized site, Art of Asia, which notes that combination pig sty-latrines can be found in rural China today.


Luoyang shovel

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:11 am

This is the famous 洛阳铲, or luoyang shovel, one of the most important tools in Chinese archeology. The basic idea is that you take it and shove it in the ground and then pull it up and look to see if you have found something. It is particularly handy for finding the rammed earth walls that mean you have found a settlement of some sort. The thing I find interesting about it is that the shovel was originally invented by grave-robbers i.e. bad people who wanted to find ancient relics and sell them for money rather than use them in the name of science and preserving the national past and tenure. It was borrowed by real scholars and they started to use it.

Louyang shovel


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