Thursday, February 6, 2014

Prehistoric China: Longshan Culture

Longshan Pottery
(Credit: Akorra)
China is a vast country full of natural resource. It is filled with fertile lands. It is also abundant of manpower, reaching one billion. Besides all of these things, China is also rich of culture and history. Its civilization dates back more than 2,000 BCE. Many culture back then were just starting to flourish. Among of these prehistoric cultures was the Longshan culture.

The Longshan culture existed during the Neolithic period of China, from 3,000 – 2,000 BCE. It was centered in the eastern parts of China. Remains of the culture was discovered in 1928 in Chengziyai, northwest of Shandong. But as time went by, it spread out through the central plains in search of fertile grounds.

The Longshan culture was different from the previous Yangshao culture in terms of pottery. The potteries of the Longshan culture began unpainted, but later painted black. Unlike the Longshan, potteries those of the Yangshao culture were painted with different colors. Its potteries also had either a circular base, a tripod, or a handle. There was also a difference from the production method. The Longshan people utilized the potter’s wheel in making there pottery, a technological advancement from the Yangshao.

The Longshan developed a skill of adaptability. Their people started to use and develop various natural resources and materials in their everyday lives. They expanded the use of copper and bronze into making weapons and tools. In turn, these tools may had include axes which has several purposes. It could be used either as a weapon or a cutting tool or a carving tool, which made wood into useful agricultural tools like a rake. They started as well to use jade in religious purposes including burial. They learned to develop the materials around them to be able to survive every day.

With tools, the Longshan people began to settle permanently in one place. Towns and villages began to appear. An administrative system was then set up with the top being in form of a chieftain. With established territories and administration, rivalries with other villages and towns led to wars. Walls were then erected to defend themselves. They build their walls with a special technique called hangtu. Hangtu was the pounding of earth layer by layer until it reached the desired height. As an additional defensive measures, they also placed moats around the walls to prevent its breaching.

Within the walls, the Longshan people began to have sophisticated towns. They started building basic infrastructures. They laid out roads and drainage systems. They build public buildings and a palace. They built houses made of pounded earth, lime coated floors, and thatch roofs. A total physical transformation from the towns of the Yangshao culture.

Social stratification also appeared to be present to the Longshan culture. It included the difference between man and women, rich and poor. The men were responsible for agriculture, hunting, raising livestock, including pig, cattle, sheep, and chicken, and fighting as warriors in clashes with other settlements. The women, on the other hand, were responsible for household chore such sewing, cleaning, and cooking.  Difference between rich and poor could also be noticed. The wealthy and the better off had lots of ceramic items and large storage and vessels for food, while the poor had only little. Even in tombs, there were differences. The poor only had a small hole as a last resting place. On the other hand, a large tomb with a coffin and treasures for the graves for the rich and powerful.

Along with these developments, the spirituality and superstition of the Longshan people also progressed. They began to practice scapulimancy along to that of the Shang dynasty. They would take the bone of an animal which is known as oracle bones and scribed chants on it. The chants appeared to be in form of several square shaped graphs, thus creating a theory that a writing system must have been developed. The bone would then either be burnt or strike by something that was hot. Cracks and indentions would then be produced from the previous process. This cracks and indentions would then be interpreted by a shaman to predict the future.

The Longshan culture with their developments played a key role in the creation of a Chinese nation and sign of the changing times. Later, these people would evolve and play apart in building of Ancient China.

Roberts, John. A History of China. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 

Tanner, Harold. China: A History, From Neolithic Cultures through the Great Qing Empire, 10,000 BCE – 1799 CE. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2010. 

Ye Lang, Fei Zhengang, and Wang Tianyou. China: Five Thousand Years of History and Civilization. Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press, 2007.

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