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22 August 2009
China's founding legend may not be true

China's founding dynasty may just be a myth, say archaeologists. In a news report published in Science magazine, writer Andrew Lawler surveys a decade's worth of discoveries suggesting ancient China sprang from distinct regions, rather than possessing a single national culture some 4,300 years ago. "How China became China is no mere academic topic; it goes to the very heart of how the world's most populous and economically vibrant nation sees itself and its role in the world," Lawler writes.
     Since 2004, archeologists headed by Wang Wei of the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing have begun tying together a broader picture of China's origins. "Most of us accepted that the Yellow River was the origin of Chinese civilization. But as we've done more research, we have found other cultural areas," Wei tells Science. In particular, the Xia dynasty - written about as the founder of the Chinese state by Confucius around 600 BCE - seems suspect. In 1959, Chinese archaeologist reported the discovery of the capital city of Xia,  dating from 2100 BCE to 1600 BCE, but modern excavations and more recent dating, "challenge its status," writes Lawler. "Although not even half-complete, the project to define the origins of Chinese civilization has already laid to rest the notion of an imperial China rising from the central plains of the Yellow  River to bestow its gifts on backward hinterlands."

Source: USA Today (20 August 2009)

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