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25 June 2004
Chinese rituals date back to the Neolithic

A recent study revealed prototypes of class and rituals already existed in north China in the Neolithic, at least 5,500 years ago. Experts say these prototypes may have helped Confucianism, the orthodox school of thought that dominated in China for more than 2,000 years, to take form in the first place. Guo Dashun, a leading member of the Archaeology Society of China, said the conclusion was based on research findings on ancient tombs, temples, altars and dainty jade ware unearthed at Niuheliang and Dongshanzui, sites of the Hongshan culture dating back 5,500 to 6,000 years, in the northeastern province of Liaoning.
     Guo and his colleagues have, over the past year, unearthed a large number of valuable jade ware pieces from a large, well-built tomb whose owner was believed to have enjoyed high social status. Other tombs found next to the rich man's burial ground, in contrast, contain few or no sacrificial objects at all, archeologists say. "The smaller tombs might belong to the man's servants, who had been buried with their master in sacrifice," said Guo. "These are all signs of class and rituals."
     Rituals were also the centerpiece in the altars and temples excavated from the site, whose structures were symmetrical on both sides of a north-south axis, just like the Temple of Heaven and the Imperial Temple, or Taimiao, in downtown Beijing, said Guo. Guo and his colleagues found at the site altars in two different shapes: square and circular. "Just like the Temple of Heaven, the pattern mirrors the ancient belief that heaven was round and the earth square," Guo said. Besides, the relic of a goddess temple at the site contained fragments of a goddess in the center and several of her subordinates around her, all made of clay and indicating respect for the seniors, he said. "Such rituals, plus some widely accepted codes of behavior, later developed into Confucianism, which dominated the Chinese political, cultural and social life for more than 2,000 years and had a far-reaching impact in Asia in general," he added.
     In this sense, Guo said the Hongshan culture in the north actually helped form the very foundation of the mainstream Chinese culture, which was once believed to have developed in the Yellow River drainage area in the central part of the nation.

Source: China View (19 June 2004)

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