Findings and Insights from Research into the Origins of the Chinese Civilization
The Chinese civilization is one of the world's four great ancient civilizations and the only one that has developed in an unbroken chain up to the present day. It thus holds a unique and important place in the history of human civilization. As President Xi Jinping has said, the origins of Chinese civilization are an important subject for Chinese scholars and an enduring focus for international researchers.
In the spring of 2002, a national-level project to trace the origins of the Chinese civilization was launched. Guided by Marxism, research focused on four ancient city ruins from between 3500 and 1500 BC—the Liangzhu site in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province; the Taosi site in Linfen, Shanxi Province; the Shimao site in Shenmu, Shaanxi Province; and the Erlitou site in Luoyang, Henan Province—as well as the ruins of regional centers along the Yellow, Yangtze, and Liaohe rivers. These sites best reflect the social development and building of central power in that period. Through large-scale archaeological excavations and surveys of settlement distribution in the surrounding areas, we collected information on every aspect of these sites. This information facilitated comprehensive cross-disciplinary research on the emergence, taking shape, and early development of the Chinese civilization from multiple perspectives and levels.
The research project aimed to answer several critical questions: First, when was the Chinese civilization formed, and how long is its history? Second, how did the Chinese civilization first emerge, take shape, and develop? And how did the trend toward a unified whole led by the dynasties on the Central Plains arise, given the Chinese civilization's diverse sources of origin? Third, why did the Chinese civilization follow a path featuring diversity amidst unity, continuous history, and unbroken development? Fourth, what characteristics define the Chinese civilization's emergence, taking shape, and development? And where does the Chinese civilization stand in world civilizational history?
After 20 years of work, the project to trace the origins of the Chinese civilization has scored impressive achievements.
Putting forward a Chinese approach to defining civilization and setting criteria for a society's entry into civilization
A Chinese approach to defining civilization
There is considerable debate among scholars in China and abroad about defining civilization and other related concepts. From a historical materialist point of view, we proposed that civilization is an advanced stage of human cultural and social development. As a result of the development of productive forces, this stage gives rise to the social division of labor and social stratification, which produce classes, kingship, and states.
Project researchers regard the emergence of a civilization and the shaping of a civilization as distinct albeit interconnected. They constitute separate stages in the genesis and formation of a civilization, in which a quantity of civilizational factors first accumulates before a qualitative social change occurs. Specifically, the emergence of a civilization refers to a prehistoric period in which civilizational factors were first nurtured, as productive forces underwent considerable development, material and spiritual life was steadily enriched, and a division between mental and manual labor emerged, along with a social hierarchy.
By a civilization taking shape it refers to a stage in which material, spiritual, and cultural institutions advance considerably. Social stratification intensifies, giving rise to classes. The social hierarchy becomes institutionalized, and people's social conduct becomes standardized to create a system of rites. A supreme ruler or king emerges, monopolizing power over military command and religious and sacrificial ceremonies. A body that enforces public power known as the state emerges, exercising the main function of social management. The emergence of a state symbolizes that a civilization has taken shape.
Criteria for determining a society's entry into civilization
Based on the characteristics of the Mesopotamian and ancient Egyptian civilizations, international scholars generally considered writing, metallurgy, and cities as the three basic elements of a civilization. This standard would mean that the Chinese civilization has a history of just 3,300 years.
However, studies around the world have shown that several of the world's early civilizations did not conform to this "three-basic element" criterion. For example, the Mayan civilization in Central America did not have metallurgy, while the Inca civilization in South America lacked a writing system. The patterns on the seals of the Harappan civilization in the Indus Valley were also not recognized as writing. As more archaeological discoveries were made and research advanced, however, the international academic community generally came to accept that various parts of the world should set their own standards for defining a civilization based on the characteristics that distinguished the development of their ancient societies.
Guided by Marxist theory, Chinese scholars have used historical documents and ancient legends as references. More importantly, we have a rich trove of archaeological materials obtained over the course of a century to shed light on the profound historical and cultural accumulation of the Chinese civilization and the unique path of development it has traveled. Chinese scholars, therefore, are in a better position to offer their definitions for civilization. According to Engels' view that "the central link in civilized society is the state," the project to trace the origins of the Chinese civilization put forward the following criteria to define the entry of a civilization: first, development of production, population increase, and the appearance of cities; second, a social division of labor, social stratification, and the emergence of classes; third, the emergence of kingship and states.
Over 5,000 years ago, agriculture developed in various regions in China, the population increased, and regional centers gradually grew into large cities. Advanced handicrafts, such as jade, turquoise vessels, fine pottery, and lacquerware production were specialized and under the control of the ruling class. All regions saw the emergence of a class that had extricated itself from physical labor and became specialized in managing social affairs. There was a serious divide between rich and poor, creating different classes. Kings emerged to assume military and religious power, and early states appeared in which governments were formed under the control of kings to exercise state power through establishing social norms and resorting to violence. Cities had high-grade buildings such as palaces for kings, high-grade tombs for deceased kings and members of the ruling class, and ceremonial vessels and systems to emphasize the status of the ruling class. Slavery was practiced, and people were killed and buried as sacrifices for the deceased nobles or when laying the foundations of palaces.
These discoveries by Chinese archaeologists provide ample material evidence to prove that China's entry into civilization had its own distinctive characteristics. The level of productive development revealed by these materials demonstrates that the surplus labor of the time was enough to support institutions of public power, thus enabling a portion of the population to devote themselves to management and spiritual affairs away from production.
The above-mentioned criteria can also be applied to other civilizations. Although all civilizations are materially and spiritually distinctive, they share similarities in how institutions of royal power and states emerge, differing only in how royal power is subsequently manifested and the forms states take. In China, power was displayed through exquisite jade ceremonial vessels, bronze ceremonial vessels, large palaces made of wood and earth, and tombs imitating architecture on the ground. In Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, gold, precious stones, magnificent stone temples, pyramids, and large burial chambers were used for this purpose.
Representative artifacts excavated from large secondary burial tombs in the northern section of the Gangshang ruins in Tengzhou, Shandong Province. The site was selected as one of China's top 10 archaeological discoveries in 2021.
XINHUA / PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE NATIONAL CULTURAL HERITAGE ADMINISTRATION
Establishing how the Chinese civilization emerged, took shape, and developed in the early stages and providing material evidence for its over 5,000 years of history
Research on the emergence, taking shape, and early development of the Chinese civilization, and on relevant background and reasons, has yielded the following conclusions: the foundations of the Chinese civilization were laid 10,000 years ago (8000 BC); civilization first emerged 8,000 years ago (6000 BC); its development accelerated 6,000 years ago (4000 BC); it entered into the stage of civilizational society more than 5,000 years ago (3000 BC); the Central Plains emerged as a powerful region 4,300 years ago (2200 BC); the first dynasty was founded 4,000 years ago (2000 BC); power held by royal families was consolidated 3,000 years ago (1000 BC); and a unified multi-ethnic state was created 2,200 years ago (221 BC).
Ten thousand years ago: laying the foundations
Around 11,000 years ago, global climate warming catalyzed the beginning of agriculture in East and West Asia. Then 10,000 years ago, people domesticated millet—the Setaria italica and Panicum miliaceum species—in northern China, and rice began to be cultivated in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. Cultivated rice, pottery, and stone tools have been excavated from the Shangshan site in Pujiang County, Zhejiang Province. Our ancestors in northern China and the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River also began making stone tools and pottery. The emergence of agriculture led to the creation of small village settlements in various places, thus laying the foundations for the creation of a civilization.
Eight thousand years ago: the emergence of a civilization
A period of great climate warming occurred between 8,000 and 6,000 years ago. Paleoenvironmental studies have revealed that the climate of the Yellow River Basin at the time was similar to the climate of today's Yangtze River Basin, and that of the Yangtze River Basin was similar to today's southern China. The warm and humid climate enabled rice farming to spread northward to the lower reaches of the Huaihe River, while millet farming became popular along the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River and in the north and south of the Yanshan Mountains. Stone and bone shovels unearthed at ancient sites indicate that slash-and-burn agriculture had already given way to settled farming. Agriculture during this period led to population growth, an increase in the number of villages, the development of handicrafts, and social progress. Inhabitants of the Jiahu site in Wuyang County, Henan Province, located on the upper reaches of the Huaihe River, cultivated rice, raised pigs, made wine and turquoise utensils, and invented a bone flute with seven finger holes. At Jiahu and Xinglongwa, located in Aohan Banner, Inner Mongolia, as well as other sites, a small number of large-scale tombs containing jade or turquoise vessels have been discovered, which suggests that society had begun to stratify, paving the way for the rise of a civilization.
Six thousand years ago: accelerated development
Around 6,000 years ago, the rise of the Chinese civilization began to pick up speed. Millet cultivation techniques spread from the Yellow River Basin to the Yangtze River Basin, and rice cultivation spread north to the Hanshui River Basin and the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River. Handicraft industries in various places also made striking progress, as fine pottery with a solid texture and a smooth surface appeared. The unearthing of four stone silkworm chrysalises dating back 6,000 years to an early settlement of the Yangshao Culture in Shicun Village, Xiaxian County, Shanxi Province, has led excavators to conclude that sericulture and silk reeling had already been invented by that time. People's spiritual life was also steadily enriched. In an early burial tomb at a Yangshao Culture site in Xishuipo, Puyang City, Henan Province, the remains of the occupant were flanked on either side by mosaics of a dragon and a tiger made from a large number of clamshells. Painted pottery was also popular in China's central and eastern regions, and rapid progress was made in jade craft, lacquer painting, and architecture.
Some important changes occurred in society in this period. First, the population increased significantly. The number of settlements multiplied, with clusters composed of dozens of villages found in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, and the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. Second, central settlements began to appear. In the Zhudingyuan area in Lingbao City, Henan Province, several large settlements with a scale of up to one million square meters were discovered. Third, wars began to occur. Some large and medium-sized settlements were surrounded by trenches more than 10 meters wide and several meters deep, which were evidently used for defense. Stone axes were also found in the tombs of some adult males. Fourth, social stratification intensified, and a ruling class began to emerge. However, this stage still constituted an accelerated process in the emergence of a civilization; states had not yet been formed, and society had not entered into a civilization.
Five thousand years ago: entry into civilization
The period from 5,500 to 5,000 years ago was critical in the history of the Chinese civilization, as areas along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River successively entered into a civilizational stage.
In the lower Yangtze River region, plowing and large-scale rice fields appeared around 5,300 years ago. Fields and irrigation ditches were organized in regular patterns, and rice farming techniques matured. Archaeologists have discovered large-scale water management systems around the site of the ancient Liangzhu city, along with mounds of 200,000 kilograms of carbonized rice on the south side of the Mojiaoshan site in the heart of Liangzhu city. These discoveries demonstrate that the development of farming and the mastery of grain storage were matters of great importance for Liangzhu. Recent discoveries at the Shi'ao and Maoshan sites in Zhejiang Province dating to the Liangzhu period reveal a checkerboard pattern of expansive fields lined with ridges made from tree branches, bamboo, and disused canoes. Waterways, irrigation holes, and drainage channels were all well-planned. Prehistoric paddies and farming systems discovered quite far from Liangzhu attest to the astounding scale of rice agriculture in the early stage of Liangzhu and the strength of its economy. Such discoveries show that at Liangzhu, an early state was built upon a foundation of religious, political, economic, and military development.
During this period, technologically advanced handicrafts such as fine jade, pottery, lacquerware, and turquoise ornaments appeared in numerous places. Jade cong—cylindrical tube ornaments—representing the Liangzhu Culture were engraved with intricate animal face patterns. People in the lower reaches of the Yellow River could make what is referred to as "eggshell-thin" ceramics with a thickness of less than one millimeter. The technical complexity of these products indicates that artisanal families with specialized skills had emerged by that time. Specialization in advanced handicrafts is an important sign of the social division of labor.
The excavation site on the palace complex platform at the Shimao ruins in the city of Shenmu, Shaanxi Province. (File photo) XINHUA
Another sign of social development during this period was the emergence of ceremonial instruments and the initial formation of ritual systems. Jade, lacquerware, and exquisite pottery vessels were excavated from high-grade burial tombs in various places. This shows that local ruling classes controlled the production and distribution of valuable objects. They created a hierarchy through a ritual system that was based on technically advanced and highly prized ritual objects and used tomb size to indicate the status of the deceased.
Around 5,300 years ago, central cities and primitive religious shrines of more than a million square meters were built in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, and the Xiliao River Basin. The ancient city of Liangzhu, a sprawling metropolis in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, had inner and outer sections of nearly 3 million square meters and 6.3 million square meters, respectively. It was the largest city anywhere in the world at that time. To protect it from mountain floods, more than 10 kilometers of low and high dams were built north of the city. This was the largest water control system in the world during this period and reflected the ability of the Liangzhu rulers to organize large-scale public construction projects.
Class stratification accelerated in step with the emergence of early high-level cities. Large high-grade buildings covering hundreds and even thousands of square meters, and large tombs containing more than a hundred or even several hundred pieces of exquisite objects pose a striking contrast to the modest houses and small-scale tombs of ordinary members of society, and illustrate the vast social wealth enjoyed by the ruling class.
In almost all regions, large tombs with elaborate weapons in the form of jade axes began to appear in this period. Burial tombs at the Liangzhu sites of Fanshan and Yaoshan contained jade axes with wooden handles, possibly serving as symbols of military power. In recently discovered tombs at the Gangshang site in Tengzhou City, Shandong Province, the highest-ranking male nobles were generally buried with one large and one small jade axe. These males are likely to have been kings with command over the military. As the ruling class accumulated authority based on military power, clan leaders became kings who exercised total power. This period also saw an increase in war and violence. Human skeletons scattered in garbage dumps, forming the foundations of large buildings, and buried in large tombs as sacrifices indicate that some people began to enslave others.
Four thousand and three hundred years ago: the rise of the Central Plains
Around 4,300 years ago, a shift occurred in the civilization process in various parts of China. An important upshot of this was the rise of the Central Plains. The period from 4,300 to 4,100 years ago witnessed significant climate change, marked by abnormal temperatures, erratic rainfall, and frequent flooding, greatly influencing the progress of civilization in all regions. The civilization along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River declined, while that in the middle reaches of the Yellow River surged ahead. Powerful groups in the middle reaches of the Yellow River gradually became stronger than other groups around them, and two super-large settlements appeared in succession—Taosi in Shanxi and Shimao in Shaanxi.
The Taosi site covering an area of 2.8 million square meters is about 4,300 to 4,000 years old. The area with high-grade buildings features an 8,000-square-meter rammed-earth platform, buildings of terracotta tiles, painted walls, and decorative engravings. Taosi was thus home to the first palace in the middle reaches of the Yellow River. Nearly 100 items have been unearthed from burial tombs, including drums covered with alligator skins, stone chimes, jade axes, and a large ceramic tray with painted dragon patterns. The remnants of a semi-circular platform were also uncovered at the Taosi site, which astronomers believe to be an observatory for tracking celestial phenomena and determining important agricultural dates and seasons such as the spring equinox, autumn equinox, summer solstice, and winter solstice. This is consistent with the "Canon of Yao" in The Book of History. It describes how King Yao assigned astronomic officers to observe celestial phenomena and tell the divide of the seasons. The time, location, scale, and level of the Taosi site are relatively consistent with the literature describing King Yao's capital of Pingyang.
A mountainous city built of stone blocks, Shimao was discovered 10 years ago. It is between 4,100 and 3,900 years old and has an area of four million square meters. The site is composed of an outer and inner city, as well as an imperial complex, and has various defensive facilities. The city's heart consists of a platform dozens of meters in height, believed to be the foundation of a palace complex. The large palace on the platform covers thousands of square meters. There are also stone blocks and pillars carved with images of animals and their faces on the platform. Numerous ceramic eagles of over 50 centimeters to 1 meter in height were also excavated from the platform and are thought to be related to beliefs and worship. Shimao strongly resembles a military fortress. In the city, several sacrificial pits containing young female skulls were discovered. These findings show that just before the founding of the Xia Dynasty (2070–1600 BC), class divisions were particularly pronounced in northern Shaanxi, and a state ruled by a king with great military power had emerged.
Four thousand years ago: dynastic establishment
Around 4,000 years ago, the Xia Dynasty was founded. In the area centered on the southeastern foothills of Songshan Mountain in Henan Province, more than 10 large cities had appeared. Of these, the Wangchenggang site in Dengfeng City is particularly impressive, with a set of corresponding large and small inner and outer cities. The area had been known as Yangcheng ever since the start of the Warring States Period (475–221 BC). At the ruins of Wadian in Yuzhou City, Henan, which belong to the same period, various traces of sacrifices, including human and animal remains, have been identified on the large rammed-earth platform. The discoveries signal the start of a new stage for the Chinese civilization centered on the Central Plains. The "nine administrative districts" referred to in the "Tribute of Yu," a chapter in The Book of History covered northern, central, and eastern China, indicating that at the founding of the Xia Dynasty, the power group along the middle reaches of the Yellow River extended its vision to the lower reaches of Yellow River and as far as the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. After roughly 200 years of development, during its later stage, the Xia Dynasty continued to accumulate strength, thus gradually giving rise to the leading position of the Central Plains, which exercised an influence that was unprecedented in scope. This is reflected in the Erlitou ruins of Luoyang City in Henan Province.
The Erlitou site covers an area of more than three million square meters and is between 3,800 and 3,500 years old. It is the largest city site in China from that period. Records refer to the Yi-Luo River Basin, where the Erlitou site is located, as the central region of the Xia Dynasty. The golden age of the Erlitou Culture occurred during the late Xia Dynasty just before the founding of the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC). The influence of the Erlitou Culture was unprecedented, with its ritual vessels and ceremonial systems, represented by jade yazhang, a type of ceremonial blade, spreading to the vast surrounding areas. The set of bronze and jade ceremonial vessels used by the Erlitou Culture was inherited in full by the Shang Dynasty.
In the lead-up to the founding of the Shang Dynasty, the Xia Dynasty was the only powerful political entity in the Songshan Mountain region where the Erlitou Culture was based. This gives us ample reason to conclude that Erlitou was most likely the capital of the late Xia Dynasty. The existence of the Xia Dynasty has thus not only been richly documented in literature since pre-Qin period but also proven by archaeological findings.
The Shang Dynasty inherited the ritual system pioneered by the Xia Dynasty. Political, economic, cultural, and social development continued, and a mature writing system, represented by the oracle-bone script, took shape. Metallurgy and the ritual system spread to a much wider area. Oracle-bone inscriptions show that the Shang king was the country's supreme ruler, under whom a complete administrative structure existed, exercising direct control over the immediate hinterlands and indirect control over loyal vassal states. The political power and cultural influence of the Shang Dynasty stretched from the coast in the east to Longshan Mountain in the west, beyond the Yangtze and Hanshui rivers in the south, and as far as the Yanshan Mountain range in the north. Bronze ceremonial vessels belonging to the Shang system have been excavated across a vast area, demonstrating that the Shang Dynasty played a leading role in the evolution of the Chinese civilization and the development of culture and society in many places.
Three thousand years ago: the consolidation of royal power
In the first years of the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046–771 BC), the king of Zhou founded a feudal state by granting noble titles to relatives and officials and allowing them to establish vassal states, thus creating a stable rule over a vast area outside the immediate hinterlands of the capital. Based on the ritual systems of the Xia and Shang, the Zhou Dynasty developed a more advanced ritual system. It instituted a ceremonial system composed of different types and quantities of bronzeware, establishing a clear hierarchy. This hierarchy was continuously strengthened during the Western Zhou and gradually extended to all aspects of clothing, food, housing, and transportation. Institutional differences even governed garment colors, clothing styles, jade ornaments, horse-drawn carriages, and types and quantities of chimes and other musical instruments. The Western Zhou Dynasty was a critical period in the course of the Chinese civilization, characterized by a feudal system, patriarchal clan system, and system of music and rites. Consisting of many vassals with the Zhou king at the core, the state structure further strengthened the centralized power system developed during the Xia and Shang dynasties and laid a firm foundation for the founding of a unified multi-ethnic country during the dynasties of Qin (221–207 BC) and Han (206 BC–220 AD).
Two thousand and two hundred years ago: the formation of a unified multi-ethnic country
This refers to the unification of China by the First Emperor of Qin in 221 BC based on an administrative system of prefectures and counties and a unified system of laws. Thus, China entered the civilization stage as a unified state, marking a new phase of developing a unified multi-ethnic country.
Historical insights from the development of the Chinese civilization
The integration of diverse elements is an inexhaustible source of vitality for the Chinese civilization.
Looking at the early evolution of the Chinese civilization, we can see the rich and varied nature of the cultures in the various regions of China. The cultures of the middle reaches of the Yellow River openly absorbed a diverse range of civilizational factors, and eventually integrated with the cultures of other regions. The cultures of all regions in China positively contributed to the formation of the Chinese civilization. The convergence and integration of various civilizations filled the Chinese civilization with vitality and enabled it to develop sustainably.
Openness, inclusiveness, exchange, and mutual learning are the driving forces for the development of civilization.
The Chinese civilization has actively sought to learn from and absorb the achievements of other civilizations and has made innovations accordingly. Even in prehistoric times, exchanges were widespread and unfolded across regional and ethnic lines. Such exchanges documented a process of mutual learning between cultures and promoted the development of civilization. Exchanges and mutual learning have been crucial to the enduring prosperity of the Chinese civilization and are vital ingredients in its distinctive charm. Only by being open and inclusive and drawing inspiration from diverse sources can we ensure that the Chinese civilization maintains its liveliness and enjoys lasting vitality.
Cultural soft power is a proven way for the creativity and influence of the Chinese civilization.
The process of refining advanced cultural concepts continued throughout the Xia, Shang, and Zhou civilizations, eventually giving rise to a set of mainstream values with rites as the key tenet. This profound concept exerted extensive influence, leading to the development of a civilization in the vast surrounding regions. Following the Qin and Han dynasties, the concept of rites was carried forward and further promoted and enriched to become a core value of the Chinese civilization. In addition, through exchanges and mutual learning, it spread to surrounding countries and regions and became an important concept for Eastern civilization.
Key artifacts from the collection of the Erlitou Site Museum of the Xia Capital:
1) bronze wine container; 2) bronze tripod vessel with lattice pattern; 3) turquoise-inlaid bronze plate with an animal mask design; 4) dragon-shaped turquoise object; 5) jade knife with seven holes; 6) yazhang or ceremonial blade.
PROVIDED BY THE ERLITOU SITE MUSEUM OF THE XIA CAPITAL
The Chinese civilization emerged, took shape, and achieved early development largely in step with the other three major ancient civilizations of the world, and its achievements are on par with theirs.
Agriculture emerged in China around 10,000 years ago, and the Chinese civilization began to take shape over 5,000 years ago, which largely coincides with the appearance of agriculture and the rise of civilizations in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. More than 3,000 years ago, the Zhou Dynasty built the largest government of that time through a feudal system. During the golden age of the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BC) when numerous schools of thought flourished in China around 2,600 years ago, the Axial Age of humanistic enlightenment played out in ancient Greece and India. Millet and rice farming, jade manufacturing, and silk-making embody our Chinese ancestors' wisdom and creativity and represent important contributions to human civilization. The formation of the Chinese civilization was marked by myriad trials such as climate disruptions and social turmoil. Yet our forebears courageously overcame all difficulties and obstacles in a spirit of self-reliance and self-improvement and finally completed the creation of our great civilization, which took its place among the four great ancient civilizations. This development process and the achievements it has produced constitute the source of our cultural self-confidence today. The Chinese civilization has stood and will always stand tall among the world's civilizations.
National unity is an aspiration of the people and the foundation of China's strength and prosperity.
The development of the Chinese civilization witnessed wars, numerous competing powers, and breakaway vassals. Yet under the guidance of a unified core and through the development of productive forces and social progress, a unified nation was ultimately established under the Qin and Han dynasties. Since then, valuing unity and seeking great harmony, both as ideas and practices, have strongly appealed to the Chinese nation and permeated its thinking. This concept has sustained the Chinese nation's unity, guided its identity, and forged its unique character. History shows that national unity is not only an essential attribute of the Chinese civilization but a fundamental guarantee for its continuity. With national unity, ethnic solidarity, and social stability, the Chinese civilization is sure to attain even greater achievements.
The Chinese civilization has, like all civilizations of the world, traveled a distinct path of development and created a unique heritage.
The cradle of the Chinese civilization comprised a vast region with diverse environments. As a result, the Chinese civilization underwent a unique development process, which originated at multiple points and featured cultural collision, exchange, and integration. This grand process ultimately produced a system that unified the entire country under one ruler and fostered the political ideal of great harmony. A civilization led by a central core and characterized by unity amidst diversity thus began to develop. As such, the development of the Chinese civilization also constituted a process of creating a unified multi-ethnic country. This process endowed the Chinese civilization with inexhaustible vitality and turned the Chinese nation into an indivisible community. After the formation of a unified multi-ethnic state, national unity became the highest value and ideal of the Chinese people. The Chinese civilization developed a unique economic, political, and cultural system with agriculture as the foundation, a patriarchal clan system to regulate social relations, a social hierarchy based on a ritual system, virtue as the basis for human relations, and the concept of unity between humans and nature in regard to man's relations with nature. This process proves that civilizations have different paths of development. It shows that every civilization is unique, should be appreciated in its own right, and can flourish side by side. This is the source of China's confidence in its own path.
Wang Wei is Academician of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Director of the CASS Academic Division of History, a visiting researcher at the Research Center for Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, and chief expert on the first to fourth phases of the Chinese Civilization Origins Project.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 14, 2022)