Track to Ancient Oriental Civilization

Track to Ancient Oriental Civilization

China. along with ancient Egypt. Babylon. and India. is known as one of the four great ancient civilizations of the world. The distinctive culture that arose in China was both far-reaching and highly refined.

In approximately the 21st century BC. a primitive agricultural society first appeared in the areas around China`s Yellow and Yangtze rivers. and animal husbandry joined hunting and fishing as a means of human sustenance. Approximately two millennia later. the Xia Dynasty (21st-16th century BC) emerged as China`s first dynastic government. followed by the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th century BC) and the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century-771BC). which further refined the national system. The subsequent Spring and Autumn (770-476BC) and Warring States periods (475-221BC) were a time of constant struggle for supremacy among numerous small states.

China`s Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods saw a great upsurge in science and technology. as well as in ideology and culture. Much as ancient Greece gave rise to Socrates. Plato. and Aristotle. China produced a number of great scholars who possessed abundant ideas and extensive knowledge. including Kongzi (Confucius). Laozi. Mozi. Xunzi. and Mengzi (Mencius). The atmosphere of free debate among the different schools of philosophy founded by these Chinese thinkers was characterized by the saying. ``Let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend.``

Like their contemporaries in ancient Greece. the Chinese philosophers established schools and took on pupils. brilliantly discoursed and debated. pondered military and governmental affairs. and served as strategists and advisors to their country`s leaders. They left future generations a valuable legacy in philosophy. politics. education. and the military. and had a profound influence on the culture of China and the entire world. One of these illustrious figures was the military strategist Sun Wu (Sunzi). whose renowned work. Sunzi`s Art of War. is still used extensively in the areas of military and economic affairs.

In 221BC. at approximately the same time that the Roman Empire was establishing hegemony in the Mediterranean. Qin Shihuang. the first Qin Emperor. conquered the warring states and founded the Qin Dynasty (221-207BC) -- the first united. centralized. multi-ethnic nation in Chinese history. The Qin Dynasty was followed by many dynasties. which have left a legacy of fascinating stories. and have provided a wealth of inspiration for modern Chinese art. literature. film. and television.

Traditional Chinese culture -- drawing from philosophy. religion. and ethics; art and literature; science and technology; and even ecology and the environment -- embodies the development and wisdom of the Chinese people. It is not only the priceless inheritance of the people of China. but also a great treasure belonging to all humanity.

China`s many inventions (especially its Four Great Inventions of paper. printing. the compass. and gunpowder) and wide range of knowledge have had a far-reaching effect on human development.. When Christopher Columbus embarked on his great voyages to the New World. the Chinese compass provided him with vital assistance. Floating pontoon bridges were in use in China before 1100BC. and the world`s earliest astronomical treatise. Gan Shi Xing Jing (The Classic of the Stars). was written in China during the Warring States Period.

Zhang Heng invented the celestial globe. used to study star-related phenomena. and the seismograph. used to measure seismic activity. during the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD). During the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589). Zu Chongzi calculated the value of pi (¦Ğ) to be between 3.1415926 and 3.1415927. becoming the first person in the world to accurately determine the value of pi (¦Ğ) to seven decimal places. Li Shizhen`s famous Compendium of Materia Medica. written in the 16th century. lists over 1.800 different medical remedies and over 10.000 prescriptions.

Track to Ancient Oriental Civilization

Traditional Chinese culture is recorded not only in historical books and documents. but also in architectural records. such as ancient city walls. palaces. temples. pagodas. and grottos; artifacts. such as bronze objects. weapons. bronze mirrors. coins. clocks. jade and pottery objects. and curios; and folk culture. including song and dance. embroidery. cuisine. clothing. tea ceremonies. drinking games. lanterns. riddles. martial arts. chess. and kites.

Imbued with the distinctive romance and charm of the East. Chinese art has garnered acclaim all over the world. Chinese calligraphy and painting. which appeared and evolved in tandem. are the guiding force of China`s fine arts. They embody China`s humanist spirit. and are unparalleled in the arts of the world.

The number of cultures that have produced the art of calligraphy can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Of them. China has the most ancient calligraphic tradition. Calligraphy has its source in writing. The earliest known form of Chinese writing. consisting of primitive pictographs. has been found engraved on 5000-year-old Neolithic pottery shards.

The Chinese system of writing. which employs pictographs rather than alphabets. has been in existence for several thousand years. Chinese writing is not only an expression of Chinese culture. but also one of the great achievements of early human civilization. Pictographic Chinese characters resemble an ancient fossil record in that they vividly capture the natural. social. and spiritual face of the ancient world. and reflect the evolution of both the Chinese people and human society. Chinese language and writing are inseparable from the achievements of Chinese culture. maturing alongside society to become steadily more expressive and refined.

China`s painting tradition is extremely ancient as well. When tracing the origins of Chinese painting. what first comes to mind are the elegantly engraved prehistoric pots produced by China`s ``painted pottery`` culture. dating from 5.000 to 6.000 years ago. By the time of the Warring States Period. Chinese painting had developed into a distinctive and mature art form. Colored drawings on silk from this period. unearthed from the tomb of the King of Chu in Changsha (Central China`s Hunan Province). are the oldest existing drawings in China and the world. Chinese painting continued to develop during the Eastern and Western Jin Dynasties (265-420). and flourished during the Sui (581-618). Tang (618-907). Song (960-1279). Yuan (1271-1368). Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties.

Chinese sculpture has its origins in the Xia Dynasty (21st-16th century BC). During the Qin Dynasty. lifelike terracotta burial figures of soldiers and horses were created for the tomb of Qin Shihuang. the First Qin Emperor. The discovery and excavation of thousands of these figures from the Emperor`s tomb in Xi`an shook the world. and they were hailed as the ``Eighth Wonder of the World`` by foreign archeologists.

China`s Four Great Grottos -- the Mogao and Maijishan Grottos at Dunt1uang in Northwest China`s Gansu Province. the Yungang Grottos at Datong in North China`s Shanxi Province. and the Longmen Grottos at Luoyang in Central China`s Henan Province -- are storehouses of ancient Chinese art. and treasures belonging to the entire world. Of these sites. the Mogao Grottos are the most ancient and contain the most magnificent cliff paintings and sculptures.

The ancestors of the Chinese people were gifted in both song and dance. Musical instruments have existed in China since remote antiquity. Ancient historical documents generally trace the history of Chinese music back to the time of the legendary Yellow Emperor. 4.000 to 5.000 years ago.

A set of sixty-four cast bronze bells. made in the State of Chu during the Warring States Period. has been discovered in Central China`s Hubei Province. Each bell produces two notes. with the set covering a range of over five octaves. A wide range of classical and modem music. including symphonic works by Beethoven. can be performed on the set. which is tuned to a diatonic scale in the key of C major. The bells have a beautiful tone. harmonious and pleasing to the ear. The fact that such a musical instrument was created in China 2.400 years ago is truly a miracle in the history of world music.

China has numerous exquisite traditional arts and crafts. Among the most famous are carving and metalwork. embroidery and painting. ceramics and porcelain. and cloisonn¨¦ (a kind of finish) enamel inlay. Bamboo furniture. woven bamboo and grass objects. paper cuts. lanterns. kites. and toys are popular traditional craft items. while Chinese jade and ivory ornaments. cloisonn¨¦. and embroidery are treasured by people all over the world.
Ceramics and porcelain are among the most well known inventions of ancient China. The most outstanding porcelain is made in China`s porcelain capital. Jingdezhen in East China`s Jiangxi Province. A famous saying describes Jingdezhen porcelain as ``white as jade. bright as a mirror; thin as paper. tone like a chime.`` China`s ceramics capital. Yixing in Jiangsu Province (East China). is the home of purple sand pottery. Produced using the area`s unique purple sand clay and special firing techniques. Yixing pottery is both beautiful and distinctive.

Embroidery is a traditional craft that has flourished over the ages. China`s four main styles of embroidery developed in Suzhou (Jiangsu). Hunan Province (Central China). Sichuan Province (Southwestern China). and Guangdong Province (South China). An embroidery artist may use several dozen different stitches to portray flowers. people. animals. scenery. or any number of meticulously designed patterns.

Traditional Chinese philosophy is both profound and simple. intimately linked to both society and the individual. It propounds the theory of ``as above. so below.`` and replies to the vexations of the ``ten thousand things`` -- that is. the material world -- with the concept of Harmony (``he`` in Chinese). Harmony appears weak but is actually strong. There is nothing it cannot absorb and nothing it cannot penetrate. The Chinese character ``he.`` or Harmony. appears in the Chinese words for peace. compromise. concord. and unison. and may be interpreted to include all of these meanings.

The philosophic concept of Harmony is expressed in both the Confucian ideal of Benevolence and the Daoist idea of Non-Action. The taijitu. or Yin-Yang symbol. offers a visual representation of this concept. It depicts two opposing forces. each of which includes elements of the other and may transform into its opposite under certain conditions. The balanced interaction of these opposing forces creates a unified and harmonious whole. The ancient philosophy of balancing opposition to create a harmonious whole has fostered an individual and collective love of peace in the Chinese people.

Chinese civilization has its source far in the distant past. With a continuous history of 5.000 years. it has undergone frequent transformations to produce a rich and vital cultural heritage.