An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Xia Dynasty, Prehistory, and Mythology in China

The history of modern archaeology in China began during the 1920s when Western researchers like J.G. Andersson (1874-1960) discovered remains of the prehistoric past. Twenty years earlier, the findings and excavations of oracle bone inscriptions of the Shang period 商 (17th-11th cent. BCE) revealed that the oldest dynasties described in the ancient Chinese history books had in fact existed, and were not pure mythology. Wang Guowei 王國維 (1877-1927), Luo Zhenyu 羅振玉 (1866-1940), and Gu Jiegang 顧頡剛 (1893-1980) therefore began to critically evaluate ancient historiographical sources and tried to separate prehistory and early history from mythology.

During the Republican period (1912-1949) Chinese archaeology suffered under the permanent conflicts between the warlords, and then by the Japanese invasion and the Civil War. Yet the young nation was sovereign enough to refuse foreign help for a long time. National proud makes archaeology a very important item today. The interest in the past and antique objects had began as early as the Song period 宋 (960-1279), when scholars collected and catalogued old bronze vessels and other precious items.

This section of the encyclopaedia is divided into the chapters prehistoric cultures, mythology, mythological emperors, and the semi-mythical Xia dynasty 夏 (21th - 17th cent. BCE).