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Thread: 5000 years of chinese civilization ? Really ?

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Post 5000 years of chinese civilization ? Really ?

    I am currently reading China Road by Rob Gifford. The author, who graduated in Chinese studies, lived many years in China as a journalist and speaks fluent Mandarin, often mentions that China has 5000 years of continuous history. I have read or heard that many times before, in documentaries, in guide books, on Chinese government websites... Sometimes it is just 3000 years. Some will say 5000 years of 'civilization', others of 'history'.

    But what is this obsession with this idea ? What is so special about that. India, Middle Eastern countries and Europe could all claim the same (or longer), but we never hear anyone boast about them. I spent 5 months in India and never heard anyone boast or remind tourists about India's 6000 years of civilization. Egyptians sometimes do, but not with the same fervour, or the same brainwashing tendency. Actually, many Chinese will tell you that China is the world's oldest civilisation.

    Is it justified to think that China is is the oldest civilization in the world ? No, because it simply isn't. The definition of "civilisation" may differ a bit from person to person. Some will place the dawn of civilisation with the rise of agriculture. Others will the first city-states. Others with the first kingdoms or empires. Others still, will claim that we cannot be sure before recorded history, and so take the invention or adoption of writing as the beginning of a civilisation. I will demonstrate below that China cannot be considered the world's oldest civilisation whatever the definition.

    The first agricultural societies developed in the Middle East. The earliest evidence for use of wild cereals go back to 20,000 BCE in Egypt and the Levant. Actual cultivation had become widespread in this region around 10,000 BCE. In China, rice culture developed from 7500 BCE in Hunan, and millet cultivation from 7000 BCE in Henan. This is a good 2000 years after the Near East.

    As a consequence, the world's first cities appeared in the Levant soon after 10,000 BCE (Jericho, Damascus, Byblos...) and preceded Chinese cities by several millennia (the first Chinese cities date from about 5000 BCE).

    China's first kingdom was the mythical Xia dynasty, which supposedly began around 2000 BCE. The first historical dynasty, though, is the Shang Dynasty (oldest record from 1600 BCE). The first historical Sumerian dynasties arose around 2900 BCE, while Egypt's early dynastic period starts from 3150 BCE. The first Mesopotamian empires preceded the first Chinese empire by 2000 years. Even Alexander's Empire is slightly older than Qin Shihuangdi's.

    Cuneiform writing appeared in Mesopotamia 10,000 years ago (8,000 BCE). The first alphabet was devised nearly 5000 years ago, and the Phoenician alphabet, from which all modern alphabet derive, is over 3000 years old. Primitive Chinese characters originated 3500 years ago during the Shang Dynasty, but modern ones were only standardised 2200 years ago. In every respect, the civilisation of the Middle East and Europe, which can indeed be considered as a single block, is considerably older than the Chinese one.

    I anticipate the reaction of some people who will say, 'Yes but China is only one country, a single ethnic group speaking the same language throughout its history, while it is not the case for Europe and the Middle East'. Unfortunately this is totally wrong.

    Does it make sense to think of China as a country and a civilisation, but of Europe and the Middle East as multiple civilisations ?

    China was only unified 2200 years ago, but was split and reunified times and again, sometimes after many centuries of warring states. There are as many and possibly more languages and dialects in China than the whole of Europe and the Middle East. China officially has 55 ethnic minority groups (+ over 400 unofficial ones) in addition to the Han ethnicity. Genetic studies have shown that there is more genetic diversity within the Han ethnicity than between northern Hans, Manchus and Koreans. In other words someone from Beijing is genetically closer to a Korean than to someone from Hong Kong. There is also more genetic diversity within the province of Guandong than between all the other Han Chinese ! If we include all ethnic groups, there is more genetic diversity in China than in all Europe.

    Agriculture spread from a small region of China, and took thousands of years to reach the traditional Han territory (less than half the size of modern China). Indigenous tribes were replaced or assimilated to the Han farmers. The exact same thing happened with the Middle East and Europe. Neolithic farmers from the Levant expanded eastward to modern Iran and westward to Greece, the Balkans, Central Europe, then all Europe. By the time agriculture reached the southern shores of China (around 5000 BCE), all Europe was already cultivating wheat or barley, including Scandinavia. Regions like Yunnan, Sichuan or Qinghai did not become agricultural until 3000 BCE, in the more accessible regions at least.

    Haplogroup studies show that most of the European population migrated from in the Middle East, Caucasus or Eurasian steppe after Mesopotamian civilizations came into existence. In other words, Europeans can just as well claim to be descended from the Mesopotamians as a Chinese from Shanghai or Hong Kong can claim to be descended from the first Chinese farmers from the Yellow River basin.


    It makes no sense to view the Middle East and Europe as a mosaic of separate civilizations and at the same time see China as a single civilization. Europe and the Middle East have had many contemporaneous cultures or kingdoms, but they were only one large civilization, which also sprouted from the same source of Neolithic farming in the Levant. The geography of the Mediterranean forced political and linguistic parcelling over time. But both regions have a "small" historical cradle (Mesopotamia & Anatolia vs the Yellow River basin) from which agriculture, technologies and genes spread more or less continually for the first 5 or 6 millennia. The last great migration from the Middle East to Europe was the Indo-European invasion from northern Anatolia around 4500 years ago. The Han Chinese had colonised most of their present-day territory around 4000 years ago.

    Most of Europe and the Near East was unified under Roman rule about 2000 years ago. Eastern China (without Manchuria) was first unified around that time too. Scandinavia and North-Eastern Europe could be seen as the Manchuria, Mongolia, Turkestan (Xinjiang) and Tibet of China. Mongolia, Manchuria and Tibet all invaded China, just like Germanic and Slavic tribes invaded the Roman Empire. China does not have a longer history of living in unity. After all, even in medieval times, Europe also had a single, unifying authority figure in the Pope in Rome, and only recognised one emperor at a time until the 19th century. This is because Europeans felt part of a same civilization and understood that their could only be one emperor for Europe (Russia excluded), even if he did not control the whole of Europe.

    China as a whole should be compared to Europe and the Middle East combined, not individual countries. As MIT political scientist and sinologist Lucian Pye said, "China is a civilization pretending to be a state". What we call countries in Europe (or EU member-states nowadays) are the equivalent of provinces in China.

    I sometimes hear that the Chinese have preserved their writing system for longer than anybody else. This is false ! The Western alphabet is the Roman alphabet, which is only a slightly modified version of the Greek and Phoenician alphabets. Gauls and ancient Britons didn't know how to write 2500 years ago, but the same was true for most of China. Chinese writing originated in the Shang Dynasty, which covered an area about 1/10 the size of modern China. In fact, the modern alphabet was already in use in most of Europe 2000 years ago, thanks to the Romans, while only about half of modern China was part of the literate Chinese empire at the same period. Owing to the complexities of the Chinese writing system, functional literacy would have been lower within the Han Empire than Roman Empire in any case.

    I do not write this to disparage China, but I am fed up of people (Westerners and Chinese alike) who think that China has a longer continuous history than Europe, just because they see China as a block and Europe as a mosaic. I can't understand why a British writer like Rob Gifford would write that. The CNTO (China National Tourist Office) introduces Chinese history with the statement "China, with a recorded history of 5,000 years, was one of the world's earliest civilizations. China was one of the countries where economic activity first developed." They are not fooling me, but I know for a fact that many people who read that believe it. Educated Western writers and journalists believe that. People making documentaries about China believe that. They never try to look at the big picture and think "wait, Chinese civilization isn't that old. It's more recent than India, Mesopotamia, the Levant, Egypt, Anatolia, Greece and by extension Europe.

    If civilizations start with the first kingdoms or empires, then China, the country as we know it today, does not have 5000 years of civilization. A small part of China, around a section of the Yellow River, has at best 4000 years of civilizations since the Xia Dynasty, China's first dynasty. In comparison, Minoan civilization in Greece arose 5000 years ago, and a bunch of early cities between Greece and Germany are over 6000 years old (the oldest nearly 8000 years old). Europe being more ethnically homogeneous than China. Europeans can more easily relate or claim descent from ancient Greeks or Neolithic Danube farmers (even if very partially) than a Yunnanese or a Manchu could do with the people of the Xia Dynasty.

    In conclusion, it is ok to say that the province of Shaanxi or Henan have 4000 years of civilizations. It is not to say that China does. It is even less to say that it is 5000 years. If you do like to extrapolate and say that the Han Chinese civilization arose 4000 years ago, then you could just as well say that European civilization arose 5000 years ago.
    Last edited by Maciamo; Dec 8, 2009 at 20:24.

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    When people say China is the oldest civilization, they actually mean that they are the oldest EXISTING civilization. What other country can claim that besides India? If you want to talk about the oldest civilization ever it would be the Babylonians or Sumerians.

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    Sengoku Daimyo AJBryant's Avatar
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    Maciamo, I like the way you think.

    Personally, I believe you are correct in every way.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NegativeBeef View Post
    When people say China is the oldest civilization, they actually mean that they are the oldest EXISTING civilization. What other country can claim that besides India? If you want to talk about the oldest civilization ever it would be the Babylonians or Sumerians.
    This is exactly the kind of reaction I was talking about. Do you mean that the people of Iraq have absolutely no connection whatsoever with the Babylonians and Sumerians ? It is obvious that modern Middle Eastern people descend from ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Phoenicians and so on.

    Your way of thinking is mistaken. You only think that China is the same civilisation now as it was 3000 years ago because you refer to both as China. But 3000 years ago, there was no China. There was a patchwork of unrelated agricultural societies, and an early kingdom (well, 3000 years ago it was the Zhou Dynasty [1045-256 BCE]) that covered fragments of the modern provinces of Shaanxi, Henan and Shandong. People elsewhere in China were not part of that, spoke different languages and did not consider themselves Chinese. They didn't know how big was the world around them, didn't have any geographical idea of where they stood in the world, and, for most people in places like Hunan, Fujian, Guandong or Sichuan, never heard about the Zhou Dynasty in their lifetime.

    The early Xia, Shang or Zhou dynasties were just as local and isolated as the early Sumerian or Egyptian dynasties. But in both cases, the kingdoms expanded into empires, and people left to colonise areas far beyond their homeland.

    3000 years ago, the Phoenicians had already established colonies around the Mediterranean basin. The Spanish city of Cadiz was founded in 1104 BCE. DNA tests have proven that a genetic connection exist between the ancient Phoenicians and today's people in southern Andalusia (or Ibiza, Sardinia, Tunisia, Malta, etc.). Are you saying that these Europeans should deny their Middle Eastern ancestry, but that the Chinese of Guandong, (who have very little ancestry from the northern Han Chinese, as shown by DNA tests) should feel that their history started with the northern Han, who are not their ancestors ?

    Few people know this, but a significant part of the European gene pool came from the Middle East between the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. There was a single, continuous diffusion of agriculture from the Levant to Europe and the rest of the Middle East. Genetics have now proven that agriculture spread through population movement and not cultural diffusion. In other words, it was Near Easterners people who brought agriculture as far as Britain or Scandinavia. All Europeans have a bit of Near Eastern blood flowing inside them (except perhaps the Saami and some Finns).

    The Indo-Europeans who conquered Europe around 4500 years ago, and brought the languages that we speak nowadays, and presumably also red and blond hair and blue eyes, came from the Eurasian steppes and Anatolia. In fact, the Italo-Celtic and Germanic branches that settled in Western Europe were most closely related to the Hittite and Armenian branches of Anatolia, rather than the Slavic and Iranian branches of Ukraine and Russia. We know that from linguistics and genetics (Haplogroup R1b is common in Anatolia and Western Europe, while R1a extends from Eastern Europe to India via Central Asia). Few people realise that this Indo-European culture is a direct offshoot of the early Mesopotamian cultures. They were among the first to develop bronze technology because they came from the north of Mesopotamia. This is what allowed them to conquer Europe. Consequently, our European civilisation is clearly a direct continuity of the Middle East civilisation. It's one big block.

    North America and Australia are now part of the European civilisation because Europeans emigrated and settled there heavily. The same happened during the Neolithic and Bronze Age from the Levant and Anatolia to Europe. It's not because the Middle East has become Muslim 1300 years ago, and Europe Christian 1600 years ago that we should forget about 10,000 years of common civilisation. Cultures evolve with time, but roots stay the same.

    Eastern China could also be seen as a single block with Korea and Japan. If all Chinese provinces were to become independent today, Xinjiang (Chinese Turkestan) and Tibet would not be considered part of the East Asian civilisation, but Korea and Japan would.

    Technically, China started as two separate civilisations that eventually merged, to some extent. Rice cultivation arose in southern China, while northern China was developing a millet-based agriculture. The two regions evolved side by side for 7000 years, and were only united under the Han Dynasty, 2000 years ago. Nowadays the cultural division between north and south remained evident. People have hardly moved in 2000 years, and genes are also distinct between north and south.
    Last edited by Maciamo; Dec 10, 2009 at 21:09.

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    Are people of modern Middle Eastern decent even culturally similar to the Babylonians, Assyrians, or Phoenicians? Even though Middle Easterners might occupy the same geographic area today, genetics have shown that they actually have very little to do with these ancient civilizations. Even if they are direct decent of them, they are still vastly vastly different. Just like how modern day Egyptians have NO RELATIONS to the ancient Egyptians who built the pyramids.


    Of course European people have always existed. Did you think they somehow popped out of nowhere? All groups of people obviously have ancestors that stretch back 10s of thousands of years ago. Otherwise they wouldn't be existing today. You seem to be arguing semantics.

    What about India? Would you say the same about India? They have about 5000 years of history as well. And they have "changed" just about as much as China. In fact, I can say that about any civilization that exists today and how much they've "changed." So let me ask you: what country DO YOU think is the oldest existing civilization?

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    I have made a map showing the diffusion of agriculture in China. Millet cultivation is in brown and rice in blue. The earliest associated culture is indicated for each region.



    You can compare this with the spread of agriculture from the Near East to Europe (until 3500 BCE).


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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NegativeBeef View Post
    Are people of modern Middle Eastern decent even culturally similar to the Babylonians, Assyrians, or Phoenicians? Even though Middle Easterners might occupy the same geographic area today, genetics have shown that they actually have very little to do with these ancient civilizations. Even if they are direct decent of them, they are still vastly vastly different.
    What makes you think that modern Chinese are more similar to the Chinese of the Shang Dynasty ? Are you insinuating that China hasn't evolved culturally in 3000 years ?

    Just like how modern day Egyptians have NO RELATIONS to the ancient Egyptians who built the pyramids.
    Where did you get that idea ? Egyptians haven't changed much genetically over time. The Greek, Romans, Arabs and Ottomans had only a very minor impact on haplogroups in Egypt. 95% is still identical to ancient Egypt. As for the language, ancient Egyptian was a Semitic language closely related to Aramaic. Coptic language, spoken by today's Christian community of Egypt, is the direct descendant of ancient Egyptian language. Arabic managed to replace Egyptian, where Greek had failed, because Arabic was almost intelligible to Egyptian speakers. They were both Semitic languages with almost identical grammar. So not a big change there either.

    Of course European people have always existed. Did you think they somehow popped out of nowhere? All groups of people obviously have ancestors that stretch back 10s of thousands of years ago. Otherwise they wouldn't be existing today. You seem to be arguing semantics.
    Not at all. Population migrate and mix. Others disappear. Modern Europeans could be descended directly from Cro-Magnon, who had lived in Europe during the Ice Age. But we now know that only about a quarter to half of the European gene pool come from them, and the rest from later migrants from the Middle East and the Eurasian steppe.

    What about India? Would you say the same about India? They have about 5000 years of history as well. And they have "changed" just about as much as China. In fact, I can say that about any civilization that exists today and how much they've "changed." So let me ask you: what country DO YOU think is the oldest existing civilization?
    You still don't understand that a country isn't a civilisation, and vice versa. The oldest civilisation if the one that arose in the Middle East (Mesopotamia, Levant and Egypt) and expanded to Europe and South Asia. The second oldest in the East Asian civilisation, which arose around the Yellow River and the Yangtze River.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    What makes you think that modern Chinese are more similar to the Chinese of the Shang Dynasty ? Are you insinuating that China hasn't evolved culturally in 3000 years ?
    Just because a civilization has culturally evolved doesn't mean it has changed. America has evolved quite a lot since it was formed but America is still the same America it was 250 years ago.

    Where did you get that idea ? Egyptians haven't changed much genetically over time. The Greek, Romans, Arabs and Ottomans had only a very minor impact on haplogroups in Egypt. 95% is still identical to ancient Egypt. As for the language, ancient Egyptian was a Semitic language closely related to Aramaic. Coptic language, spoken by today's Christian community of Egypt, is the direct descendant of ancient Egyptian language. Arabic managed to replace Egyptian, where Greek had failed, because Arabic was almost intelligible to Egyptian speakers. They were both Semitic languages with almost identical grammar. So not a big change there either.
    If you read up on some history, the ancient Egyptians (the ones that built the Pyramids) were wiped out by the Romans. The modern day Egyptians are in no way the same as the ancient Egyptians. The best way to show this is with their writing system. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics bear no resemblance to modern day Egyptian text - none whatsoever, zip, nada. On the other hand, you can see a clear resemblance between ancient Chinese text when compared to modern day Chinese text. Please look this up and prove me otherwise.

    Not at all. Population migrate and mix. Others disappear. Modern Europeans could be descended directly from Cro-Magnon, who had lived in Europe during the Ice Age. But we now know that only about a quarter to half of the European gene pool come from them, and the rest from later migrants from the Middle East and the Eurasian steppe.
    Um what?? Cro-Magnon man wasn't a civilization.

    You still don't understand that a country isn't a civilisation, and vice versa. The oldest civilisation if the one that arose in the Middle East (Mesopotamia, Levant and Egypt) and expanded to Europe and South Asia. The second oldest in the East Asian civilisation, which arose around the Yellow River and the Yangtze River.
    Although those civilizations are quite old, they no longer exist today. Please show me a modern day Mesopotamian civilization.

    Again if you want to argue over what the oldest civilization is, that title goes to the Ancient Sumerians who existed circa 10,000 bc.

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    Sengoku Daimyo AJBryant's Avatar
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    Conquered != wiped out.

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    That is correct. Being conquered is not the same as being wiped out. However, the ancient Egyptians were indeed wiped out.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NegativeBeef View Post
    That is correct. Being conquered is not the same as being wiped out. However, the ancient Egyptians were indeed wiped out.
    I won't even bother replying to you any more. Your comments are laughable.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    I won't even bother replying to you any more. Your comments are laughable.
    Took you 2 days to come up with that? You're an idiot and a joke.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NegativeBeef View Post
    Just because a civilization has culturally evolved doesn't mean it has changed. America has evolved quite a lot since it was formed but America is still the same America it was 250 years ago.
    Except that there are 37 new states and a lot more cosmopolitanism.

    Quote Originally Posted by NegativeBeef View Post
    If you read up on some history, the ancient Egyptians (the ones that built the Pyramids) were wiped out by the Romans. The modern day Egyptians are in no way the same as the ancient Egyptians. The best way to show this is with their writing system. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics bear no resemblance to modern day Egyptian text - none whatsoever, zip, nada. On the other hand, you can see a clear resemblance between ancient Chinese text when compared to modern day Chinese text. Please look this up and prove me otherwise.
    Ancient Chinese characters did not look like modern ones at all.



    Check the Aramaic alphabet, the one that was used in Mesopotamia from 800 BC. It's almost the same as modern Hebrew, and close to Arabic too. If you can read Hebrew, you can read ancient Aramaic. If you can read modern Chinese, you can't read ancient Chinese. As simple as that.

    The mother of all European and Middle Eastern alphabets is Phoenician. It is as old as Chinese characters, but has evolved less in time. The closest modern equivalent is the Greek alphabet. Many letters are identical, apart from some left-right inversions.



    The Romans didn't wipe out Egyptian culture or people. Ancient Egyptian language was officially extinct by 600 BC, when Demotic Egyptian replaced it. They continued to speak Demotic Egyptian and write with Hieroglyphs throughout Greek and Roman rule. Egyptians adopted Greek script around 400 AD, then the Arabic script.

    Egyptian culture was completely preserved under the Romans, and influenced Roman culture more than the other way round. The cult of Isis became very popular in Italy, Greece and Mesopotamia during Roman rule. It is said that the cult of Isis was replaced by the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary when Roman citizens became Christians. So much for the Egyptians being wiped out.
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    Quote Originally Posted by A ke bono kane kotto View Post
    Except that there are 37 new states and a lot more cosmopolitanism.
    Yet it is still America. No one considers modern America to be a different civilization or country than it was 250 years ago.
    Ancient Chinese characters did not look like modern ones at all.
    Actually those ancient Chinese characters do look like modern ones. You're telling me that you can't see the similarity between them and how they've obvious evolved overtime with no outside influence?

    As a matter of fact, modern Egyptian and European text look even less similar than their ancient counterparts.
    The mother of all European and Middle Eastern alphabets is . It is as old as Chinese characters, but has evolved less in time. The closest modern equivalent is the Greek alphabet. Many letters are identical, apart from some left-right inversions.
    What is that suppose to prove? Alphabet is not the same thing as language.
    The Romans didn't wipe out Egyptian culture or people. Ancient Egyptian language was officially extinct by 600 BC, when replaced it. They continued to speak Demotic Egyptian and write with Hieroglyphs throughout Greek and Roman rule. Egyptians adopted Greek script around 400 AD, then the Arabic script.
    Egyptian culture was completely preserved under the Romans, and influenced Roman culture more than the other way round. The cult of Isis became very popular in Italy, Greece and Mesopotamia during Roman rule. It is said that the cult of Isis was replaced by the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary when Roman citizens became Christians. So much for the Egyptians being wiped out.
    If the Romans preserved Hieroglyphics so much why was the Rosetta Stone needed in order to translate ancient Egyptian text? And what does that have to do with being the oldest existing civilization? Japan and Korea have preserved many aspects of Chinese culture. If the Chinese stopped existing today would you consider Japan and Korea to be continuations of China? Of course not. How is this different with the Romans and Egyptians?

    In any case, I'm done over here. This thread was completely pointless and ridiculous to begin with. The OP thinks that modern day Iraq is a good representation of ancient Sumerian culture. ROFLMAO. Now I see why no one ever responds to any of his threads.
    Last edited by NegativeBeef; Dec 14, 2009 at 05:05.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NegativeBeef View Post
    Yet it is still America. No one considers modern America to be a different civilization or country than it was 250 years ago.
    America is not a civilisation. It's a country. I don't know how old you are, but I think it's time you understood that, besides the purpose of video games, countries like France, Britain, Spain, or indeed the USA, are not and cannot be called civilisations. They are countries, made up of one or many cultures. For example, Belgium is one country with two distinct cultures; a Dutch-speaking one and a French-speaking one. But even countries that look more homogeneous to the unsuspecting outsider can be composed of many distinct regional cultures. It is the case of Spain, France, Britain, Germany and even Italy. A civilisation is something bigger, encompassing all the cultures that have the same roots, sharing a common heritage. The European civilisation, for instance, shares the same Indo-European, Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian heritage.

    The Middle Eastern civilisation developed from the same Neolithic society, also has a partially Indo-European history (though IE languages only survived on the fringe on the Middle-East, like in Armenia or Iran), was also influenced by Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian values, although Islam (built on Judeo-Christian foundations) and Semitic languages eventually superseded. This is why I see it as a sister civilisation of Europe, daughters of the same ancient civilisation.

    I think that what got you confused is that school textbooks and common language usually refer to "Sumerian civilisation", "Babylonian civilisation", "Egyptian civilisation", "Minoan civilisation" or "Mycenaean civilisation" as if they were distinct civilisations in the modern sense of the term. But for historians and archaeologists, they are really just "branch civilisations" (or "sub-civilisations") of the greater Middle Eastern civilisation. It's just more convenient to drop the "sub" part.


    Actually those ancient Chinese characters do look like modern ones.
    That's just bad faith on your part. You can see how they evolved, but if I gave you a full text in Shang-dynasty characters, could you read it ? (assuming that you can read modern Chinese characters, otherwise I guess you wouldn't have dared replying to this thread )


    As a matter of fact, modern Egyptian and European text look even less similar than their ancient counterparts.
    So what ? Scandinavians used to write with runes. Does that rule them out as part of the European civilisation ? Grow up.

    Then, Egypt isn't the source of the European neolithic; modern Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Greece are.


    What is that suppose to prove? Alphabet is not the same thing as language.
    So what's your point at the end ? You argue that the Egyptian culture was "wiped out" because they traded the Hieroglyphic alphabet for a more convenient one, then when A ke bono kane kotto shows you that the 3000-year old Phoenician alphabet is quite similar to modern Western alphabet, you just turn your back on what you said earlier and it suddenly doesn't matter any more. Such bad faith ! If you can see a continuity between ancient and modern Chinese alphabet, then you just cannot deny the continuity between Phoenician and Roman, Greek Cyrillic, Hebraic or Arabic alphabets.

    Languages evolve with time. That's inevitable. It's completely unreasonable to expect Egyptian language not to change in 5000 years. Just look at how much English changed in just 1000 years. What you obviously do not understand is that modern Arabic dialects of Egypt and Iraq are related to the ancient languages spoken there. They are all part of the Semitic family. Sumerian may be an exception, but so in Basque in Europe. Yet who would argue that modern Basque are not culturally European ? And if you think that ancient Chinese was pronounced anything like modern Chinese, you are just as wrong. 3000-year old Chinese, or for that matter 1000-year old Chinese, is just as incomprehensible to modern ears as Anglo-Saxon is to modern English speakers.


    If the Romans preserved Hieroglyphics so much why was the Rosetta Stone needed in order to translate ancient Egyptian text?
    The Rosetta stone was not a Roman attempt at translating an ancient Egyptian text. It was purposefully written in the three languages in use at the time in ancient Egypt. For all we know the original was probably issued in Latin, then translated into Egyptian so that locals could read it. Multi-lingual texts were common elsewhere too, with texts in Aramaic and Assyrian in Mesopotamia, or even in Greek and Sanskrit in India during the Maurya period.

    And what does that have to do with being the oldest existing civilization? Japan and Korea have preserved many aspects of Chinese culture. If the Chinese stopped existing today would you consider Japan and Korea to be continuations of China? Of course not. How is this different with the Romans and Egyptians?
    If China stopped existing today, it wouldn't erase history, nor that fact that Korean, Japanese or Vietnamese cultures were offshoots of Chinese culture. I don't see how you cannot understand that. If Scandinavian cultures in Denmark, Norway and Sweden were to be replaced, by say, Italian culture, would that make any difference in the Scandinavianness of Iceland ?

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    Maciamo, great argument. I, myself, have bought into the 5,000 year continuity of Chinese civilization that is so widely propagated, but now I see why that really isn't the case. But I don't think any educated person--except maybe Chinese nationalists--believes China is the oldest civilization, however, so that part of your argument is mute.

    Nonetheless, I think it's important to keep in mind that archaeology in China is still in its nascent stages and important finds in the last decades and the reexamining and analyzing of old and new ancient sources, have both been constantly challenging how old and what civilization in China really is. A lot of what we understand as modern Chinese historiography is based on Western European models and interpretations, which has its own biases and obvious shortcomings. Shiji, an early pioneering work of homegrown Chinese historiography, was not even taken seriously by Western European scholars as late as 50 years ago. It wasn't until the discovery of Qin Shi Huang's tomb and Terracotta soldiers as described in Shiji, and the findings on Oracle Bones which verified many of the sovereigns listed by Sima Qian, that Shiji was taken as a serious collection of annals by Western historians. Yet, Chinese archaeologists attempt to match cultures that predated the Shang with ones described by Sima Qian has been seen by Western archaeologists as delusional revisionism and "PRC propaganda." In the eyes of Western historians, the Xia Dynasty, which links well with the Erlitou culture, is still a myth; and Jiahu symbols that date to 6,600 BCE is not considered writing, yet the similar oldest extant cuneiform is.

    Another interesting thing to keep in mind is that Western civilizations has one very important advantage over the East: preservation. The dryer, desert climate of the Middle East preserves evidences of agriculture, among other indicators of civilization such as documents--whether written on stone or more perishable materials--and remains of cities and towns, much better than the wetter humid climate of China.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Simon Winchester also writes several times that 'China is the world's oldest civilisation' in The Man Who Loved China (e.g. on p.94). I greatly appreciate and even admire his books, but why a well-educated man like him would he write such a thing if it weren't a common misconception among some English speakers ?

    Worse, Mr Winchester writes (p.109) that "2000 years ago, [...] westerners (though not Plato, Aristotle, the Egyptians, or the Mesopotamians) still coated themselves in woad and did little more than grunt."

    The Indo-Europeans had already developed bronze swords (5500 years ago), horse-drawn war chariots 4500 years ago), wool clothes (6000 years ago) and developed a complex polytheistic religion (ancestral to the ancient Greco-Roman, Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, Hindu and Persian mythologies, so at least 5500 years ago) well before the rise of the first dynasty around the Yellow River (4000 years ago).

    The first Chinese "religions" (philosophical doctrines), Taoism and Confucianism, appear 1000 years after the oldest Indo-European religious texts (the Vedas and Hittite mythology, both circa 1500 BCE) and approximately 3000 years after the dispersal of the Indo-Europeans from their homeland in the Pontic-Caspian steppe and Caucasus.

    The Indo-European civilisation, from which all Europeans and South Asians descend is much older than the Chinese civilisation. Add to that Mesopotamia, the Levant, Egypt, Greece and the Balkans - all of them many millennia older than China.
    Last edited by Maciamo; Feb 8, 2010 at 02:33.

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    On page 188 of the aforementioned book, Simon Winchester writes : "Needham pointed out that in every century the Chinese dreamed up nearly fifteen new scientific ideas - a pace of inventiveness unmatched by the world's other great civilizations, including the Greeks."

    Doesn't it strike you as unbalanced and unfair to compare ancient Greece to China ? Coming from a Westerner it may even sound pretentious to think that the tiny confederation of rocky islands that was Greece was great enough as a civilization to play in the same weight category as the subcontinent that is China. It would be as if an Irish person was telling an Indian "Wow it's amazing, India has contributed more to world science and culture than Ireland ! How did you do it ?" Not just pretentious but also sarcastically provocative and disdainful. And that's exactly the way I feel Needham or Winchester are saying it when they mention that China came up with more scientific ideas per century even than the Greeks ! Ancient Greece was stupendous, but not enough for each Greek person to be worth 10 or 20 Chinese individuals. How condescending does that sound ?

    Ancient Greece with all its colonies, although never politically unified, had a land area of approximately 350,000 square km. That's a bit smaller than the province of Yunnan. That's about 30x smaller than the People's Republic of China.

    The Babylonians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, or Egyptians lived on territories that were all comparable to Chinese provinces. The Roman Empire at its maximum extent under Trajan reached a size of approximately 5,000,000 km2, about the same as the contemporary Han Empire. That would make for a better comparison except that China was about twice more populous than the Roman Empire, and so had twice the workforce, twice as many intellectuals, and so on.

    The only way to compare fairly China's massive historical population with the West would be to take all Europe as far as the Urals and all the Middle East including Persia. By doing so I doubt that the Chinese would still be unmatched by their inventiveness. It's always important to look at the per capita figure. Two minds always produce more than one.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    On page 188 of the aforementioned book, Simon Winchester writes : "Needham pointed out that in every century the Chinese dreamed up nearly fifteen new scientific ideas - a pace of inventiveness unmatched by the world's other great civilizations, including the Greeks."
    Doesn't it strike you as unbalanced and unfair to compare ancient Greece to China ? Coming from a Westerner it may even sound pretentious to think that the tiny confederation of rocky islands that was Greece was great enough as a civilization to play in the same weight category as the subcontinent that is China. It would be as if an Irish person was telling an Indian "Wow it's amazing, India has contributed more to world science and culture than Ireland ! How did you do it ?" Not just pretentious but also sarcastically provocative and disdainful. And that's exactly the way I feel Needham or Winchester are saying it when they mention that China came up with more scientific ideas per century even than the Greeks ! Ancient Greece was stupendous, but not enough for each Greek person to be worth 10 or 20 Chinese individuals. How condescending does that sound ?
    Ancient Greece with all its colonies, although never politically unified, had a land area of approximately 350,000 square km. That's a bit smaller than the province of Yunnan. That's about 30x smaller than the People's Republic of China.
    The Babylonians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, or Egyptians lived on territories that were all comparable to Chinese provinces. The Roman Empire at its maximum extent under Trajan reached a size of approximately 5,000,000 km2, about the same as the contemporary Han Empire. That would make for a better comparison except that China was about twice more populous than the Roman Empire, and so had twice the workforce, twice as many intellectuals, and so on.
    The only way to compare fairly China's massive historical population with the West would be to take all Europe as far as the Urals and all the Middle East including Persia. By doing so I doubt that the Chinese would still be unmatched by their inventiveness. It's always important to look at the per capita figure. Two minds always produce more than one.
    I don't agree with you here. The population trend during the peak of the Roman Empire was comparable and even higher than that of its contemporary Chinese counterpart. I don't know where you are getting your numbers from but here are mine.

    I can't add links yet because I don't have enough posts yet, but you can find these quotes form Wikipedia by typing in "Classical demography" and "Han Dynasty"

    "There are many estimates of the population for the Roman Empire, that range from 45 million to 120 million. Most modern estimates range from 55 to 65 million."

    These figures include Greece of course.

    "In China's first known nationwide census taken in 2 CE, the population was registered as having 57,671,400 individuals in 12,366,470 households."

    Though Wikipedia has a dubious reputation as a source, the figures presented are backed up with citations to scholarly works. If Roman Empire's peak population figure is 120,000,000; doesn't that turn the table on your argument? If you want to include the population of Parthia, the rest of the Middle East, and Europe (I don't see why, however, because most not under Roman control were unsophisticated barbarians [relative to contemporary civilizations of course]), that's at least another 50-100 million, and therefore more than quadruple the population of Han China.

    You made good points about the misconceptions of China as the most ancient civilization--it was something I was dubious was about ever since I became interested in Chinese history and I'm sure we aren't the only ones--but you cannot deny that China was the world's leader in science from at least the first century up until the Renaissance in Europe. Ironically, it was three crucial Chinese inventions that led to their humiliation by the west. Without the invention of paper and block printing, Europe would not have been able to disseminate its ideas so quickly; and without the compass and gunpowder, Europe would not have been able to navigate the world and defeat every people it encountered.
    Last edited by yoruba; Feb 12, 2010 at 16:23.

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    Quote Originally Posted by yoruba View Post
    I don't agree with you here. The population trend during the peak of the Roman Empire was comparable and even higher than that of its contemporary Chinese counterpart. I don't know where you are getting your numbers from but here are mine.

    I can't add links yet because I don't have enough posts yet, but you can find these quotes form Wikipedia by typing in "Classical demography" and "Han Dynasty"

    "There are many estimates of the population for the Roman Empire, that range from 45 million to 120 million. Most modern estimates range from 55 to 65 million."

    These figures include Greece of course.

    "In China's first known nationwide census taken in 2 CE, the population was registered as having 57,671,400 individuals in 12,366,470 households."
    My numbers were based on a different estimate (from a history book, not the Internet). If there is one thing certain it's that historical population estimates, especially for a period some remote in time as the Antiquity, are very approximate. Besides, ancient and medieval populations experienced dramatic falls during wars and epidemics. The total head count could be very different from one century to the next. Some estimates show that the population of China dropped from 60 to 10 million in the few decades between the late Han and Three Kingdom period. This is hardly believable. Even the Black Death didn't make so much ravage as a percentage of the population. The late Roman period was a period of demographic decline, due to the numerous wars, invasions, political upheavals and crop destruction. With borders changing over the centuries too, it's very difficult to compare two empires, even if the population census did already exist.

    More reliable demographic statistics only start from the 18th century. According to this site, in 1700 China already had a population exceeding 200 million. In 1800, it had reached 300 million, and crossed for the first time the bar of 400 million in 1834. Europe (without Russia), had 150 million people in 1800 and 200 million in 1850, half of China at the time. China still has twice more citizens than Europe (Russia included this time). The overall trend is that China has been roughly twice more populous than Europe over the last 300 years. I don't think it was so different before.

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    My numbers were based on a different estimate (from a history book, not the Internet).
    Which book might that be? And again, the "internet" statistics I reference do cite scholarly works.

    More reliable demographic statistics only start from the 18th century. According to this site, in 1700 China already had a population exceeding 200 million. In 1800, it had reached 300 million, and crossed for the first time the bar of 400 million in 1834. Europe (without Russia), had 150 million people in 1800 and 200 million in 1850, half of China at the time. China still has twice more citizens than Europe (Russia included this time). The overall trend is that China has been roughly twice more populous than Europe over the last 300 years. I don't think it was so different before.
    Because China's population trend has been roughly double that of Europe's the last 300 years doesn't necessarily mean this ratio was about the same before. Extrapolating conclusions this way is too narrow and simplistic. I mean, if what you say is true, shouldn't ratio trends be consistent elsewhere too?

    According to the link you provided, in 1800, Africa had 90 million people and Europe had 163 million. Today, Europe should be at least more populated than Africa right? But this isn't so. Africa has over a billion people while Europe, including Russia, has only about 830 million.

    Let's compare countries

    Germany and France:

    Germany in 1800 had 21 million people; today, 78 million
    France in 1800 had 29 million people; today, 60 million

    Korea and Japan:

    Korea in 1900 had 12 million; today, 73 million (if unified)
    Japan in 1900 had 43 million; today, 127 million

    Turkey and Iran:

    Turkey in 1855 had 7.5 million; today, 74 million
    Iran in 1857 had 4 million; today, 86 million

    In other words, shouldn't we expect France and Turkey to be more populated than Germany and Iran respectively? Shouldn't the population ratio of Japan and Korea be the same today as a century ago? What makes China so inextricably link with Europe that, in the last 300 years, the population trend of China has stayed roughly double that of Europe's? Nothing. It's a coincidence. And should this coincidence be expected to be true one thousand or two thousand years ago? I don't think so--not according to estimates by historians and demographers anyway.

    One more thing. For the sake of clarifying this argument, does Winchester mention the output of "new scientific ideas" every century for other "great civilizations"?

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