Down with the Xia!

People who have been following the Three Dynasties chronology debate have already seen this article by Li Liu and Hong Xu “Rethinking Erlitou: legend, history and Chinese archaeology” For those who are even more behind on this controversy than I am, the basic issue is over attempts (described here) to create a solid chronology of early Chinese history. It originates out of  bluntly nationalistic desires to make early Chinese history as solidly grounded as early Egyptian history. There is nothing wrong with that motivation, of course, but Li and Hong are claiming that the attempt to tie archeological finds to historical texts (and a single narrative of Chinese development) are no longer helpful. Specifically, attempts to fit the Erlitou site (1900 B.C. to maybe 1500 B.C.) into the Xia-Shang chronology are doing more harm than good. The article has the a nice short description of the Eritou site, which is a very important palace and workshop complex that clearly has an important role in understanding Chinese protohistory. However…

“For more than 40 years of excavation at Erlitou, much attention was placed on its ethnic and dynastic affiliations, but little progress has been made. This approach has overshadowed other research orientations, such as craft production, agricultural practic, urban population parameter, and urban-rural interactions. As a result, we know little about the political economy of this first urban center in China.”

I’m not sure how much overall effect this will have, but it is nice to see a firm call to move away from the centralized narrative that has dominated Chinese protohistory for so long.

via aardvarchaeology


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