The Origins and Prehistory of Ancient China’s Hsia Dynasty


Detail from the hand scroll Pure and Remote View of Streams and Mountains, one of Xia Gui’s most important works / Wikimedia Commons

Interesting myths and fascinating legends about Yü and the origins of the Hsia abound.


By Dr. Ralph D. Sawyer
Senior Research Fellow
University of Massachusetts


The existence of the Hsia, traditionally regarded as the first of China’s three great founding dynasties and one of the chief progenitors of Chinese civilization, has not only long been questioned but also vehemently rejected by scholars caught up in the skeptical spirit of the past century. Although it is commonly asserted that the Hsia was a literate culture that kept records on bamboo slips, a crucial step in creating a rudimentary administrative system, none have been found, and little other evidence for writing has been recovered apart from a number of recurring symbols that appear to be forerunners of certain common Chinese characters.1 Moreover, despite the evidence for an obviously vibrant civilization having existed at Erh-li-t’ou, no written references to the Hsia appear prior to the Chou, including in Shang oracular inscriptions, where some boastful hints might be expected.2 When not rejected outright, the Hsia has therefore been generally ignored, with even the comprehensive Cambridge History of Ancient China commencing its study with the Shang, the earliest dynasty for which literate materials such as oracle bones and bronze inscriptions have been recovered.

However, other historians have concluded that the increasingly massive and detailed archaeological evidence uncovered in recent decades incontrovertibly indicates that the Hsia not only constituted a powerful political entity, but also controlled or otherwise influenced a substantial area in central China from an original administrative center around Mt. Sung in Chung-yüeh.3 Once they emerged as a dynastic state, their core domain ranged from Yü-hsi in Henan, especially the Luo-yang plains and Yi, Luo, and (the upper reach of the) Ying river areas, through Chin-nan in Shanxi and westward into the eastern part of Kuan-chung, including the Fen, Hui, and Su river basins, as well as northern parts of Hubei and southern parts of Hebei.4 Moreover, by identifying the Hsia with the late Lungshan, Hsin-chai, and Erh-li-t’ou cultural layers, these historians believe an essentially reliable history can be compiled that coherently integrates Warring States written accounts of the thirteen generations and sixteen kings with site reports and recovered artifacts.5

Painted Pottery funerary urn, Neolithic Banshan phase, c. 3000 bc, from Yangshao, Henan province, China; in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm. Height 33.5 cm. / Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (MFEA), Östasiatiska Museet, Stockholm

The resulting portrait depicts a transition from scattered Neolithic settlements to a few dominant fortified towns accompanied by social stratification, economic differentiation, and gradual immersion in warfare of unspecified character. Thus, given the current startling discoveries and plethora of references to the Hsia throughout Chinese history, it seems more reasonable to assume that a proto-state known as the Hsia emerged through vigorous, aggressive action than to dogmatically assert its nonexistence and then examine the era’s military history. Moreover, despite being dubious or perhaps even worthless, it is also necessary to scrutinize traditional historical accounts and conceptions because of their impact on military and political thought in subsequent ages.

Interesting myths and fascinating legends about Yü and the origins of the Hsia, largely irrelevant to the study of China’s military history, abound. However, Yü has always been accorded universal recognition as the Hsia’s first monarch, founder of the line that ruled the state and controlled its domain until the Shang finally ousted the tyrant Chieh. Some accounts identify him as a fourth-generation descendant of the Yellow Emperor, thereby implying a sanctified authority rivaling the other two Sage emperors, Yao and Shun, but most assert that Shun voluntarily ceded the emperorship to him because he was the most virtuous and qualified person in the realm.6

Yü, however, apparently contravened this virtuous precedent by passing the throne to his son and thus established clan rule marked by lineal descent, an act for which his detractors have condemned him. In response, his admirers have rationalized, if not justified, this blatantly selfish lapse by claiming that the people voluntarily flocked to his son rather than to Yi, the righteous figure to whom he purportedly yielded, or that the mandate had been decreed by Heaven and therefore no man, not even Yü, could contravene it.7

No matter how disparate and steeped in myth these depictions may be, the Hsia’s founding figures have always been defined by their achievements in water management and China’s fabled bureaucracy envisioned as originating in the quest to master the associated administrative difficulties. 8Undertaken at Shun’s behest, Yü’s ultimate, perhaps sole, achievement was taming the floods that periodically inundated the Yellow River basin by planning and overseeing the construction of ditches and canals to disperse them. His method differed radically from that of his father, Kun, whom Emperor Yao, Shun’s predecessor, had similarly saddled with taming the rampant waters but who had failed because his levees and dams ultimately impeded their flow, resulting in disaster whenever seasonal surges from rain or melting snow burst through them. The dikes also caused silt to be deposited in the river’s channel rather than allowing it to refertilize the fields, blocking the flow and raising the riverbed.9

According to the classic account found in Mencius:

In Yao’s era, when the world was not yet tranquil, the rampant waters flowed uncontrollably, inundating the terrain everywhere under Heaven. Grasses and trees grew luxuriantly, birds and beasts proliferated and prospered. The five grains did not flourish, birds and beasts encroached upon the people. Trails from hooves and tracks from birds transected the Middle States. Yao, alone being troubled by this, entrusted Shun with responsibility for administering corrective measures.

Shun therefore had Yi employ incendiary techniques, so Yi ignited and burned the mountains and marshes, forcing the birds and beasts to flee for refuge. Yü deepened the Nine Rivers and dredged the Chi and T’a, facilitating their flow toward the sea. He cleared out the obstacles in the Ju and Han Rivers and arrayed the Huai and Ssu, facilitating their flow into the Yangtze. Only thereafter could the Middle States feed themselves. During this time Yü spent eight years outside his home, and even though he passed by his gate three times, never entered it.10

Making dikes on the Yellow River / Public Domain

Since water has always been crucial for irrigation and daily life, as well as exploitable for defense and occasionally offense, the Hsia’s entwinement with hydraulic engineering may have many unexplored implications for military history.

Even though the techniques for constructing earthen fortifications were already well advanced in the Yangshao and Lungshan periods, because he tried to constrain the rampant waters by “walling” them with dikes, Kun has traditionally been credited with building the first walls and sometimes condemned for thereby antagonizing the people. For example, in a chapter devoted to warning about the perils entailed in abandoning the Great Tao (synonymous with the true, natural Way) and instead relying on the “minor techniques” that governments and administrations invariably employ to their own detriment, the Huai-nan Tzu observed:

In antiquity, when Kun of the Hsia erected a wall three jen

high, the feudal lords turned their backs upon it and those beyond the seas developed crafty hearts. When Yü learned that All under Heaven were in revolt, he destroyed the walls and leveled the moats, dispersed goods and wealth to the people, buried their armor and weapons, and overspread them with Virtue. Those beyond the seas then came as submissive guests and the Four Yi offered tribute. When he assembled the feudal lords at Mount T’u, a myriad states came bearing symbolic jade pendants and silks.11

In the same spirit the passage concludes: “When armor is made solid, weapons become sharp; when walls are erected, assaults are born.” This sort of thinking represents a divergent but crucial trend in Chinese political thought that believed artifice provokes retaliation and warfare and therefore envisioned a return to primary Virtues implemented in selfless fashion as the only solution. 12

Although legends clearly speak of three Sage emperors, Yü may simply have been an emblematic clan figure who symbolized the tribe’s devotion to water management, a focus that resulted in ameliorating dramatic river fluctuations, reducing the catastrophes that apparently plagued the realm from 4000 to 3000 BCE while increasing agricultural productivity.13 Although a millennium or more before Yü’s purported era, this would be particularly appropriate considering that the Hsia’s progenitor has always been said to be Hou Chi, Lord of the Millet, and the Hsia itself is thought to have emerged through agricultural strength, including perhaps irrigation measures that ensured surpluses sufficient to support diverting vital manpower to military tasks.

Yü’s achievements were naturally magnified as these legends evolved in the Warring States and beyond, resulting in the evolution of alternative interpretations. For example, Yü’s father had supposedly been banished, imprisoned, or even executed for failing in this same task despite laboring for nine exhausting years, but his fate may have stemmed from other causes, such as irreverently criticizing Yao for ceding the throne to Shun, or may simply represent the result of two clans, both descended from the Yellow Emperor, clashing. Remarkably, Yü still accepted Shun’s mandate to undertake the onerous task, thereby submitting to the newly established emperor and acting to reduce the people’s misery:14

In the time of Emperor Yao the overflowing waters filled Heaven and expansively embraced the mountains and heights, causing misery to the people below. When Yao sought for someone who could control the waters, his ministers and the Four Chiefs all said that Kun could. Yao said, “Kun is someone who rebels against orders and injures his clan. He cannot.” The Four Chiefs all responded: “If you rank everyone, no one is more worthy than Kun. We would like you to test him.” Thereupon Yao listened to the Four Chiefs and employed Kun to control the waters. Nine years passed but the waters had not yet been stilled nor had his efforts proven successful.

Chinese Emperor Yao / Li Ung Bin, Outlines of Chinese History, shanghai 1914, Wikimedia Commons

Yao then searched for someone to undertake the task and again got Kun. Thereafter Shun ascended to employment, personally assumed the Son of Heaven’s administrative tasks, and undertook an imperial tour of inspection. When his travels revealed that Kun’s efforts to tame the waters lacked visible achievement, he imprisoned him at Mount Yü to await death. Without exception, All under Heaven viewed Shun’s imposition of punishment as correct. Shun then raised up Kun’s son Yü to continue Kun’s responsibility.

When Yao died, Emperor Shun asked the Four Chiefs, “Who may fruitfully complete Yao’s task and serve as chief official?” They all replied, “If Duke Yü is made Director of Works, he can successfully complete Yao’s achievements.” Shun said, “Let it be so” and then ordered Yü, “Exert yourself in leveling the waters and the land!” Yü bowed his head to the ground in obeisance, but yielded to Hsieh, Hou Chi, and Kao-yao. Shun said, “Go and oversee your work.”

Yü was quick, perceptive, capable, and resilient. He never contravened Virtue, his benevolence was approachable, his words were credible, his utterances became legal statutes, his body exemplified measure, and his actions were weighed. Relentless and industrious, he was a standard and model. Yü accordingly undertook to fulfill the emperor’s mandate together with Yi and Hou Chi. He ordered the feudal lords and hundred surnames to mobilize labor forces in order to shift the earth. He traveled among the mountains marking out the trees [for roads] and defined the high mountains and great rivers.

Yü, perturbed that his father Kun’s efforts had not been successful and that he had been executed, labored his body and troubled his mind. He dwelled outside for thirteen years without ever daring to go inside his gate even when passing by his house. He kept his clothes sparse but was respectfully filial to ghosts and spirits. He kept his palaces meager but expended all his funds for ditches and channels. When traveling on land he mounted a chariot, when traveling on water he employed a boat, when traveling on mud he used wood plank shoes, and when traveling in the mountains he employed spiked shoes. In his left hand he held a level and cord, in his right a compass and square.

He recorded the [effects of] the four seasons in order to open the Nine Provinces, connect the nine river ways, bank up the nine marshes, and measure the nine mountains. He ordered Yi to give rice to the common people for planting in the low-lying wetlands. He ordered Hou Chi to provide the people with food difficult to obtain. When their foodstuffs were few, he balanced them with excesses from areas of plenty in order to equalize the feudal lords. Yü then implemented the system of tribute based upon what was appropriate to each area and thus facilitated the profits of the mountains and rivers.15

Several odes in the Shih Ching also stress Yü’s work ethic and self-sacrifice, creating a much-admired persona that would be cited whenever later bureaucrats wanted to inspire the people or indirectly rebuke a profligate ruler.

Emperor Shun / Public Domain

Various dates, derived in part from early written sources but significantly modified to reflect radiocarbon techniques, have been assigned to the Hsia dynasty, with 2200 to 1750 BCE and 2200 to 1600 BCE having previously been the most common. However, 2100 to 1521 BCE is now deemed orthodox despite considerable criticism, acrimonious counterarguments, and a probable Shang conquest date of 1600. The preceding era—the mid- to late third millennium BCE, which witnessed a sudden proliferation in weapons, the expansion of defensive fortifications, and initial utilization of bronze in warfare—has long been revered as the age of heroes. Reflecting a thrust toward demythologizing antique legends, the vaunted cultural icons have been apportioned to the middle and late centuries, though not without ongoing disagreements about specifics.16

It is also possible to envision these icons’ reigns not as singular events but instead as sequences of ten or twelve generations, broad indicators of various stages of civilization symbolized by certain heroic characteristics, obviating the need for unattainable chronological precision. 17 However, it should not be forgotten that they are all noted for their military accomplishments as much as for their contributions to cultural and material life.18 Whatever the actual dates of their reigns, the traditional accounts clearly reflect the emergence of great chieftains who were increasingly glorified with the passage of time, Yü thus becoming the first “global” ruler.

Generally speaking, the Yellow Emperor has traditionally been seen as active about 2700 or 2600 BCE;19 Yao dominated the stage somewhere around 2300 or 2200; Shun ascended to power about 2200 or 2100; and Yü, identified as the Hsia’s first monarch and the dynasty’s progenitor, arose sometime in the twenty-first century BCE.20 A number of reign periods and key events, including Yü’s ascension, have recently been computed from important eclipses and other astronomical observations, such as a rare five-planet conjunction, embedded in the Bamboo Annals and other Warring States compilations, many well argued but others wildly speculative. Among the possibilities suggested for these legendary totemic figures are 3709-2221 BCE for the Yellow Emperor, 2397-2275 for Yao, and 2274-2222 for Shun,21 while 1953 BCE seems to be the best possibility for Yü’s first year as ruler.22

The question of Hsia precursors is too complex to pursue in detail even if, as here, Erh-li-t’ou culture is considered synonymous with the historical entity known as the Hsia and late Lungshan manifestations are deemed predynastic forms. Nevertheless, certain aspects of their ascension to power deserve contemplation because the Hsia undoubtedly emerged through conflict. Unfortunately, frequent shifts of their early capital and the contentious nature of origination theories, including that they evolved from Henan Lungshan culture through early Hsin-chai manifestations into early Erh-li-t’ou,23 considerably complicate the effort. The larger question as to whether or not the Hsia, Shang, and Chou were ethnically homogenous, whether they had a single or multiple origins, also looms large.24

The Hsia might be understood as a chiefdom that began as a localized power, perhaps one marked by a rudimentary administrative apparatus, but evolved into a despotic form of overarching rulership through struggle and coercion rather than acclamation.25 Emperor Yü emblematizes this transition from an alliance chieftain to an incipient despot, from the stage of loosely grouped settlements to a somewhat integrated domain. Moreover, in contrast to legends that extol the virtuous Sage rulers voluntarily yielding to the most worthy, traditional accounts indicate a highly lethal clash developed over Yü’s successor.26 Whatever its inception, in some sense the proto-dynastic Hsia state can therefore be understood as commencing with Yü.27

Any attempt to chronicle Hsia history can perhaps be reduced to two mutually entangled questions: Where did they originate, and when did a minimal Hsia identity emerge? The quest for origins necessarily begins in the area that they presumably controlled in their final embodiment at Erh-li-t’ou: much of Henan and Shanxi, a possible early administrative center around Mt. Sung in Chung-yüeh, the upper reaches of the Ying and Ju rivers, the Fen and Hui river areas, and other areas previously noted, including strongpoints at the perimeter such as P’anlung-ch’eng. However, without doubt, the Hsia’s core domain migrated from a somewhat peripheral, still-disputed origination point to a focal area around the Yi and Luo rivers, including Cheng-chou and Yen-shih.

The question of precursors is complicated by the several distinctive cultures then populating greater China, not just constantly evolving but interacting in every imaginable way, ranging from mutual infusion through displacement and armed conflict. Contrary to the long-held but now-discredited traditional view that all cultural developments radiated outward, the direction of influence constantly shifted throughout the Yangshao and Lungshan periods, no single group or culture always predominating. Rather than inventions, practices, and beliefs simply flowing outward, attributes from peripheral cultures, especially those evolving in the east and southeast, significantly affected the core.28

The widely accepted assumption that the Hsia evolved directly out of the Lungshan cultural stage or a particular variant such as Henan or Shandong Lungshan has recently been challenged and even rejected in favor of other possibilities.29 However, because of the incontrovertible presence of Lungshan elements in the core Hsia domain immediately before its appearance, the basic question tends to be whether late Lungshan is synonymous with early Erh-li-t’ou, Erh-li-t’ou culture is Lungshan’s direct successor, or some other culture or intermediate stage intercedes. Somewhat less orthodox but still a possibility is that Erh-li-t’ou culture represents a derivation from some other culture or combination of cultures, including Tung Yi, Liang-chu, and Yüeh-shih.30

The idea that pre-Hsia culture evolved in the east along the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, either in Shandong or Henan, has numerous proponents, including those who posit an eastern origin for the Yellow Emperor.31 Perhaps the most interesting formulation stresses that multiple shifts in the Yellow River’s course in Shandong compelled a greater intermixing of peoples (and presumably conflict over territory and resources),32 especially in the contentious region between the Chi and Yellow rivers where the Hsia would eventually clash with the incipient Shang.33 In antiquity the Hai-tai region (which essentially encompasses the area in Shandong between the Yellow River and the Yellow Sea and up to the Pohai gulf but not the Shandong peninsula) was a particularly fertile area due to the lowest reaches of the Yellow River constantly shifting and flooding. The cultures that arose there, including Pei-hsin, Ta-wen-k’ou, and Lungshan, are known to have dynamically interacted with central China at various stages. Well-fortified towns developed in the Lungshan period, and regional centers such as Ch’eng-tzu-yai and Pien-shien-wang, situated about 100 li apart, emerged.34

In contrast, the perceived continuity of cultures from Lungshan to Erh-li-t’ou at Teng-feng and Yü-chou on the upper reaches of the Ying River have caused the area to be proposed as a possible western origination point for Hsia culture.35 The inhospitable nature of much of the general area would have favored the unimpeded evolution of isolated groups, but also thwarted expansion and amalgamation. The lower reaches of the Fen River and its tributaries, site of the T’ao-ssu Lungshan culture, have also been suggested as probable sources, as well as equally rej ected.36

Finally, based on the (perhaps dubious) perception that many of the Hsia’s important cultural elements, including covenants, marriage customs, esteem for jade,37 large axes, military expeditions, agricultural practices, sericulture, and sacrifice, all originated in the southeast, a southern inception theory has also been proposed. Furthermore, the disappearance of Liang-chu culture and the migration of their populace into the central region coincident with the Hsia’s ascension raises questions about the nature of their interaction.38

Irrespective of their point of origination or whether they were not instead an amalgamation of different peoples,39 the era immediately preceding the Hsia clearly witnessed a fairly rapid transition from somewhat isolated settlements with rudimentary defenses to well-protected towns and regional centers marked by defensive systems consisting of massive walls and conjoined moats. Because of the incredible manpower required in an age of stone tools, complex fortifications would never have evolved without the compulsive effects of fear or pervasive concern about raids and destructive assaults.

Without doubt the increasing population, closer proximity of the settlements, reduced viability of external resources acquired through hunting and fishing, and a greater emphasis on agricultural practices that were polluting and exhausting the land and compelled occasional shifts of the populace caused an escalation in the frequency and lethality of conflict in the centuries preceding the Hsia’s appearance. Whether through coping with these threats or other challenges, more powerful clan chiefs emerged who acquired the power of life and death over others, as well as the ability to compel participation in massive civil projects, including the construction of palace foundations, levees, and walls, thereby reinforcing their own authority.40 New weapons evolved and society acquired a much more martial character, with military values being esteemed and deceased warriors increasingly being honored by the presence of weapons, especially battle axes, in their graves, particularly in late Erh-li-t’ou culture.

Finally, although the Hsia’s administrative structure and their agricultural growth are often attributed to their success in mitigating the damage caused by flooding during the comparatively wet predynastic period and controlling the waters themselves, from the early Hsia to its extinction the climate became significantly drier.41 More wells had to be dug, and conflict objectives probably changed somewhat from struggling to occupy dry, relatively secure mounds and other high points near vital water resources to battling for control of dwindling wetland areas.42 The diminished rainfall would also have reduced the land and aquatic animal populations, causing significantly increased competition for their acquisition.

Notes

  1. For a discussion of Hsia writing see Ts’ao Ting-yün, KK 2004:12, pp. 76-83; Li Ch’iao, HCCHS 1992:5, 21-26; and Ch’ang Yao-hua, HYCLC, 1996, 252-265. For writing’s inception in China see Feng Shih, KK 1994:1, 37-54; Wang Heng-chieh, KK 1991:12, 1119-1120, 1108; or Wang En-t’ien et al., “Chuan-chia P’i-t’an Ting-kung Yi-chih Ch’u-t’u T’ao-wen,” KK 1993:4, 344-354, 375. Feng Shih (KKHP 2008:3, 273-290) has recently argued that the two characters on a pottery shard recovered from T’ao-ssu at Hsiang-fen should be interpreted as “wen yi” and therefore evidence for the Hsia capital and proof of the Hsia’s existence. Chao Kuang-hsien (HYCLC, 1996, 122-123), among others, sees sufficient proof of the Hsia’s existence in early texts.
  2. Ch’en Ch’un and Kung Hsin, HCCHS 2004:6, 3-12. See also Ch’en Chih, CKSYC 2004:1, 3-22.
  3. For example, see Ho Chien-an, HCCHS 1987:1, 33-46; Chang T’ien-en, KKWW 2000:3, 44-50, 84; Li Wei-ming, HCCHS 2005:5, 40-45; and Chang Te-shui, HYCLC, 1996, 170-175.
  4. Tu Cheng-sheng, KK 1991:1, 43-56; Chang Te-shui, HYCLC, 1996, 170-175.
  5. For typical expressions see Shen Ch’ang-yün, HCCHS 2005:5, 8-15, or Tu Yung, HCCHS 2006:6, 3-7; for a brief summary of the conflicting viewpoints, see Wang Hsüeh-jung and Hsü Hung, KK 2006:9, 83-90; for Hsin-chai see, for example, Fang Yu-sheng, HCCHS 2003:1, 35- 39, or Yao Cheng-ch’üan et al., KK 2007:3, 90-96; and for a concise overview of later literary materials referring to the Hsia, see Chao Kuang-hsien, HYCLC, 1996, 122-123.
  6. For a convenient summary of the Warring States textual records, see Ch’en Ku-ying, HCCHS 1985:7, 10-13. Although it subsequently received great impetus from Confucian thinkers and Mo-tzu, the myth of yielding first appeared in the early Western Chou, roughly four hundred years before Confucius. (For the latter see Yu Shen, HCCHS 2006:3, 39-44, and for a general analysis Chiang Ch’ung-yao, HCCHS 2007:1, 41-46, or Ch’ien Yao-p’eng, HCCHS 2001:1, 32-42.)
  7. Mencius’s discussion in “Wang-chang” may be taken as definitive, but see also Fang Chieh, HHYC 11:1 (1993): 15-28. There is no evidence that Heaven was ever conceived of as an active entity in Yü’s time.
  8. This was the essential premise of Wittfogel’s well-known but now (perhaps too thoroughly) rejected work, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power. (The need to coerce people into building embankments and organize them for the work must have stimulated bureaucratic growth to at least some extent.) For recent discussions of the “hydraulic thesis”—primarily rejections—see Chang Kung, CKKTS 1994:2, 4-18; Chou Tzu-ch’iang, CKKTS 1994:2, 19-30; Liu Hsiu-ming, CKSYC, 1994:2, 10-18; and Yü Shu-sheng, CKSYC, 1994:2, 3-9. Nevertheless, water management is seen as a decidedly important Hsia accomplishment. (See, for example, Li Hsien-teng, HYCLC, 1996, 27-34.)
  9. For further discussions see Joseph Needham, Civil Engineering and Nautics, 247ff, or the more traditional account in Meng Shih-k’ai, Hsia Shang Shih-hua, 149-154. In two different passages (IIIB9 and VIB11), Mencius clearly asserts that Yü accorded with water’s natural patterns and removed obstacles to its flow.
  10. Mencius, IIIA4, “T’eng-wen Kung, Hsia.” (Since it recurs while describing other sages in IVB29, “passing one’s gate three times” apparently represents Mencius’s ideal of self-denial.) The legend of Yü taming the waters dates to the middle of the Western Chou. (See Li Hsüehch’in, HCCHS 2005:5, 6; Tuan Yü, HCCHS 2005:1, 110-116; and Anne Birrell, TP 83 [1997]: 213-259.) Water played an important role in early China’s contemplative tradition, including as a focal element in the Tao Te Ching and as an image for irrepressible power in the military writings.
  11. “Yüan Tao.”
  12. Variants of this perspective are preserved in military writings as the Ssu-ma Fa, Six Secret Teachings, and Three Strategies of Huang Shih-kung. (For further discussion, see Sawyer, Tao of War, or T’ai Kung Liu-t’ao [Six Secret Teachings].)
  13. Apart from the problems invariably posed by seasonal rains, there was a period of maximum flooding from 4000 to 3000 BCE due to increased moisture levels that effectively sundered Hebei. (See Han Chia-ku, KK 2000:5, 57-67.) Miao Ya-chüan (HCCHS 2004:3, 13-19, 26) has even asserted that flooding caused the demise of the Lungshan culture and facilitated the Hsia’s rise because their leaders combined warfare with expertise in curbing water’s destructive effects.
  14. “Hsia Pen-chi,” Shih Chi. However, see Hsia Shih Shih-hua, 149-164, for a more extensive examination of the relevant accounts.
  15. Just as in the Shang Shu (upon which the Shih Chi account is probably based), the chapter continues with a lengthy description of Yü’s accomplishments and enumerates the chief characteristics of the Nine Provinces he demarked. These descriptions represent early attempts to compile topographical knowledge for administrative and military purposes.
  16. Every conceivable intellectual discipline has been employed to demythologize tales about the ancient sages. (See, for example, Yi Mou-yüan, HCCHS 1991:2, 4-12; Huang Hsin-chia, HCCHS 1993:11, 25-32; and Feng T’ien-yü, HCCHS 1984:11, 5-14.)
  17. Yen Wen-ming, WW 1992:1, 25, 40-49.
  18. Yen Wen-ming, WW 1992:1, 25, 40-49.
  19. See, for example, Hu Chia-ts’ung, HCCHS 1991:1, 19-26; Li Hsüeh-ch’in, HCCHS 2005:5, 5; and Wang Hui, KKHP 2007:1, 1-28. More compressed dates have also been suggested for the semilegendary Sages, such as 2400 to 2000 BCE. (For example, T’ien Chi-chou, HCCHS 1985:9, 25-32.)See, among many, Ch’eng P’ing-shan, HCCHS 2004:5, 10-21, and P’an Chi-an, KKWW 2007:1, 55-61. (P’an believes that T’ao-ssu, which has been suggested as Yao’s capital of P’ing-yang, served as the Yellow Emperor’s capital.)
  20. See, among many, Ch’eng P’ing-shan, HCCHS 2004:5, 10-21, and P’an Chi-an, KKWW 2007:1, 55-61. (P’an believes that T’ao-ssu, which has been suggested as Yao’s capital of P’ing-yang, served as the Yellow Emperor’s capital.)
  21. These are the dates suggested by Chao En-yü, HCCHS 1985:11, 17-19, who opts for eras rather than realistic life spans. Based on astronomical data, he also claims that Yü’s reign had to commence in either 2221 or 2161 BCE and that it lasted for thirty-three years. (However, Chao contradicts his own astronomical dating in concluding that Yü ascended the throne in 2227 and ruled for thirty-nine years.)
  22. Stimulated by David Nivison, a series of articles by David Pankenier, Edward Shaughnessy, Kevin Pang, and others two decades ago argued whether the data found in traditional accounts are original or the result of later accretions and reconstructions; whether the phenomena would have been observable or were just extrapolated from other observations; the resolution of various discrepancies; and which records might be deemed authoritative. Based on a passage in the Mo-tzu and a five-planet conjunction, David Pankenier, concluded that Shun’s fourteenth year—1953 BCE—was Yü the Great’s first de jure year as the Hsia’s progenitor (EC 9-10 [1983- 1985] : 175-183, and EC 7 [1981-1982]: 2-37). Other critical articles, some of which focus on the broader issue of the reliability of the old and new text versions of the Bamboo Annals, include E. L. Shaughnessy, HJAS 46, no. 1 (1986): 149-180, also reprinted in Before Confucius, and his important article in EC 11-12 (1985-1987): 33-60; and David S. Nivison and Kevin D. Pang, EC 15 (1990): 86-95, with additional discussion and responses, 97-196. (For useful discussions of the Old Text/New Text controversy, see Michael Nylan, TP 80:1-3 [1994], 83-145 and TP 81:1-3 [1995], 22-50, and Hans Van Ess, TP 80:1-3 [1994]: 149-170.)
  23. For example, see Chao Chih-ch’üan, KKWW 1999:2, 23-29.
  24. The late K. C. Chang is most prominently associated with this debate, but for concise versions of single origination see Cheng Kuang, KKWW 2000:3, 33-43; T’ien Chi-chou, HCCHS 1985:9, 25-32; and Yü Feng-ch’un (who examines the Shih Chi’s depiction), 2007:2, 21-34.
  25. Ho Chien-an, HCCHS 1986:6, 33-46; T’ien Chi-chou, HCCHS 1985:9, 25-32; Li Min, HCCHS 2005:3, 6-8, 13; and Hsü Shun-chan, HYCLC, 1996, 128-135.
  26. His failure to yield, a topic of heated argument over the centuries, continues to be an issue. (For a recent example, see Fang Chieh, HHYC 11:1 [1993], 15-28.)
  27. For an expression of this view see T’ien Chi-chou, HCCHS 1985:9, 25-32.
  28. For an overview that charts the period of greatest eastern influence see Luan Feng-shih, KK 1996:4, 45-58.
  29. For example, see Tsou Heng, KKWW 1999:5, 50-54.
  30. For one formulation of the amalgamated view, see Wang Hsün, KKWW 1997:3, 61-68. For a useful discussion of Yüeh-shih culture, see Tsou Heng, HSCLWC, 64-83. (Note that Tsou cites dates of 1765 to 1490 BCE, far too late to have contributed to the predynastic Hsia.)
  31. Among many, see Tu Cheng-sheng, KK 1991:1, 43-56.
  32. For example, see Wang Ch’ing, CKSYC 1996:2, 125-132.
  33. Fang Yu-sheng, HCCHS 1996:6, 33-39, and Shen Ch’eng-yün, CKSYC 1994:3, 113-122.
  34. Wu Ju-tso, CKKTS 1995:8, 12-20.
  35. For expressions of this thesis, see An Chin-huai, KKWW 1997:3, 54-60; Chu Kuang-hua, KKWW 2002:4, 19-26; and Wei Ch’ung-wen, HCCHS 1991:6, 29-31. However, Ho Chien-an, HCCHS 1986:6, 33-34, believes that the Lungshan Wang-wan manifestation found there and in the eastern part of Yü-hsi around the Loyang plains and in the Yü-hsien to Cheng-chou corridor would have had to pass through the Mei-shan stage before possibly expanding to transform to Erh-li-t’ou culture.
  36. For example, Wei Ch’ung-wen, HCCHS 1991:6, 29-31, believes T’ao-ssu was probably the focal location for Yao, Shun, and Yü, while Feng Shih, KKHP 2008:3, 273-290, has concluded that the Hsia should be identified with T’ao-ssu culture.
  37. Just like bronze in the Shang, jade was the material of privileged artifacts in the Hsia (Wen Hui-fang, HCCHS 2001:5, 61-68).
  38. Ch’en Sheng-yung, HCCHS 1991:5, 15-36. These assertions raise more questions than they answer—did the Hsia prevail through warfare, cultural power, or some other factor that allowed them to absorb the Liang-chu manifestation ? (Some historians have suggested that Liang-chu culture was essentially contemporaneous.)
  39. Li Liu and Hung Xu, Antiquity 81 (2007): 893-894, and WW 2008:1, 43-52, claim that the Hsia (in its Erh-li-t’ou manifestation) was populated by multiple groups rather than a single clan that emigrated into the area and that it had precursors in Yangshao and Lungshan cultures.
  40. Various dates (such as 3200 BCE) have been suggested for the inception of the simple chiefdoms that mark a transition from (Marxist-postulated) matriarchical societies to patriarchical ones. (For example, see Chang Chung-p’ei, HCCHS 2000:4, 2-24.) The power to sacrifice or punitively slay others clearly existed in the Hsia and apparently the late Lungshan as well, though decapitated and contorted bodies pose the different problem of distinguishing sacrificial and battle victims. (An example would be the three recovered at Shaanxi Ch’ang-an K’o-shengchuang, for which see Chang Chih-heng, HYCLC, 1996, 109-112.)
  41. Wei Chi-yin, KKWW 2007:6, 44-50.

From Ancient Chinese Warfare, by Ralph D. Sawyer (Basic Books, 03.01.2011), published by Erenow, public open access.

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