Saturday, September 10, 2011

Migration 4: Civilization, The Chinese View

The view of Homo sapiens as the migrating primate spreading out of Africa and penetrating much of the Earth in a few tens of millennia is summed up in maps like this one from Wikipedia, based on sampling of mitochondrial DNA. From .

This single-origin thesis is challenged especially by Chinese work, in a view set out in "The Formation of Chinese Civilization", Chang Kwang-chih et al., 2002. Chang writes that theory in The West sees production and technology as the driver of civilization's development, whereas the Chinese see political processes as most important. However, their work seems most useful for the period beginning with the Neolithic revolution brought on by the invention of domestication. For what is presented in the book is a case study in the suppression of the mutual-support, migratory, hunting/gathering social organization humans had known in its spread up to 15 millennia ago. That is, the evidence and arguments presented in that book  show how the organization we now have, so foreign to the mutual-support migrating band, developed, layering over the genetic-based predilections that had made us such successful migrants. 

Here is my summary:
Rice, and then millet, were domesticated 10-7 KyrA (thousand years ago). So that by Yangshao time (7-5 KyrA), Chinese archeologists were finding evidence in the variety of cultures that male dominance was flowering as settled agriculture flourished. The population and density of villages increased; they may have had walls and moats. Matriarchy was being replaced by patriarchy, as men increasingly engaged in farming and crafts. Monogamy appeared. Private ownership & wealth was implied by grave goods. At the end of this period, temples and shamans were evident. Although there was no central deity, male ancestor worship appears.

In the Longshan time (5-4 KyrA), private ownership was well-established. The villages had, in some cases, become urban, with moated, walled cities, that may now have been used in defense against human attack, since there seemed to be a need for violence, war, to display authority based on property. Clans, based on kinship and derived from bands, were weakening as dominant male lineages brought kingship by gaining control of communal functions, such as religion, employing more and more sophisticated rituals, making appeals to heaven for a blessing. Kinship-based power was deployed in the king's service, and was eventually dissolved by the state in the time of the Shang through the Qin and Han. 

For Chang, the key to Chinese civilization is this political development, derived from agriculture-based property and leading to an integrated cosmological structure, with concentrated wealth, rich and poor, kings and their militaries, war and shamanism, bringing with it. Now although Chang seeks to distinguish a Western from a Chinese approach to civilization and its discontents, the Chinese model he describes supports comfortably the idea that agriculture, property, and consequent male dominance (monogamy/polygamy, slavery, kingship, war, etc.) are cultural inventions of the last 10 millennia, not genetic elements coded into our DNA that we evolved into by natural selection.  However humans got to China, the evidence found by Chinese archeologists so far indicates humans tried to bury their genetic inheritance under the artifacts derived from that Faustian gift of domestication.

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