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Hongshan culture

File:C-shaped jade dragon.jpg
The C-shaped jade dragon of Hongshan Culture

The Hongshan culture (simplified Chinese: 红山文化; traditional Chinese: 紅山文化; pinyin: Hóngshān wénhuà) was a Neolithic culture in northeastern China. Hongshan sites have been found in an area stretching from Inner Mongolia to Liaoning, and dated from about 4700 to 2900 BC.[1]

The culture is named after Hongshanhou (simplified Chinese: 红山後; traditional Chinese: 紅山後; pinyin: Hóngshānhòu), a site in Hongshan District, Chifeng. The Hongshanhou site was discovered by the Japanese archaeologist Torii Ryūzō in 1908 and extensively excavated in 1935 by Kōsaku Hamada and Mizuno Seiichi.[2]


File:Neolithic pottery vessel, Hongshan Culture, Liaoning, 1988.jpg
Painted Cylindrical Pottery Vessel, Hongshan Culture (c. 4700-2900 BC), Liaoning, 1988. National Museum of China, Beijing

Hongshan burial artifacts include some of the earliest known examples of jade working. The Hongshan culture is known for its jade pig dragons and embryo dragons. Clay figurines, including figurines of pregnant women, are also found throughout Hongshan sites. Small copper rings were also excavated.[3]


The archaeological site at Niuheliang is a unique ritual complex associated with the Hongshan culture.

Excavators have discovered an underground temple complex—which included an altar—and also cairns in Niuheliang.[4] The temple was constructed of stone platforms, with painted walls.[4] Archaeologists have given it the name Goddess Temple due to the discovery of a clay female head with jade inlaid eyes.[4] It was an underground structure, 1m deep.[5] Included on its walls are mural paintings.[5]

Housed inside the Goddess Temple are clay figurines as large as three times the size of real-life humans.[4] The exceedingly large figurines are possibly deities, but for a religion not reflective in any other Chinese culture.[6]

The existence of complex trading networks and monumental architecture (such as pyramids and the Goddess Temple) point to the existence of a "chiefdom"[7] in these prehistoric communies.

Painted pottery was also discovered within the temple.[5] Over 60 nearby tombs have been unearthed, all constructed of stone and covered by stone mounds, frequently including jade artifacts.[8]

Cairns were discovered atop two nearby two hills, with either round or square stepped tombs, made of piled limestone. Entombed inside were sculptures of dragons and tortoises.[5]

It has been suggested that religious sacrifice might have been performed within the Hongshan culture.[5]

Feng shui

Just as suggested by evidence found at early Yangshao culture sites, Hongshan culture sites also provide the earliest evidence for feng shui. The presence of both round and square shapes at Hongshan culture ceremonial centers suggests an early presence of the gaitian cosmography ("round heaven, square earth").[9]

Early feng shui relied on astronomy to find correlations between humans and the universe.[10]

Relationship with other cultures

Some Chinese archaeologists such as Guo Da-shun see the Hongshan culture as an important stage of early Chinese civilization.[11] Contesting this view, historical linguist Robert Blench argues that there is no evidence that this region would have been Sinitic-speaking at this period, and that it is much more credible that the region would have been populated by non-Chinese speakers at this point.[12] Whatever the linguistic affinity of the ancient denizens, Hongshan culture is believed to have exerted an influence on the development of early Chinese civilization.[13] Hongshan culture may also have contributed to the development of settlements in ancient Korea, according to Keith Pratt.[14]

See also


  1. ^ [1] Timeline posted by National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
  2. ^ Hamada, Kosaku and Mizuno Seiichi. "Chifeng Hongshanhou," Archaeologia Orientalis, ser. A, No. 6. Far-Eastern Archaeology Society of Japan, (1938).
  3. ^ Hongshan Culture - The Jade Trade
  4. ^ a b c d Please refer to Niuheliang.
  5. ^ a b c d e [2] UNESCO State Bureau of Cultural Relics.
  6. ^ [3] Article by National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
  7. ^ [4] University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Regional Lifeways and Cultural Remains in the Northern Corridor: Chifeng International Collaborative Archaeological Research Project. Cited references: Drennan 1995; and Earle 1987, 1997.
  8. ^ [5] Exhibition Brochure, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
  9. ^ [6] Sarah M. Nelson, Rachel A. Matson, Rachel M. Roberts, Chris Rock and Robert E. Stencel: Archaeoastronomical Evidence for Wuism at the Hongshan Site of Niuheliang, 2006.
  10. ^ Sun, X. (2000) Crossing the Boundaries between Heaven and Man: Astronomy in Ancient China. In H. Selin (ed.), Astronomy Across Cultures: The History of Non-Western Astronomy. 423-454. Kluwer Academic.
  11. ^ Guo, Da-Shun 1995. Hongshan and related cultures. In: The archaeology of Northeast China: beyond the Great Wall. Nelson, Sarah M. ed. 21-64. London and New York: Routledge.
  12. ^ [7] Roger Blench(2004), Stratification in the peopling of China: how far does the linguistic evidence match genetics and archaeology? p.9
  13. ^ Kwang-chih Chang and Sarah Allan, The Formation of Chinese Civilization: An Archaeological Perspective, p. 65
  14. ^ [8] Keith Pratt(2006), Everlasting Flower, p.30.

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