This paper proposes an alternative chronology for the Xia dynasty [ca. 2100-1600 BCE] based on the respective year counts and generation numbers of the Xia, Shang [ca. 1600-1046 BCE], and Zhou [1046-256 BCE] dynasties. It argues that Qi 啟 founded the Xia dynasty midway through the twentieth century BCE and further discusses questions relating to the capital cities and culture of the Xia. By integrating archeological material, it further contends that the ancient city of Wangchenggang 王城崗 located in Dengfeng 登封 was Yangcheng 陽城, the capital established by Yu 禹. It also argues that the Wadian 瓦店 site in Yuzhou 禹州 may have been inhabited by Yu and Qi, that the ancient city of Xinzhai 新砦 was an early capital of the Xia dynasty from the reigns of Qi to Shao Kang 少康, and that the Erlitou 二里頭 site was the capital of the Xia dynasty during its middle and late periods after the reign of Di Huai 帝槐. Xia culture should be approached as a concept that blends the disciplines of archeology and history and defined as the Xia people and the Xia dynasty within its region of governance or a culture whose creators mostly consisted of the Xia people. Furthermore, the ruins of the Xinzhai period represent Xia culture during its formative period, while Erlitou culture represents Xia culture during its maturity.
The abundance of classical literature and the conventions of historical studies have shaped the archaeological exploration of the origin of the state in China, starting with and centering on the identification of specific dynasties. The linear evolutionary account of the Chinese civilization, based on royal genealogies, has become mainstream. The emergence of the state has been continuously dated earlier. I argue that theoretical flaws, nationalism, and disciplinary limits have obscured the complexities of this research project. Drawing on archaeological findings, I propose a two-stage model regarding the origin of the state in East Asia.
David Shepherd Nivison (1923-2014) devoted the last three and a half decades of his life to an attempt to reconstruct the original text of the Bamboo Annals and to use that text to reconstruct the absolute chronology of ancient China. Nivison’s attempt to reconstruct that chronology involved astronomy; textual criticism, especially—though not exclusively—of the Bamboo Annals; and a considerable amount of historiographical conjecture concerning both the period of the Xia dynasty and of the Warring States period, during which, Nivison argues, the Bamboo Annals was undergoing multiple revisions. This attempt was also based on three major theses: (1) the Xia kings were named for the tiangan 天干 of the first day of the first year of their reign; (2) irregular gaps of zero, one, two, three, four, and even forty years recorded in the Bamboo Annals between the reigns of Xia kings should invariably have been two years; and (3) the final Xia king, Jie 桀, is completely mythical.
In this article, I first present Nivison’s arguments and then present a critique of those arguments, based on my own study of the Bamboo Annals. My own study of the Bamboo Annals in turn has shown three points that are important for understanding its annals of Xia: that at least some of the manuscript was damaged or lost when it was taken from the tomb, that the Western Jin editors made some mistakes in their editing of the text, and that they added commentary to the text. Based on this discussion, I conclude that Nivison’s hypothesis concerning the chronology of the Xia dynasty remains just that: a hypothesis.
Three debates on the historicity of the Xia dynasty [ca. 2100-1600 BCE] have occurred, spanning the 1920s and 1930s, the late 1900s and early 2000s, and recent years. In the first debate, Gu Jiegang 顧頡剛 [1893-1980], Wang Guowei 王國維 [1877-1927], and Xu Xusheng 徐旭生 [1888-1976] pioneered three avenues for exploring the history of the Xia period. The second debate unfolded in the context of the Doubting Antiquity School [Yigupai 疑古派] and the Believing Antiquity School [Zouchu yigu 走出疑古] and can be considered a continuation of the first debate. The third debate, which is steadily increasing in influence, features the introduction of new materials, methods, and perspectives and is informed by research into the origins of Chinese civilization, a field that is now in a phase of integration.
In a broad sense, the term “Xia culture” means the culture of the Xia dynasty [ca. 2100-1600 BCE] period. In a narrower sense, however, it refers to the culture of the Xiahou 夏后 clan of the mythical founder Yu 禹. In much of the contemporary research, the question of the primary ethnic affiliation of Xia culture is often overlooked and obscured, thus blurring the distinction between Xia culture in the broad and narrow senses. This has resulted in considerable conceptual and epistemological imprecision. Research on Xia culture can be conducted in two main ways: on the one hand, what has been called “metropolitan conjecture” and, on the other, cultural comparison. Departing from the method of cultural comparison and bringing together temporal, spatial, and cultural elements in our analysis allows us to distinguish a primary central area within the “region of Yu” that coincides with Xia culture in the narrow sense, as reflected in later phases of the Wangwan 王灣 and Meishan 煤山 regional subtypes of Longshan culture [Longshan wenhua 龍山文化], from the later phases of the various archaeological remains found within a secondary and tertiary central area, which can be included in the category of Xia culture in a broad sense. Erlitou 二里頭 culture should be regarded principally as part of Xia culture. As such, the Meishan and Wangwan subtypes of Henan Longshan culture, along with the first to the fourth phases of Erlitou culture, can be seen as making up a consistent Xia culture.
The ancient Chinese people believed that they existed at the center of the world. With the arrival of Buddhism in China came a new cosmic worldview rooted in Indian culture that destabilized the Han [huaxia 華夏] people’s long-held notions of China as the Middle Kingdom [Zhongguo 中國] and had a profound influence on medieval Daoism. Under the influence of Buddhist cosmology, Daoists reformed their idea of Middle Kingdom, for a time relinquishing its signification of China as the center of the world. Daoists had to acknowledge the existence of multiple kingdoms outside China and non-Han peoples [manyi 蠻夷] who resided on the outskirts of the so-called Middle Kingdom as potential followers of Daoism. However, during the Tang dynasty, this capacious attitude ceased to be maintained or passed on. Instead, Tang Daoists returned to a notion of Middle Kingdom that reinstated the traditional divide between Han and non-Han peoples.