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Building the Chronology of Early Chinese History

From: Asian Perspectives
Volume 41, Number 1, Spring 2002
pp. 15-42 | 10.1353/asi.2002.0006

Abstract

Abstract:

The generally accepted chronology of Chinese history begins in 841 B.C., seventy years before the end of the Western Zhou Dynasty. In Shiji, Sima Qian (c. 145–89 B.C.) compiled a chronological table of twelve contemporary states starting with 841 B.C. Over the past two thousand years, scholars have tried to extend the dates farther back, but without agreement. The Xia-Shang-Zhou Chronology Project was recently commissioned by the Chinese Government to systematically reconstruct a reliable chronology of early Chinese history starting with the Xia Dynasty. After almost five years and the efforts of some 200 experts in different fields of study, a new chronological table of early China was disseminated in November 2000. It was anticipated that all future discussions on the absolute dates of early China would have to be based on the project's results. This paper discusses the main debates stimulated by the project and critically evaluates the methodology it employed. As a well-informed observer of the project, the author becomes aware of a number of intriguing issues regarding the study of the past in China, such as politics and the reconstruction of the past, the relationship between the archaeological record and the documentary record, and the compatibility of archaeological dates and historical dates. A discussion of these issues has broad implications for archaeology in other parts of the world.



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