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Reviewed by:
  • The Formation of Chinese Civilization: An Archaeological Perspective
  • Gregory G. Indrisano (bio)
K. C. Chang and P. Xu, editors; Introduction by S. Allan. The Formation of Chinese Civilization: An Archaeological Perspective. New Haven, CT, and Beijing: Yale University Press and New World Press, 2005. xiv, 384 pp. Cloth $65.00, ISBN 0-300-09382-9.

The Formation of Chinese Civilization is the much anticipated next volume in the Archaeology of Ancient China series, last published in 1986 (Chang 1986). The four editions of The Archaeology of Ancient China were used as textbooks in "Chinese Archaeology" courses across the English speaking world. The Archaeology of Ancient China was also an important reference tool for professionals; the information was precise and detailed, and the bibliography was an invaluable tool for further research. The Formation of Chinese Civilization continues in this tradition. This book contains an impressive quantity of raw data, site maps, and citations on a huge number of archaeological discoveries that fall within the present borders of the People's Republic of China and range in date from the Paleolithic to the Han Dynasty.

The Formation of Chinese Civilization is a beautiful book. It is printed on high-quality paper and includes 308 color plates. The book is attractively formatted and has been expertly translated and edited. The support of several private individuals and foundations make this book very affordable. The quality of the information contained in the text, in combination with the photographs and its low cost, make this book an excellent choice for Chinese archaeology courses. However, this recommendation does not come without reservation.

The book defines itself as "the story of the formation of Chinese civilization" (p. 1). This work is written from the point of view that a uniquely Chinese civilization developed inside the present borders of the People's Republic of China. This development, the text relates, began in the Paleolithic and progressed to an advanced stage of "Civilized Society." The physical remains of past activities, [End Page 382] recovered archaeologically, are used to trace this development. But where the book fails as an introductory text is that the terminology utilized to mark the thresholds of development is not well defined throughout. For example, Western readers will likely be confused by phrases like, "Yet, during this period [from the Neolithic to the Han] we see an entire history that includes the evolution of clan society from matrilineal to patrilineal, the transformation of clan society into civilized society, the spread of the ethnic cultures of the Xia and the Shang, the development of the common Huaxia (Chinese) culture in the Western Zhou, and the unification of China by the First Emperor of the Qin, a process completed by Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty" (p. 283). The terms "clan society," "civilized society," and "ethnic cultures" will be new to Western readers and the authors often fail to define their terms clearly and concisely.

Part of any course in Chinese archaeology must include the important discoveries of archaeology in China. This book could treat the discoveries outside the Central Plain and Yangzi River delta more completely, but this text still does an admirable job of presenting the important discoveries for each period in great detail. This text's most significant shortcoming is that it lacks a question-oriented approach that would aid in classroom discussion and allow the archaeological data from China to be integrated into research of similar issues in other geographic contexts. The excavated data is incorporated into the accepted theory; the theory is not questioned based on the analysis of excavated examples. This is not an exercise in semantics. This issue of whether the approach taken in the book is question based and broadly anthropological, or bound in the particularistic study of ancient China alone, is an important one when considering textbooks for western classrooms. If Western archaeologists who study China are to meet the considerable challenge made in the epilogue by K. C. Chang, "that the Chinese case can make great contributions to the formulation of general principles in the social sciences" (p. 294), then those of us who are teaching the next generation of Chinese archaeologists need textbooks that connect the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 382-387
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-24
Open Access
No
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