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The Splendid Ancient Cultures Of China

Fourteen thousand years ago saw the dawn of the Neolithic Age on the Chinese mainland. Five thousand years before that had come the Chalcolithic Age. Sites relating to these two periods are located along the Yellow and Yangtze River valleys in northern and southern China. While the cultures of these two ages shared some common historical characteristics, they also gave us a picture of much diversity. An observer likened these cultures to "thousands of stars on the sky".

Humans no longer depended on fruits and animals, or the other bounties of nature. They began to plant crops and raise livestock. The crops met the geographical conditions of each particular region, so rice became the staple crop in southern China, while millet in northern China. Production tools saw a great advancement in technology - stone artefacts were polished and sharp-bladed and jade artefacts were finely made. Pottery was also invented at this time and developed rather rapidly. Ancient people produced coloured pottery such as those of the Yangshao and Majiayao cultures, and black pottery like lacquers such as those of Longshan Culture. The development of brass metallurgy was one of the outstanding achievements of the period. Small tools such as awls and chisels were made from copper. The earliest bronze mirrors in China were also found at this time.

Human living arrangements changed dramatically. People moved out of caves and onto the plains and began to build houses. They lived together in clans. Their houses clustered in a group to form a village, with a ditch outside to protect them from invaders. Their spiritual life too was further advanced, with people having a stronger sense of religion and aesthetics. They built altars to sacrifice to their gods, with animals as offerings and jade implements as sacrificial utensils. Many jade artefacts were square on the outside and circular inside, mirroring the ancient beliefs that heaven and earth connect together, that the heaven and human beings join as one. In the Hongshan Culture, statues of goddesses were found in temples dedicated to them. Coloured potteries with fish, deer, frog and human images revealed the aesthetic sense of the period. Five persons dancing hand in hand, human faces and fish were the main images of the Majiayao Culture, and their simple lines and fluent strokes were classic examples of ancient Chinese art.