China now loves archaeology. It has more to do with politics than digging

Aarcheology has become a hot topic topic in China in recent years. Even the 2021-2025 five-year plan seeks to elevate archaeology. On January 17, Li Qun announcement that China would “deploy and implement archaeological work plans during the period of the 14th Rear Five Plan”. Li, head of the National Cultural Heritage Administration of China, was Speaking at a conference where he said that 1,388 archaeological projects had been carried out in 2021.

“Previous five-year plans on cultural relics were primarily drafted by specific government departments. For the first time, it has become a national-level plan, which reflects the country’s focus on the ground,” Li Qun said. noted in 2021. The last five-year plan even set ambitious targets goal to carry out archaeological research before large urban constructions.

For Beijing, the story has a strong political angle. Keeping a grip on how the past is understood is an important project for the Chinese Communist Party.

Even President Xi Jinping has talked about promoting archaeology.

In October 2021, Xi called for the development of “Chinese-style archaeology”. The term “archaeology with Chinese characteristics” is now consecrated in official documents. What differentiates Xi from Mao is that he is not afraid of the past or that he does not want to dismantle it like Mao did during the Cultural Revolution. Xi takes great pleasure in promoting China’s history as the engine of its future.

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Archeology lands in China

Archaeological research is a growing business in China, with government departments and university research institutes conducting more ambitious excavations every year. The Institute of Archeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is sitting at the top of this chain.

Earlier in the 20and century, the study of archeology was seen as a Western import that was not accepted as a method of studying Chinese history. A Swedish geologist named Johan Gunnar Andersson sparked Chinese interest in archaeology. Anderson’s first expedition eventually led to the discovery of the famous prehistoric fossil of “Peking Man”.

Early interest in archeology in China started with the Gushi bian school or school of “skeptics of antiquity” at the beginning of the 20andCentury. The founder of the school was Gu Jiegang, who problematized The Chinese Idea of ​​the Past in the 1920s. Gu’s work is considered one of the strongest bodies of work on the modern history of the Chinese nation and he is widely regarded as the figure who re-considered the myths of early Chinese history.

Gu rejected the idea of ​​the “Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors” thesis, which identifies three rulers dating from 2852 BC. AD as the first historical figures in Chinese history. China has traditionally traced the domestication of animals, agriculture, silk clothing, writing, wooden houses and carts to this period of “three sovereigns”.

Gu instead proposed the need to rigorously examine archaeological evidence to arrive at a “correct” approach to classifying Chinese history. Gu’s ideas sparked a revolution in Chinese archaeology, following which enthusiasts and experts in Chinese history and archeology became interested in excavations.

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Father of Chinese Archeology

The work of popularizing archeology, however, would fall to another scholar named Li Ji. Li is today known as the “father of Chinese archaeology” and is credited with directing the excavations of the Yin ruins, which confirmed the existence of the capital of the Shang dynasty.

The mind-boggling discoveries made during recent excavations at the Sanxingdui site have reinvigorated the Chinese public’s interest in archaeology. Sanxingdui is a mysterious archaeological site located 40 km from the city of Chengdu in the province of Sichuan. And it’s about 3,000 years old. Several giant statues of a human figure with big eyes discovered in Sanxingdui have inspired many people theories on the origins of this mysterious culture.

Sanxingdui residents had mastered the use of bronze in the making of their intricate statues. But they left no written text and their origins remain unclear.

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New History Silk Road

New and tantalizing archaeological discoveries are on the way do in China every month. “Archaeologists have discovered more than 400 tombs dating from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770 BC-256 BC) and the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD) in Shanxi Province, China. northern China,” Xinhua News Agency reported on Jan. 17.

Archaeological research in minority regions of China is not so straightforward. In Tibet, the discovery of new archaeological sites from prehistoric times has been used by state institutions to suggest that Tibet has always been integrated into mainland China – denying Tibet’s unique history. The past then becomes a political tool in the hands of the Chinese state.

“Tibetan archeology is not a localized subject, but it is closely related to the civilizations of neighboring countries and regions, and it is an important part of the ‘Belt and Road’ cultural pattern. Therefore, its important research results have profound effects on Chinese civilization and world civilization,” wrote Huo Wei from the Institute of Tibetology at Sichuan University.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Xi’s signature, promotes the idea of ​​a “New Silk Road”, reviving old historical connections that linked Beijing to the rest of the world. Archeology is key to cementing these claims about China’s importance in world history.

“The BRI includes reimagined traditions in which history, ancient characters and archeology serve China’s chronopolitics. For Xi Jinping, the Silk Road is the “great heritage of human civilization”, a heritage of “peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit”, “wrote Maria Adele Carrai in the test titled “The Chronopolitics of the Belt and Road Initiative and Its Reimagined Histories”.

Excavation in the world

Chinese archaeologists are not only working at home, but are now sending teams around the world to excavate major sites. In 2016, a team of archaeologists from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences search the Harappan-era site of Rakhigarhi in Haryana. Chinese archaeologists also participated in excavations at the Temple of Montu in Luxor, Egypt.

For Beijing, archeology is not just a tool to understand its past, but a mechanism to translate the prehistory of the rest of the world for its citizens.

China’s new fascination with archeology is a project to place it in world history.

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