The Blacks of China's First Civilization: The Xia
The first dynasty of China was Xia (She-ya). The Xia civilization of ancient China. lasted from 2205 to 1766
B.C. According to the Guben zhu Shu zhi Nien, the Xia dynasty "from Yu to Zhieh had seventeen kings... and
lasted 471 years". (Chang 1987)
Archaeologists believe that the major Xia sites are located in Shanxi and Henan. According to Chang (1987)
northern Henan towards the end of the Longshan period was the eastern part of the Xia culture.
Xia was probably situated in the Yihe and Luohe river valleys, and along the Yinghe and Ruhe rivers. The
capital of Xia was located in the Sangshan mountains.
The origins of Xia go back to the Longshan period. During the Longshan period burial goods included a large
number of weapons, including stone lanceheads and arrows. This suggests that intersocial conflict was at its
height during the Longshan periods, and warfare may have played a role in the rise of Xia. The Longshan
neolithic is characterized by wheel-made pottery, bronze working, ceramics, wheeled vehicles, writing, rich
grave goods and furnishings.
The Chinese histories tell us much about Xia. According to Chinese tradition the Xia built their settlements
near rivers, lakes and streams. The Xia Dynasty is mentioned in the oracle bone records.
The leaders of Xia were granted rule based on their Ssu (clan) membership. The Xia naming system
employed the ten celestial stems the same as the Shang people. (Chang 1980,p.353)
The national tree of the Xia li min was the pine. This tree was used in the earth ritual.
Xia social organization, and life was based on the clan . The totems of the major Xia clans were aquatic
animals: fish, tortoise, turtle and etc. This view is supported by the myth recorded in the Annals of the Bamboo
Books, which claims that Yu's mother swallowed a spirits pearl before the birth of Di (Lord) Yu, founder of the
Xia Dynasty. Moreover , the dragon motif is common at Xia sites. A pan vessel was found at Taosi, with a red
painted dragon motif.
The Chinese histories make it clear that the Xia had writing and tortoise books. This view can be supported
by the pottery marks on the Longshan and Erlitou pottery. (Chang 1987, p.265)
Erlitou pottery is often inscribed with various signs and symbols. Fish were incised on a piece of bone, but up
to now, oracle bone inscriptions have not been found. (Chang 1987, p.314)
Today archaeologists believe that the Erlitou culture is the Xia Dynasty. This is supported by the fact that the
historical text place Xia in Henan and southern Shanxi. These Chinese provinces are the main areas where
Erlitou artifacts have been discovered. Chinese archaeologists have suggested that the Henan Lungshan
culture and the Erlitou I-III periods are representative of the Xia Dynasty. (An 1986)
Xia is considered the first dynasty of the sandai (three Dynasties) of ancient China: Xia, Shang and Zhou.
There are many references to the Xia people. The Xia people were recognized as westerners, because they
settled the middle Yellow river region of China. As a result they were called the Hua Xia "the middle states
There are numerous textual references to Xia. Han Fei Tzu writing in the third century B.C., in his Shih Guo,
"Yu made the ritual vessels painting the interior black and the exterior in red."
The tradition recorded by Han, of the black-and-red ware for the Xia li min suggest some relationship of Xia to
the Yangshao culture which also used BRW and analogous pottery signs.
Chang (1987) believes that the legendary sages and heroes of China, probably lived during the Lungshan
culture period. The Lungshan culture had walled cities and evidence of rank and rituals. This clearly illustrates
how archaeology can compliment textual history.
The artifacts of Erlitou include BRW, red, black and buff wares. These artifacts were made of stone, shell and
bronze. The bronze instruments found by archaeologists at Erlitou sites correspond to the descriptions by
Yuan Kang, in the Yueh Zhueh Shu, quoting the philosopher Feng Hu Tzu of the tools made by the Xia. Yuan
Kang wrote that:
"In the Age of Yu, weapons were made of bronze, for build -ing canals...and..houses...."
The black-and-red ware (BRW) common to the Fertile African Crescent was also used in China. There is
affinity between the BRW from Nubia, and the pottery from Yangshao sites in the Henan and Gansu sites of
The textual history of Xia is synthesized in the Chinese book Shih Zhi. This evidence from the Shih Zhi, was
used by Hsu Husheng , of the Chinese Institute of Archaeology, to find the xu (ruins) of Xia: the Xia xu. Hsu
Husheng using this source hypothesized that the center for traditional Xia Dynasty towns was the Loyang
plains and the Dengfeng river valley. This coincides with the Erlitou sites of this area which date to 2100-
The Xia people were recognized as being different people from the mongoloid Chinese they politically
dominate China today as a people that came from the west (i.e., Iran), before they settled the middle Yellow
river. A Zhou saying observed that :
"The rituals [or rules of] the Three Dynasties [sandai] are one".
The early Xia lived on mounds, in houses made of grass and mud. Pounded earth walls surrounded Xia
villages to protect the li mim from attack. The Xia probably spoke a Manding language. This view is supported
by the earlier discussion of the analogy between ancient Chinese and Manding.
The major clan totem of the Xia as mentioned earlier was the dragon. The zu (clan) or tsu was the basic point
of social organization for the li min.
In China the dragon was regarded as the deified serpent. (Andersson 1973, p.7) It also denoted the symbol of
perfect man, the son of Heaven, the Emperor.
The clan emblem for the ancient Manding was the first lizard/dragon. A dragon is nothing more than a giant
lizard. This dragon motif was also found in Iran and Babylonian Assyrian civilization and the Anau civilization
in Russia, which had similar painted pottery to the pottery styles of Henan (Xia). (Winters 1983c)
The Xia li min built their settlements near rivers, lakes and streams. They are mentioned in the Oracle bone
writing. The sacred tree of the Xia was the pine. The Xia naming system was the same as that used by the
The founder of the Xia Dynasty was Yu. His father was Gun. Myths about Gun are found throughout southwest
Shanxi. Yu's son founded the Pa culture. The Pa culture was a megalithic culture. Great Yu was the regulator
of the waters and builder of canals. He invented wetfield agriculture.
Yu was born in Shihnew. His mother was Sewege (Seuge). She is alleged to have become pregnant and
swallowed a spirit's pearl.
Under the orders of Emperor Shun, Yu was to dredge the Yellow river. Yu traveled the empire for 10 years
draining the land of water. One tradition claims that "but for Yu we should all have been fishes".
Beginning with Xia the fundamental political unit of this dynasty and succeeding dynasties of China was the yi
or walled town. These yi were organized into small and large guo (states). Each guo, was known as a shih.
The administrator of the guo was a member of an agnati clan or xing. The xing, ruled over members of their
own clan and non- related clans living in the various yi, forming the guo.
Emperor Shun, appears to have given Egeu, his son, the princi -pality of Shang, and Yu the principality of
Xia. After the death of Shun, Yu became the leader of the confederation of Seihshin: the large guos of Xia and
Shang. According to Gu Tsu Yu, in the Du Shih fang yu Zihiyao, written in the 1600's:
"It is traditionally stated that when Yu assembled the lords at Dushan there were ten thousand states [cities]
that came carrying jades and silks".
The second great leader of the Xia Dynasty was Qi, the son of Di (Emperor) Yu. According to the Guben zhu
Shu Zhi Nien, the Xia dynasty had seventeen kings and lasted 471 years.
The Xia Dynasty remained strong until the tyrant , Zhieh, came to power. In 1766 B.C., Zhieh was deposed
and exiled by Zheng Dang, ruler of Shang.
There are thirty references to the capital of Xia in the Zo Zhuan, Guo Yu , and Guben zhu Shu Zhi Nien. Loyang
plain in central Henan, especially the region of Dengfeng and Yuxien in the upper Ying river valley, and the
area near the Fenhe river valley in southwestern Shanxi south of mount Ho are usually mentioned in these
sources as the area where the Xia capital was established.
The first capital of Xia was Yangcheng. This city was in southwestern Shanxi. Archaeologist believe that Taosi
and Wangchenggang may be Xia cities.
Taosi dates to 2500 to 1900 B.C. Here the people raised oxen, pigs and sheep. They grew millet. Their
homes were built half-way below ground. They smelted copper. The coiled dragon motif is common at this
site along with crocodile skin drums.
The Taosi site is important because the artifacts excavated from the more than 1,000 tombs, indicate that a
hereditary system of chiefs and class was already established.
The dragon motif at Taos may have been the totem of the Xia dynasts at Taosi. This would correspond to
Chinese legends of the Long (Dragon) ethnic group. Huan Long (Dragon Breeding Clan) and Yu Long (Defend
the Dragon) clan. The dragon legends are associated with the Chinese sages Yan, Yao, Shun and Yu.
The capital of Xia Yangcheng is believed to be the city of Wangshenggang. As mentioned earlier the yi, or
'walled city', was the basic political unit of Xia. These walls were built layer upon layer and called hangtu.
Chinese traditions allege that Yu's father, Gun, built the first hangtu.
Wangshenggang site is 10,000 sq. meters . It is situated near the Wudu river. This structure contains
skeletons of all ages.
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This article is from the
Web site of Dr. Clyde Winters. It is reprinted with his permission.
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