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A Stroll into Chinese History, and Reflecting on its Basic Aspects



Terry Cheng, Member of Culture Committee, Yew Chung Education Foundation

At the end of the past summer, this writer took part in a trip to Taiyuan and Pingyao in Shanxi Province and Beijing in preparation for the study tours of Chinese Studies Course at Yew Chung International School. Through visits to historic sites and museums, this writer has deepened understanding of several basic aspects of the Chinese history.

Continuity of history
Pingyao has retained its administrative status till now since it was made a county in Qin Dynasty 2,200 years ago. The practice of the county chief monopolizing local administrative power, as seen in Pingyao’s case, has lasted until now. The patriarchal system and patriarchal clan culture, consolidated in Zhou Dynasty 3000 years ago, were still vivid at Wang’s Grand Courtyard, located in a village about one-hour drive from Pingyao, and influence of the system and culture is still felt in the present-day society of China.

Diversity of culture

In the case of Pingyao, Confucianism as embodied in the Confucian Temple at the city’s key section was no doubt dominating, yet traditional folk belief as manifested in the City God Temple, at the same section as the Confucian Temple, was also strong. There is no Buddhist monastery inside the ancient city of Pingyao, but there are two not far away from it. Sinicized Buddhism had appeals both to ordinary people and intelligentsia. Since a Christian church is found in the ancient city, there are bound to be some worshippers, and this fact underlines the strong influence from the West and the efforts of the missionaries in spreading the faith.

Multiple origins of civilization
There is no doubt that the ancient Central Plain culture which covered the southern part of Shanxi was an important origin of the Chinese civilization. But as the relics at the Shanxi Museum and the National Museum show, there were some other origins of the Chinese civilisation, such as the Red Mountain culture in Inner Mongolia where the earliest pieces of jade dragon were located. Shanxi was where the cultures of Central Plain and Red Mountain met.

Construction of history
History is full of interpretations, especially by those in power. Exhibitions and museums use relics to tell history which is a relatively objective way to do so. But we should still pay heed to how history is interpreted there.

It is a fact that China has a long history of civilisation and the Chinese culture is diversified. As to the origins of Chinese civilisation, we should expand our horizons and don’t just see from the perspectives of Hua-xia people (called Han people after Han Dynasty) and Central Plain so that we can truly trace our origins. Regarding history, we should know about its continuity and its influence on the present-day society. We can only get closer to the truths by seeing and hearing more, making field and experiential trips, and adopting a critical mind.

(Originally appears in Issue no. 18, Minbaowuyu)
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