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1. Prehistorical Period (10000 to 2000 BC)

From Longshan culture to Yangshao culture.

Sites of major neolithic cultures in China
Major Neolithic and historic cultures in China over 6 millennia.
2. The Three Dynasties of China

Political sphere of Xia, Shang and pre-dynasty Zhou. See Chang, 1981, p. 155

2. Chronology of Xia-Shang-Zhou, the Three Dynasties (夏商周斷代)
The precise dating of Chinese history started in 841 BCE, the first year of Gong-Ho of Zhou Dynasty. Before that the
dating became fuzzy. For example, the date of Zhou Conquest has been studied over the past two thousand years with
about 44 different dates proposed (e.g. Shaughnessy, 1985-1987). However, scholars now can use a whole array of
technologies, in addition to ancient texts, to reconstruct the chronology of distant ancient time. The following list some of
these methodologies.

(1) Genealogy
Analysis of the genealogy listed ancient textual materials, particularly the Book of History (Sima Qian) and Bamboo
Annals. For example, between the end of King You of Zhou (771 BCE) and King Zhou of Shang (the last King of Shang
Dynasty) there were 11 Zhou kings. Then there were 17 kings from King Zhou to King Cheng Tang, the founder of Shang
Dynasty, and another 14 generations (or tribal leaders) to Qi, the Founding Father of Shang and a contemporary of Yu the
Great, the founder of Xia Dynasty. Thus there were 40 generations between King You and the Great Yu of Xia.
Assuming 30 years per generation, we can estimate that the beginning of Xia Dynasty should be dated around 1971 BCE.

The book Bamboo Annals was a set of chronological records of Wei Kingdom during the Period of Warring States (480-221
BCE) written on strips of bamboo sticks which were unearthed from a tomb of Wei ruler in Ji Jun (Henan Province, Ji

: . As late Professor Chang Kwang-chih pointed out: both new and old textual data indicate considerable temporal overlap between Xia and Shang as political powers and between Shang and Zhou as well.County) at the time of Jin Wu Di (Emperor Wu of Jin Dynasty) in 281 AD. In <Hsiao Ching Ko Ming Cheh > in the 30th chapter of Ku Wei Shu. (2) Archaeology The three dynasties. 170 B. The periodicity of planetary motion greatly impressed ancient Chinese philosophers and astronomers. geographically and culturally. Shang. Jupiter was at one time called the Year Star (Shuei xing) and used to keep time. 1980.C. shuei xing). Jupiter (Wood Star. Mercury (Water Star." A very similar passage also appears in the 7th volume of Tai Ping Yu Lan. disks. a collection of ancient astronomical writings compiled by Kung An Kuo in the 2nd century B. yet related people. Such a spectacular display in the heavens must have greatly impressed early Chinese astronomers and was undoubtedly noticed and recorded.D.. unearthed in the Han Tomb at Mawangdui (ca. Conjunction of the five planets. Mars. 1600-1000 BCE).) contains accurate records of planetary positions kept for 70 years. 354) (3) Dating by astronomy: (i) Planetary conjunction (Pang. Jupiter and Saturn came within 4° of one another.C. from February 10 to March 1. With planetary motions perceived to have such influence over earthly affairs it was only natural that ancient Chinese astronomers observed and recorded them carefully. jin star). vol 7. Conjuction of planets Arcaheological sites associated with three dynasties as a function of geography and time (Chang. 1980) are infrequent. Xia (c 1971-1600 BCE). and Zhou represent distinct. and Saturn (Soil Star. they succeeded each other in the order indicated.C. The book gives a chronology of important events from the time of sage Kings until the last year of Wei Xiang King (299 BCE).. Indeed we find in ancient textual materials the following two pieces of relevant data. The parallel development model of the Three Dynasties civilization (Chang. 1953 B. 火星huo xing). 1987). Mars (Fire Star. The evidence is beginning to be substantiated by radioacrbon dates (Chang.350). Venus. Mercury. p. and Zhou (c. 1980. Venus (Gold Star or Great White Star. an encyclopedia compiled in 983 A. p. The closeness of these periods to the number of "earthly branches" and half the number of years or days in a gan-zhih cycle was undoubtedly noticed by ancient Chinese astronomers. A record of this event can provide us with a second absolute date for fixing the chronology of Xia. tu xing) occurs about once every 500 years and was thought to be an epochal event. Shang (c. 木星mu xing). No such quintuplet conjunction occurred for centuries before or after this date. Menzi (孟子Mencius) went as far as declaring that great sages are born once every 500 years. This book offers an invaluable source of data on ancient China.The period of Jupiter is nearly 12 years and that of Saturn nearly 30. there are both textual and archaeological evidence suggesting that Xia. Although dynasty-wise. (They) shone as brilliantly as chained jade Tai Pi Yu Lan. According to the book by Stahlman and Gingerich (1963). 1000-221 BCE). we find the following passage: "At the time of Yu the five planets were strung together like a necklace. Indeed. covers a period of 2000 years in Chinese history. "The Prognostication of the Five Planets". see the last two lanes.

e. .—it was in the 4th month of the Xia year. That is said of the first day of this month. (i. as the only correct match. and the prince of Yin received the king's order to punish them ." In the above passages the month of the Xia eclipse is given differently: Tso Chuan. says that the eclipse happened in the 4th month (or the first month of summer).g. A careful check of the eclipse canon yields October 16. the sun was eclipsed. quoting the Book of Xia. which is still widely used as the "agricultural calendar".e. Several of the books written during the Zhou dynasty (1100 221 B. was visible from a certain location or not (Stephenson." Addressing his troops the Prince of Yin mentioned the following crime of Hsi and Ho: "On the first day of the last month of autumn the sun and moon did not meet harmoniously in (the 4th lunar mansion) Fang! The blind musicians beat their drums. . (At this time) Hsi and Ho had neglected their duties and were drunk in their (private) cities. in the chapter on the punitive expedition of Prince Yin. . Hsi and Ho. day keng-xu.C. shining brilliantly as chained jade disks . 1982).C.C. . and people ran up in haste'. the blind beat the drum.). first day of 9th month. The textual record of the earliest solar eclipse is also the only Xia eclipse record. Canon of Yao or Li Chi. the prince of Yin (胤侯) was ordered to take command of six divisions. 5th year. low ranking officials mounted their horses. The earliest mention of this event is also by the Book of Documents. ." Although neither of these two records directly states that a solar eclipse occurred during Xia. 1876 B. . the sun was in the 4th lunar mansion Fang ." (ii) Solar or lunar eclipse The occurrence of past solar and lunar eclipses can be dated with great accuracy. including those from China made after 700 B. 1983) we can now confidently date the Xia solar eclipse. however. . It thus has immeasurable value for determining Xia chronology. To pick up from where we left off in the second section. a 5th century B.. (The king) ordered the Prince of Yin to command an expeditionary force to punish Hsi and Ho. The relevant passage is from Tso Chuan. The passage reads as follows: "When Chung Kang (仲康 the fourth Xia King) began his reign over all within the Four Seas. autumn. In the 9th month of the Xia year. the 4th month is equivalent to May. Yue Ling (or Monthly Ordinances of Zhou) give this information. Hsi and Ho (or their descendents with the same titles) had apparently neglected their duties to observe the celestial bodies. written by Confucius: "Seventeenth year of Duke Zhao (525 B. (4) Dating by meteorological and geological evidence Case 1: . as on the scale of recorded history (several millennia) the motions of the Earth around the sun and the moon around the Earth are practically invariant. and deserves a full discussion here.C. However. The annular eclipse on that day was visible from China." While discussing what protocol should be followed during a solar eclipse. the duke's historian recalled that: "This is what is written in the Xia Shu or Book of Xia: 'The sun and moon did not meet harmoniously in Fang. To find out which of the two months is correct one needs to only look up ancient records (or compute) to learn out where in the zodiac the sun was during the respective months early in the second millennium B. Wang and Siscoe (1980) argue that this is indeed an eclipse record. Using ancient solar eclipse observations. . the latter says: "In the 4th month of the Xia year."According to Ko Ming Shih. For example. for example. when the absolute dates are known). . In the Xia calender. . though having occurred. Looking at this passage in the context of discussions held during a solar eclipse that did occur in the Spring and Autumn period. . the following passage from the Bamboo Annals does: "King Chung Kang .C. and indulged in wining instead. while the 9th month is equivalent to October. and the lower ranked officers and common people bustled and ran about.). the rotation rate of the Earth has been varying to such an extent that these changes must be taken into account in determining whether a past eclipse. which is called the first month of summer. Newton (1970)." The poetic but imprecise language used here has rendered the passage open to different interpretations. In the summer.C. at the time of Yu the planets were tied together like a string of beads. Stephenson and Morrison (1984) and others determined the past deceleration rates of the Earth's rotation with great accuracy. . . the sun was in the l9th lunar mansion Pi . Although the reaction of the people are characteristic of what happens during an eclipse (drum beating and commotion) the non-usage of the standard phrase "the sun was eclipsed" caused scholars to question whether this is an eclipse record or not.." Using the latest available solar eclipse canon (Mucke and Meeus. 6th month. commentary on Spring and Autumn. see. as if they were mere impersonators of the dead in their offices. on day chia-xu (August 21) there was a solar eclipse . . heard nothing and knew nothing . while the other two sources say it was the 9th month (or the last month of autumn).

" With the excerpts from Plutarch and many others. imperfect and half ripe. It reads 1095 B... Han Xuan Di. Pang and Chou have found accounts in the Chinese record of the volcano's effect that report unusually long dust storms of gray ash. Some of the oracle bones. In Lu Tao. were made to appease the gods during the bad weather. . Stothers and Rampino were able to pinpoint the eruption date of this particular volcano to 44 B. for like others. It reads: "Fifth year of King Chou [the last king of the preceding Yin dynasty] it rained dust at Bo."Among events of divine ordering there was. . withered away and shriveled up on account of the coldness of the atmosphere. Frosts killed mulberries. have alluded to the fact that there was a year without harvest. eruption of the volcano Hekla in Iceland. "the sun was bluish white and cast no shadow." Since most reports of these events were written long after 1120 B." says Pang. Etna in Sicily. "Frosts killed crops. . that the seedlings died and that the Chi—the sacrificial ceremony—was performed throughout the land. Chou went through 100.. Caesar (circa A.C. how often we saw Etna flooding out from her burst furnaces. So he and Chou turned to the only written records from that time—oracle bones. Pang feels that they can't be completely trusted. by chroniclers compiling all the happenings that had occurred in the previous dynasties. Pang believes that the sacrifices. believing that the Icelandic volcano Hekla is responsible for that acidity peak. widespread famine. "This is especially true because we know—based on the fact that elephants and rhinos were seen on the banks of the Yellow River— that the climate in China at that time was much warmer than it is now. third month. second day.000 pieces of oracle bones. On the left is a passage from The Bamboo Annals. " Case 2: An excerpt from Chinese records notes observations that researchers believe are related to the 1120 B. Scientists. have obtained a time of eruption of 950 B.C.C." Fourth month. eruptions to be studied through Yong Yuan First Year.60 years.. the researchers read that one foot of snow fell in the sixth month and that the crops didn't ripen. dynasty] it rained dust at Bo. and whirling forth balls of flame and molten stones. noting all the questions potentially relevant to volcanoes. radiocarbon dated before the Zhou dynasty at From Bamboo Annals. + 50 years by ice core acidity measurements. and the fruits.. Year 43 BC.C. "It snowed.C. historical literature is placed at 1120 B.C. possibly human. At high noon there were shadows but dim. dated around 1120 B. a Zhou dynasty book. Wheat crops damaged.] . with an uncertainity of + 80 years and .."—Plutarch. boiling over the Cyclopean fields. the obscuration of the sun's rays.) As a king of the preceding Yin means of fortunetelling. + 90 years. + Chinese and European historical dates 150 years—should be refined to a date of 1100 B.C... which is more in tune with the ice core data. Vergil wrote: "After the death of Caesar. the researchers Correlation between Greenland acidity dates and concluded that the radiocarbon date of the eruption—950 B." Ninth month. 44 B. " questions about the future were carved into these oracle bones—made of turtle shell or oxen bone—and the answer was thought to depend on how the shell or bone cracked when exposed to heat. + 130 years using radiocarbon dating at the volcano.D. C. They also suspect that the volcano was Mt. snow in the sixth month is like our expression once in a blue moon. On the basis of this archaeological evidence. (Paper "Fifth year of King Chou [the last had yet to be invented.C.C. " One of the oldest volcanic Book of Former Han. " In China.C. For during all that year its orb rose pale and without radiance. no harvest in autumn. after Caesars murder [March 15. 100) From the Chinese chronicles of the Han dynasty: 43 B.

Am. which became obscure to later generations. K. 934 indicate times in which abnormally cold weather was reported but no other symptoms of volcanic eruptions such as "dry fogs " were noted. the record was recognized as a valuable clue in helping determine the chronology of the Xia Dynasty. 1982. 247: 170 182. 1981 Chang. 127. Technol.D. 3. Question marks at 270 B." Philologists have now determined that the previous interpretation of the ancient characters "shi ri. According to Peng. we have been able to pick up more clues during our research. Liao said that such scholars were far from objective in their principles and methods.D.D. University of Wisconsin Press.. Three very large volcanic eruptions in antiquity and their effects on the climate of the ancient world. Presented a t Workshop on Qing Population History. 91-94. Journal of Hydrology. K. 66: 816. and Chou. .L. 1983. References: Chang. scholars found two other ancient history books .. 1985." The inscriptions also indicate a month and a date in the calendar then. C. Early China. J. pp566. Here the historical date (from reports of "dry fog. 66: 187-193.R. Kwang-chih." Peng said.. Science News. Yale University Press. G. the "Bamboo Annals" recorded a solar eclipse during the Xia Dynasty. Liao said. Hong Kong. 33. A correlation between Greenland ice core climatic horizons and : ancient Oriental meteorological records.2003 to + 2526. 1980. Cali£ Inst. H. 785pp. especially physical and astronomic means.D. 1980 Legge.. who is also a member of the team that sorts out and authenticates related records in the "Shangshu" and the "Bamboo Annals. Vienna. a piece of animal bone dating back to the late Shang Dynasty bears four ancient Chinese characters." "The Chinese have studied philology for thousands of years.K. Radiocarbon dates are a/so included. and perform all our work in accordance with scientific methods. Wisc. Hong Kong University Press. Horizontal and vertical lines are "uncertainty bars". P. S. "However. Mucke. Peng Lin (Tsinghua University): "While historical documents are key elements in clarifying the outlines of early dynasties. Edward L. 1960.. and Siscoe. 1985-1987 Stephenson. Shang Civilization. Solar Phys. 1987 Shaughnessy.the "Records of the Historian"by Sima Qian (135-87 BC) in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). 69. meaning "three fires eat the sun. said Liao..There is a very good correspondence between the dates of volcanic eruptions as determined from historical records and those measured by acidity peaks in Greenland ice cores. F." meaning "eat the sun. refuting their arguments. Wang. 96. and "Shangshu (Book of Historical Documents)" also documented the eclipse. and they counted special celestial phenomena as signs from the gods. scientists and historians have found that no such astronomical phenomena occurred during the period indicated on the oracle bone. Madison. Kwang-chih." Liao said. and Meeus. 65:846. actual dates could fall anywhere between them. 1985. Pasadena. for example. and A. Cali£ Weisburd. but abundant proof obtained through various scientific methods seem to support the new results. Solar and Planetary Longitudes for Years ..." Commenting on the dismissal of the existence of this part of early Chinese history by numerous scholars. Kevin D. In the past.. 148-160. Eos. other scientific methods.. The words are now considered to have nothing to do with solar eclipse. Consequently. results from the project are sometimes in clear conflict with certain authoritative views. The Chinese Classics. vol 11-12. H. C. and Chou. 139-155.. The variation of droughts and floods in China during Qing dynasty. but many scholars pushed the description aside due to lack of evidence. Wang. But through new scientific calculations. 1963. 1985 Stahlman. Historical eclipses. 1984. During the project. W. They also occur during times that were poorly chronicled in general. D. Pang.2500 to + 2000 by 10-Day Intervals. Pang. according to philologists involved in the project. Canon of Solar Eclipses." Liao said. Even the veracity of the "Bamboo Annals" was called into question. associate professor in Qinghua University. Xi Zezong (academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences): "The ancients were superstitious.. "They often drew their conclusions upon one or two ascertained historical records. O.H. "But we abide by scientific rules. Stefi. J. H. They didn't try to find other evidence to compare. Astronomers then went on to corroborate the ancient records with their own calculations. They noted the phenomena in their own calendars. 1500. Sci." For example. Peng and Liao said that modern Chinese have the right and responsibility to know their early civilized history. help correct many views on traditional documents.." was wrong. Vol. p. But the excavation of many ancient ruins has yielded ample relics from the Xia and Shang dynasties. Ancient Chinese observations of physical phenomena attending solar eclipses.H. 908pp. but many clues helpful in clarifying the early dynasties have been neglected. . Eos. Pang. 3. Project Nine-Five—The Xia-Shang-Zhou Chronology Project Modern experts use science to unravel China's early history-Nine-Five Project has helped promote a deeper understanding of many early historical and literary works. both Chinese and international scholars thought that this piece of oracle bone recorded a solar eclipse. Astronomisches Buro. astronomers.” adverse weather and observations of eruptions) is plotted against the Greenland date for very large explosive eruptions that occurred between 1500 B. and A. and Gingerich. American Scientist.