Several problems concerning the origin of civilization a discussion with prof. An zhimin




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SEVERAL PROBLEMS CONCERNING THE ORIGIN OF CIVILIZATION A DISCUSSION WITH PROF. AN ZHIMIN


TONG, Enzheng


{KAOGU (Archaeology) No. 1, pp. 51-9, 1989. Translated and interpreted by W. Tsao, Ph.D., December 6, 1999 ; edited by Bryan Gordon}


The article “Discussion on the Origin of Civilization” by Mr. An enlightened me a great deal on this subject. I agree with Mr. An on most of the concrete problems, but I have some different opinions on certain theoretical questions.


1. CIVILIZATION AND CULTURE


Mr. An pointed out: “The term ‘civilization’ appeared in English around the 18th century and was used widely in the latter half of the 19th century. During this period of more than one hundred years, understanding of this term was well developed. While different schools of thought in Western social science have varied understanding on manys subjects, that of the term ‘civilization’ is somewhat unified”(1). Based on this observation, Mr. An criticized certain scholars in China who “have mixed the concept of civilization with that of culture”(2). According to Mr. An, different schools of thought in the world may have parallel opinions on the term “civilization”, but it is not exactly so according to my observations.


Broad and narrow senses are implied in the term “civilization”. According to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1976), there are seven definitions, the first two concerning our discussion. First: “the culture characteristic of a particular time or place; sometimes, a widely diffused long-lived culture often with subcultures”. Second: “the stage of cultural growth when writing and record-keeping are attained; also the stage marked by urbanization, advanced techniques (agriculture and industry), expanded population and more complex social organization”. The former is broad civilization implying the summation of all cultures, while the latter is narrow civilization implying a certain stage of social growth.


For a long period, “civilization” was synonymous with “culture” in Latin or related languages and appeared long before the term “culture” in French, English and German. It originated from the Latin word “civis” (citizen) and later extended to “civitas” (city-state) and “civilitas” (qualification of citizen). Therefore, it originally implied to both city and city-state. It was Jean Bodin who first started to use the term “civilization” in the 16th century with the implication of “culture”. Before the end of the 18th century, the term “civilization” in English and German always implied “educated people with culture” or “influential people with politics”. In “History of Civilization in England”, Henry T. Buckle for the first time in 1857 used it no differently than “culture” as historic content. In French, it was used as “culture” until the 19th century.


The word ”culture” originated from German “Kultur” or “Cultur”, its original definition implying “cultivation of the mind”. It was first included in the German dictionary by Johann C. Adelung in 1793 and defined as “civilization”. Gustav Klemm applied its modern scientific meaning in his book “General Cultural History of Mankind” (1843). In his masterpiece “Primitive Culture”, E. B. Tylor formally introduced its English anthropological meaning in 1871.


After the German “Cultur” was adopted by Dutch, North European German, Slovakian, Spanish, Italian and American languages, the term “civilization” was still used in English and French. In “Prehistoric Man; Research into the Origin of Civilization in the Old and New World”, Wilson Daniel suggested in 1862 that language and utilization of fire and tools were pivotal elements of civilization(3). In 1874, John Lubbock introduced aboriginal arts, marriage, religion and language in his book “The Origin of Civilization and the Primitive Condition of Man”, which was actually a history of primitive culture”(4). How to differentiate civilization from primitive culture was an endless argument in the 20th century and English scholar Christopher Dawson and American scholar Lewis Mumford considered them identical. German scholar Oswald Spengler and American scholar Rushton Coulborn, on the other hand, suggested civilization was at a higher level than primitive culture. The famous modern English historian Arnold Toynbee considered surviving primitive culture as lower level “civilization”, categorizing 20 to 30 ancient cultures as such in his book(5).


Even more complicated are scholarly differences between “civilization” and “culture”, but their opinions are disharmonious. In 1905, American scholar Albino Small noted in his book “General Sociology” that “civilization” implied perfection of human traits and social politics, while “culture” implied human techniques and equipment to conquer nature. In contrast, Robert M. MacIver suggested in his 1931 book “Society, its Structure and Changes” that “civilization” was man’s surviving technique and organization, while “culture” was the manifestation of human life and the mind’s reflection in art, religion, literature, leisure activities, etc. In Germany, Alfred Weber published an influential article Der Soziologische Kulturbegriff in 1912, comparing the growth of civilization to the evolution of living things. He suggested civilization was a human objective to gain control of nature and implied in material and rational needs. Alternately, culture was based on sensation and thinking and implying spiritual and not material nature. In 1922, Borth suggested in his book “Physiology of History and Sociology” that culture was human ability to control nature, while civilization was self control(6).


Archaeology was developed in the 19th century, together with modern sociology and anthropology and adopted the confusion coming from the terms “civilization” and “culture”. In archaeology, “civilization” implied both civilization and culture; e.g., Heinrich Schliemann, the famous pioneer of archaeological fieldwork, used civilization in his 1871–90 report of excavations in Greece. In 1899, Arthur Evans’s work on Crete confirmed Minoan civilization, with other similar civilizations found under similar conditions. So-called civilization in essence was synonymous with archaeological culture(7). It was at the beginning of the 20th century that the term “archaeological culture” started to get popular, English scholar Schmidt Pumpelly first defining it in his 1908 report: “to avoid possible confusion, culture is synonymous with civilization, while cultural level represented human waste accumulated in certain ruins”(8). From then on, no matter how Western sociologists, anthropologists and archaeologists defined “civilization”(9), the term “culture” was defined sociologically or anthropologically as the total material, moral, spiritual and religious tradition. In archaeology, “culture” was the typical traditional cultural model reflecting a toolkit and materials.


Unclear definitions of “civilization” and “culture” continued in world archaeology. Civilization was used in many book titles like “Prehistoric Civilization” and “Primitive Civilization”, most covering the Stone Age; e.g., discussions on “Early Chinese Civilization”, authored by the famous English scholar in the field of Chinese archaeology, William Watson, went from Palaeolithic to Neolithic and Early Metal Age(10). In “The Birth of Indian Civilization”, co-authored by Bridget and Raymond Allchin, three of its eight chapters have Stone Age discussions(11). V. G. Childe, an author mentioned in Mr. An’s article, often used the term “Neolithic Civilization”(12). There are many other similar samples and all are in the same category of Mr. An’s criticism of having “the concept of civilization confused with prehistoric culture”.


In the above brief look at growth of the terms “civilization” and “culture”, it was not my intention to mix their definitions, as every term must be scientifically defined. It is obvious in my discussion based on historic origin that searching for definitions acceptable to most world scholars was not an easy task. Before reaching consent, it should be permissible for both Chinese and foreign scholars to use the term “civilization” in both broad and narrow senses. This should not “confuse the concept of civilization” nor “create a confused situation”(13).


2. CIVILIZATION AND BARBARISM


Mr. An noted that “the birth of civilization, or the appearance of country and class society, symbolize a qualititative breakthrough of change in the history of social evolution, something already accepted by various schools of thought”. As civilization is a stage of social growth according to Mr. An, it should be inseparable from earlier stages. He said Lewis H. Morgan in the 19th century divided society into three stages, Savagery, Barbarism and Civilization, emphasizing “civilization is a state of social growth opposite barbarism”(14). Before these stages of social growth are accepted without argument, let us re-examine their history.


First, they are not archaeological stages but a system categorized in early Western sociology. Morgan was not the first, some 18th century scholars ignorant of anthropology and archaeology suggesting this system to describe social growth,. In the West, the Roman philosopher Titus Lucretius Carus (98-55 BC) probably was the first one to suggest the concept that humans went from barbaric to civil stages in his long poem “On the Nature of Things”(15). In 1748, Charles Montesquieu formally mentioned three growth stages in his book “The Spirit of Laws” that distinguish these stages by their social structure(16). Adam Ferguson in 1767 not only accepted these stages in his “Essay on the History of Civil Society”, but examined their economic and social structures as well as survival ability(17). In 1777, William Robertson in “The History of America” first suggested basing them on racial history and archaeological evidence(18). In the mid-19th century, the theory of Evolution matured and they were popularly accepted. Besides Morgan, they were also accepted in Herbert Spencer’s (1876) “Principles of Sociology”(19) and E. B. Taylor’s (1881) “Anthropology: An Introduction to the Study of Man and Civilization”(20). Their categorization resulted from long observation in the West and there may be no one creator.


The long struggle of accepting these stages was based on strong historic background, as seen in influences of racial prejudice and Eurocentric theory in their names. The use of “Savagery” as the developmental stage had specific historic meaning because its anthropological definition is “animal characteristics”.


As early as the 13th century, Albertus Magnus suggested in his book “De Animalibus” that there were three kinds of animals; knowledgeable humans, animals and manlike creatures (pygmy) such as monkeys. With expansion of capitalism in the 17th century and as a pretext for invasion, this theory became very popular. Many Europeans thought Aboriginals in newly discovered America, Africa and Asia were half-men, or men with animal traits, or animals of the highest spiritual nature(21). Thomas Herbert described African Hottentots in 1626 as “their language is far from human and closer to apes… After comparing their mimicry, languages and facial emotions, I have no doubt some of their ancestors were apes and monkeys”(22). Even in 1735, biologist Carl Linnaeus still classified humans into Homo sapiens and Homo monstrosus, which included African Negroes, American Indians and Chinese(23). At that time, it was obvious Western scholars used “savagery” synonymously with Aboriginals. It was translated first as “ignorant” and later as “brutal” in the Chinese version of Morgan’s “Ancient Society”. Both translations are not incorrect, but don’t reflect the true sense.


While correct when translated as “ignorant” or “brutal” in Chinese, savagery’s definition changed in Western history. In the so-called “Classical period”, all cultures other than Greek and Roman were considered barbaric, while in the mid-18th century, cultures neither European nor Christian were called barbaric. With growth of European colonialism and American slavery after the 18th century, this theory was mainstream Western thought, as clearly indicated in a paragraph by John Wesley: “How are we going to evaluate the tens of thousands of Laplanders, Samoyeds, Greenlanders and those in high Northern latitudes? Does their level of civilization compare to that of livestock? As desert barbarians and countless Tartars in snow-covered Siberia would be upgraded if we compare them with our livestock”(24), the affliction and persecution forced on American Indians, Peruvians, Mexicans, Andean Aboriginals and African Negroes by White people were considered well-deserved grudges(25).


When modern Western scientific scholars realized “Savagery” and “Barbarism” insulted Aboriginals, they were abandoned. In Mr. An’s references, Charles L. Redman specifically disagreed with the three stages and the use of contempt in classifying social growth: “there is judgment in Animality, Barbarism and Civilization – Barbarism is higher than Savagery and Civilization is higher than Barbarism. From one-way growth theory, this kind of classification gives us a false impression that an inner force influences cultural growth, with one stage destined to follow the previous. Although some peoples followed this pattern, it should never be considered as the only way. Under certain conditions, Savagery has better survival ability than Barbarism or even Civilization”(26).


After its 19th century birth, modern archaeology customarily followed the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages suggested by C. J. Thomsen in 1836. Mr. An notes the famous English Marxist archaeologist V. G. Childe was the first scholar to introduce this three-age scale of civilization in archaeology. In 1951, Childe noted in “Social Growth” that as “the archaeological three-age scale hardly reflects collective society and prehistoric economy, the anthropological classification was used.” However, Childe also noted the following remarks:


The new information accumulated from field work by well trained experts using improved observation techniques has shaken Morgan’s theory. Even his point on Iroquoian economic and political organization must be amended. Therefore, it is meaningless at this time to conclude Morgan’s argument (as well as Engels) on growth stages in economics, politics or clan organization, as they are groundless when detailed. In the present book, I will use the same terms used by Morgan as a temporary foundation for classifying growth. I will, of course, give new standards to these terms(28).


We know now that even Childe himself did not follow Morgan’s method of classification. Based on food production, Childe separated “Savagery” (Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Ages) and “Barbarism (Neolithic Age), using the “Urban Revolution” to symbolize the appearance of “Civilization”(29).


Childe did not accept Morgan’s theory as totally true. Similarly, we need not agree that Childe’s opinion is accurate. The term “civilization” appeared in ancient Chinese documents, its original implication being “a certain higher developmental stage of culture”. In my opinion, there is no problem for Chinese scholars to continue using this term as a stage of social growth, but this does not mean we completely accept Morgan’s three-age scale without an open mind for change. “Savagery” and “Barbarism” not only have insulting implications but are unable to reflect social, economic or cultural change. Besides their historic use, there should be no reason to continue their use in archaeological and scientific documents. On the standard classification of prehistoric ages, we can accept the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages based on archaeological time scale. We can also refer to the Primeval Group, Tribe, Chiefdom and State based on an internationally accepted social economic system. We also should not reject the classification decided by Chinese scholars based on special Chinese historic conditions.


Even if we accept “civilization” as a “condition of social growth”, we must discuss its standard. In contrast to Mr. An’s optimistic estimate, there are still questions on prehistoric to historic ages, the birth of civilization and primitive to class societies(30), the most controversial questions in Western archaeological, anthropological and historic fields. There are two stages in finding answers: in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries, the first was tabling economic, social and cultural elements pivotal to the Civilization Age. Evidence to match these elements was then searched in archaeological and historic data from certain places. If evidence occurred, that society was said to have entered Civilization, e.g.s, Mr. An’s cities, writing, metalware and buildings for worship, plus irrigation, large scale livestock rearing, professional craftsmen, wheeled transport, distant trading, recorded astronomical data, etc.(31). Some are fundamental, others less important; some in primeval form and others secondary. As elements vary, would a society only be considered to have entered Civilization when all elements occurred or when 1-2 fundamental ones arose? If the latter, what are these elements? Conclusions vary because scholars may have a different starting point, research method or theory; e.g.s, Roy Willis considered city as most important in civilization(32); Karl Wittfogel emphasized large-scale irrigation(33); C. Kraeling and McC. Adams, distant trade(34); Morgan, metalware; Mr. An, bronzeware and Childe, written characters(35).


Another reason for different understanding of civilization came from varied elements. Ancient environments, social conditions and historic backgrounds of various civilizations differed. Pivotal elements in one place were of no importance elsewhere; e.g.s, metal was a very important element in ancient Mid-East civilization, while ancient Roman civilization was totally based on stoneware; livestock rearing was the main component of ancient Near Eastern civilization but unimportant in ancient Central American civilization; and urbanization was most noticeable in ancient Sumer, while Egyptian cities appear after other civilizations(36), i.e., Egypt was a “civilization without a city”(37). As many modern Western scholars considered this kind of civilization as assembled single elements or an archaeological “museum list”, it would be difficult to present a multi-phenomenal stage of human history.


In the 20th century, Arnold Toynbee(39), Alfred Kroeber(40), Leslie White(41), Julian Steward(42), etc., influenced Western scholars by examining factors forming civilization and its representative symbols based on correlating many factors existing throughout society. In various ancient societies, some symbols were alike, others were not. Elements enhancing the growth of civilization included ecological environment; economic system, speed of population increase and its accompanying pressure, distant trading, changes in economic and social organizations, technological improvement, etc. As these co-existing co-regulated elements form a complicated “net of correlation”, it would be unscientific if the Civilization Stage of society was decided on only 1-2 technological achievements while ignoring the natural and historic background(43).


Mr. An noted that “Engels even pointed out that the country was the generalization of civilized society, a ruling that became a model for the following researchers”(44). This conclusion simplifies a complicated question and superficially it appears true that civilization correlates between specific organization and social class or class differentiation. Under certain conditions, as some scholars considered the “state” as synonymous with civilization(45), it is always possible to have superficial divergence. Understanding varies in Western scholarly circles on defining the state, its responsibility and reasons for its formation. According to 1970 statistics of Robert Corneiro of the New York Museum of Nature(46) and 1977 statistics from Henry Wright of the University of Michigan(47), there are at least four different theories on the aspect of state:


  1. Managerial Theories – when some people performed certain activities for survival; e.g.s, empowered organizations managing projects like large-scale construction of water reservoirs or distant trading; i.e., a government or state with centralized authority. Articles by K. A. Wittfogel represent this theory(48).




  1. Internal Conflict Theories – when classes conflict and clashes appear due to economic differences, the state is needed to maintain profit for the controlling class. This theory was described fully in the famous “The Private System of the Family and the Origin of a Country” by F. Engels.




  1. External Conflict Theories – when one society needed to obtain material from another, war became necessary to solve the problem and the state was formed. Robert Corneiro’s theory belongs to this group.




  1. Synthetic Conflict Theories – without emphasizing any one element, these theories examine the ecological environment, social conflict, cultural tradition and other elements as reciprocal developments. Robert Adams’ research on ancient Mesopotamian civilization is typical of this group(49).


As different schools of thought accept the state as symbolizing civilization, it is clear that contents and facts of what they accept totally differ. Mr. An may disagree with other points of view, but it is unnecessary to negate their existence. Chinese readers can decide whether to accept or to criticize a point only when the whole truth is exposed.


Over the past thirty years, Western research on civilization changed from a list of single elements to a search for compound conditions; from examining surface to internal phenomena; from inactive observation to active investigation of results; from tracing social background to the influence of natural environment. We may not totally agree with their theories and research methods, but it is worthwhile to know how this learning stage evolved. From an archaeological point of view, what is the most important indicator of the elements of civilization? Are there differences in these elements in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia? Did each society have its special characteristics when entering the Civilization Age? As there is no unified conclusion we must have extended detailed research on all topics.


3. ORIGIN OF CHINESE CIVILIZATION


From archaeological data, I tend to agree that Chinese civilization originated in the Xia and Shang Dynasties, i.e., the Erlitou cultural stage, but this does not solve all questions. From north to south, China’s 9,600,000 sq. m territory occupies a major part of Asia and includes more than 50 ethnic peoples, plus most Asian ones. Under such conditions, was there only one developmental model of civilization? Under some basic premises, can there logically be different standards for civilization in various places? Some cultures were influenced by Zhongyuan culture during their development. Did internal conflict or spread of Zhongyuan culture hasten their entering the Civilization Age? As these are theoretical questions, their better understanding will give us a correct initial step in our research. It is also a question of current research because in the past few years archaeology in places beyond the Zhongyuan area gave tremendous new information. How we understand social implications from new data is most urgent work for Chinese archaeologists.


Beginning with Eastern Zhou and those dynasties in the Zhongyuan area, many people on the frontier entered society’s class stage. Long before they were given county status in the Qin and Han Dynasties, the Qiang people in the northwest, Xiongnu in the north, Sushen and Suiho in the northeast, Ba, Su, Dien and Yelang in the Southwest, and Yue in the southeast had their own “government” and were relatively independent politically, economically and culturally. Based on each of their histories, could they (or part of them) be considered to have entered the Civilization Age? If yes, their civilizations have peculiar traits based on current data; e.g., there were no written characters for Qiang, Xiongnu, Sushen and Suiho peoples and no city for Dien and Yelang peoples. Therefore, how we evaluate their route for entering the Civilization Age is an important subject for research on the history of Chinese civilization.


When researching the origin of north Chinese civilization, some scholars note “sites of Nu Shen Miao (Temple Goddess) and nearby stone graves in Niuheliang equate with altar sacrificial sites of ‘Late Hongshan Culture’. Niuheliang sites show by 5000 years ago that a social system similar to but more advanced than the modern commune system already existed in China”(51). Other scholars indicate “Hongshan altar, temple and grave sites represent the highest level of prehistoric culture in north China, a leap in social growth and the twilight of 5000 years of Chinese civilization”(52). Mr. An believes “contradictions exist in their arguments because, if Hongshan were a ‘prehistoric civilization, it could not be a social system ‘similar to but more advanced that the modern commune system’, or the ‘twilight of 5000 years of Chinese civilization”. I have a different point of view.


If we are swayed by Morgan’s classification of a direct connection between “Barbarism” and “Civilization”, social traits would be either this or that, and elements for civilization would have unforeseen nature, making suggestions on the social system and the twilight of 5000 year-old Chinese civilization hard to accept. But actual implication of the original Chinese text is not what Mr. An interpreted because “the twilight (or origin) of civilization” and the formation of “Civilization Age” were not concepts. New archaeological finds and scientific attitudes merely suggest a transitional period between these stages, an honorable attitude in my opinion. The problem they disclose of classifying primitive society is actually a significant question of current academic thought.


Morgan’s 19th century primitive social development model based on linear growth from maternal to paternal clan society and tribe to the state has been rejected in the West and replaced by theories of M. D. Sahlins(53), E. R. Service(54), M. H. Fried(55), etc., on Band Society, Tribe and Chiefdom to the State. Most noted is the suggestion of Chiefdom, the transitional stage between Primitive and Civilized societies. Tribe did not totally disappear, but a system of inheritance of successive generations formed. Economic oppression remained and tributes and dedications existed. Centralized authority had not yet formed, but the inherited leader, his followers and soldiers controlled the tribe, giving the Chiefdom traits of both Primitive and Civilized societies; e.g.s, ethnographic Tongas, Hawaiian, Natchez Indians of the Mississippi River, and Kwakiutl and Nootka Indians on the Northwest Coast of North America, plus the ancient Mexican Olmec (ca. 1000 BC) and Near-East Samarra (ca. 5300 BC). Whether or not Chinese academics accept this concept is still questionable, but it seems appropriate if some hypothesize the existence of a transitional stage based on certain theories and facts opened for discussion.


The “twilight of civilization” and “dawn of civilization” are internationally accepted terms, with “twilight” and “dawn” implying origin and not growth of civilization elements, while origin should be initiated and searched in the previous stage. The famous American author Alexander Marshack traced the origin of some civilization elements all the way back to the Palaeolithic, saying “art, agriculture, science, mathematics, astronomy, calendar, writing, the city and other elements of civilization did not form suddenly, but over tens of thousands of years”(56). Recently, Mr. Su Bingqi said “authors of scriptures were right in describing civilization, as social class, city, state, bronze, written characters, etc., are elements. When they appear in the change from primitive clan to civilized society is the question archaeologists must answer”(57). No doubt this suggestion is correct. Nobody has ever criticized Childe’s use of “dawn” in his famous book The Dawn of European Civilization.


Using current data the earliest Chinese civilization appeared in the Zhongyuan area, but not every element was invented by people of the Xia and Shang Dynasties. Other places and peoples had their cultural traditions, creating elements with special local traits. These elements later diffused to the Zhongyuan area, becoming mainstream ancient civilization. We should say that one reason for the glorious ancient mosaic of Chinese civilization was its absorption of other cultures, as Mr. Su Bingqi said: “the origin of Chinese civilization was like stars covering the sky. Although civilizations of different places and peoples start at different times, they were all special and enriched Chinese civilization. They all created Chinese civilization”(58) and in my opinion, are not far from a constructive theory of history.


4. CONCLUSION


Questions needing answers are: What is implied by “civilization” and “culture”. Is Morgan’s three stage classification still useful to Chinese archaeologists? Is the origin (not growth) of Chinese civilization monistic or pluralistic?


When new theories are proposed it is always possible that imperfect thinking or opposing traditions are included. Discordant opinions and confusion accompanying them are always unavoidable in scientific growth, and lack of discussion but not new aspects cause confusion. Mr. An noted “there are still many questions to be addressed on the origin of Chinese civilization, but when searching for answers, one must fully understand orderly historic facts and respect customary fundamental concepts”(59), something I fully agree to. But concluding from orderly historic data and fundamental concepts should only be accepted after scientific discussion. When old theories no longer represent new data and new phenomena, one should allow growth in new directions and revision of old theories from different sources. New ideas, even temporarily imperfect, are acceptable and updatable when new data becomes available.


The policy of “Bai Jia Zheng Ming” (or everybody competing to express ideas) has existed in China for more than 30 years. In thinking and psychological preparation, every academic worker should have an adoption period that may be long, troubled or even agonizing under certain conditions. Nevertheless, there is no other way for the growth of Chinese academics.

BIBLIOGRAPHY


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  1. Tong, M. K., “Further Search on the Origin of Chinese Civilization – Report on the New Archaeological Discoveries in Liaoxi by Su BingYie”, Information History, No.1, 1987.




  1. See (57).






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