Chapter 20A: Mythical and Legendary China

With the Shang dynasty we enter historical times. Before we enter history, let us see what the Chinese have traditionally considered their own history. This will throw some Chinese light upon the preceding archaeological discussion.

History of legendary history

Written down in the Chou dynasty 2000 years after the fact

Before beginning, let us set a context. The myths and legends of Chinese prehistory were passed down orally for 2000 years or more before they were finally written down as legendary history during the Chou dynasty in the first millennium BC. Hence myth, legend, and history are melded and blended together in a rich soup mixing fact and fantasy. This style of oral tradition is common to all pre-literate cultures.

Discovery of historic Shang gives credence to legends

As with any legend, the trick is to separate fact and fancy. However, in China, initially the now-historic Shang dynasty was originally considered legendary. The discovery of the Shang remains gives greater credence to the historicity of their legendary history. The discovery of the Shang dynasty was equivalent to the discovery of Troy, in the sense that the legendary tales were given increased credibility.

Reflects Chou point of view

As with any history, the bias of the culture of the historian also influences the tale. Thus the Chou culture while transmitting Chinese history put their unique spin on it. We will try to point these biases out.

Longshan culture the beginning of traditional Chinese culture

One last point. We will speculate that the myths and legends of Chinese history originated in the Longshan culture rather than the Yangshao culture, for reasons we shall see. For this and other reasons it seems that the Longshan culture contained the seeds of traditional Chinese culture outside the imperial government. With these elements in mind, let us look to the legendary history of the China.

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