chapter  1
Introduction to Ancient China
Pages 9

There was no such place as China for most of the time period covered by this book. Long before China arose as a concept, a place-name, and a political reality, a variety of cultures, polities, and states occupied parts of the physical landscape that we now know as China ( Map 1.1 ). Some of the fi rst manifestations of such cultures could be called “proto-Chinese” or “Sinitic”—that is, showing characteristics that would later be identifi ed with Chinawhile others clearly stood apart from the Chinese ethno-cultural world. The name China itself apparently comes from the state of Qin (pronounced “chin”), which in 221 BCE completed the forcible unifi cation of the various states that occupied the Yellow River Plain and the Yangzi River Valley, imposed central rule upon them, and created the fi rst authentic imperial Chinese state. But a succession of proto-states and kingdoms had existed in parts of that territory for some 2,000 years before “Qin” gave rise to “China,” and Neolithic cultures had existed there for thousands of years earlier. Indeed, human existence in various places in East Asia can be documented back over 50,000 years. How, then, is one to refer to China before “China”? And why does it matter?