If the discovery of a certain culture presents a comprehensive range of artifacts, unravels a huge number of historical mysteries, and even points to the origin of a civilization, there must be only one candidate to select: the Hongshan Culture.
Hongshan Culture, dating back five to six thousands years, derived its name from the Hongshan Mountain of Chifeng inside the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China.
The culture is known not only for its jade but also for its red pottery with black patterns and pottery decorated with Z-shaped designs. In recent years, the ruins of large buildings, tombs, a pottery goddess figure and many jade animal-carvings have been discovered. They point back down the years to the Hongshan Culture as a source of Chinese civilization.
As an important part of the Neolithic Age in Northern China, the Hongshan Culture was discovered in 1935 and covers an area from the Wuerjimulun River valley of Chifeng, Inner Mongolia in the north to Chaoyang, Lingyuan and the northern part of Hebei Province in the south, and extends eastward to cover Tongliao and Jinzhou.
Within the area of Hongshan Culture, bones of oxen, lambs, pigs, deer and river deer have been unearthed, though in small numbers. The oxen, lambs and pigs, which are presumably domestic animals, vaguely indicate that the early inhabitants of Hongshan Culture lived a settled life supplemented by animal husbandry, fishery and hunting.
More than 20 cirrus-shaped jade articles have been unearthed at the site of Hongshan Culture, and each of them represents two fundamental themes-cirrus-shaped angles and minor convexities. The combination of cirrus-shaped angles and minor convexities in different ways constitute the various patterns and designs of the cirrus-shaped jade articles of Hongshan Culture, which is best demonstrated by the enormous blackish green jade dragon unearthed at Sanxingtala Township of Wengniute Banner in 1971. The dragon is 26 cm in height with the head of a swine and the body of a serpent, coiling like a cirrus. Similar dragons were found later in Balin Right Banner and the Antiques Store of Liaoning Province. These cirrus-shaped jade articles can be classified into four types by analyzing their patterns and designs: decorative articles, tools, animals and special ones, of which the hoop-shaped articles are among the typical pieces of the jadeware of Hongshan Culture. The association of the shapes of these jade articles with their cultural context indicates that the special articles and the tools were made to meet the needs of religious ceremonies.
The discovery of the cirrus-shaped jade dragon at Hongshan Culture strongly suggests Inner Mongolia as one of the essential sites to trace the worship of the dragon by the Chinese people.
From the 1980s, religious relics of Hongshan Culture like the "Goddess Temple" and stone-pile tombs have been found at Dongshanzui of Kazuo County and Niuheliang at the juncture of Lingyuan County and Jianping County of Liaoning Province. The central part of Dongshanzui relics is the foundation of a large-scaled square structure built of stone. The overall layout of bilateral symmetry of the foundation to a south-north axis, which is characteristic of the traditional Chinese architectural style, is the first of its kind ever discovered at the site of Neolithic Age. The pottery figures unearthed at the relics indicate that the sites used to be places for sacrificial ceremonies or similar activities.
In the first place, archeological studies show that Hongshan Culture was developed on the basis of Xinglongwa Culture and Zhaobaogou Culture, and the inheritance and development of religious traditions between the three cultures is evident. The discovery of Niulianghe Relics in the 1970s indicates that large-scale centers for sacrificial rites had shown up by the end of Hongshan Culture. This is not only a breakthrough in the study of Hongshan Culture, but a discovery of great significance to the exploration of the origin of the Chinese civilization.
It is characterized primarily by the ancient painted potteries, the "Z"-stripped potteries and the unique digging tools-stone spades and laurel leave-shaped two-holed stone knives. The potteries of Hongshan Culture fall into two types-clay potteries and sand-mixed potteries, both manually made.
The clay potteries are mostly red, usually in the forms of bowl, basin, jar and pots, etc., most of which are containers with small flat bottoms. Most of the clay potteries are decorated with black or purple stripes arranged mainly in parallel lines, triangles, scale-shaped patterns and occasionally in "Z"-shaped pressed stripes.
The stone ware of Hongshan Culture is made by grinding with the blades of stone knives finely ground and the edges and backs in curved symmetry, indicating a fairly developed agricultural economy of the culture.
Moreover, Hongshan Culture is credited with remarkable achievements in architecture, pottery-making, jade-carving and pottery sculptures which are at higher levels than those of Xinglongwa Culture and Zhaobaogou Culture. The duet of square pottery molds unearthed at the relics of a house of Hongshan Culture at Xitai, Aohan Banner, which is the earliest mold for metal casting, shows that the early people of Hongshan Culture had mastered the technology of bronze casting.
Judging from the position of Hongshan Culture in the archeological culture of ancient Northern China and China in the Neolithic Age, it can be well assumed that Hongshan Culture is one of the most advanced cultures among the ranks of its peers in both southern and northern China at that time, when the smelting of bronze had made an appearance, the earliest cities surrounded by ditches had shown up, and the division between urban and rural areas had taken shape.
Religious activities characterized by the worshiping of dragon and jade and respecting the ancestors were in vogue. The conflicts among social groups and the subsequent fights for the unification of religious beliefs had become the fundamental social issue. This is further proof to the assumption that the people of Hongshan Culture had marched from the clan society into the historical phase of ancient kingdoms.
Therefore, it can be said that by laying a foundation for the development of the Chinese civilization of five thousand years and formulating and influencing the layout of the origin and the progress of the protocol-dominating culture of China, Hongshan Culture plays an extremely essential role in the evolution of Chinese civilization.