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23 October 2005 @ 01:52 pm
[silly fic]Severed Heads, Human Sacrifice, and Turtles 1/?  
So I'm studying for my Chinese midterm when I suddenly find myself getting really, really fed up with the dry writing style of Sources of Ancient Chinese Philosophy. This snarky little voice in my head starts making all sorts of little comments and, rather than have them come out in, oh, say, my actual midterm, I decided to type it up.

Don't ask me WHY I've chosen to inflict it on you.

I'm probably the only person in the world who will find this amusing, but you never know. It's pretty much a tongue-in-cheek narrative of early Chinese Prehistory-- hopefully it's funny. If anyone has the time to read and comment, I will be forever in your debt.

Note: This piece is not intended to mock anyone. Well, okay, in some ways it IS intended to mock some institutions, but it's a gentle, well-intentioned mocking, mostly of Western Ethnocentrism.
Let's just hope the Chinese government doesn't come after me, either.


This piece is rated PG-13 for my inappropriate sense of humor.


A Brief History of Neolithic China:
Wherein Heads Are Severed, Humans Are Sacrificed, And Turtles Are Writ Upon
as told by She Who Finds Such Things Amusing



So, you've studied American history in high school. Ha! The term 'history' as applied to our little upstart collection of colonies has always cracked me up. What history? You've got, what, two hundred years and change? Maybe a little more, if you go back to Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, but who wants to deal with all those Puritans, anyway? I ask you. So yeah, two hundred years ain't really history, not in the grand scheme of things, and certainly not when you compare it to oh, say, China. That's the big, honk'n civilization that's over there holding it's belly, near sick with laughter at the thought o' American History. Ye-ah.

China's old. That's kind of like saying the ocean is wet-- severe understatement. So old that they've got things like the Peiking Man, Lantian Man, and some funky little mandible thingy called dryopithecus just lying around, waiting for some sharp Chinese Anthropologist to dig 'em up and give them funny names. (And, I ask you, can you get much funnier than dryopithecus? Unfortunately, you can.) The Ancient Chinese themselves said that the world was made by Nu Wo, a female god (got that? Female god, not goddess. geeze.) who had the head of a woman and the body of a snake. Obviously, this is one girl who's not big on shoe shopping, but whatever. Nu Wo melted down stones of five different colors to make a new sky, and used ashes to soak up the water left over from The Flood. You'd think the God of the Israelites would learn to clean up after his own self, but no, Nu Wo has to do it. Isn't that just like a man? So, anyway, Nu Wo gets done with all her scrubbing and all, and she realizes she's kinda bored. Being a god will do that to you. She says to herself, 'Nu Wo, you're getting in a rut, my girl.' So she gets together with her brother/consort Fuxi (not really picky on the whole intermarriage thing, were the gods) and they decide to make some humans out of clay. Just 'cause they were bored.

On the other hand, the Ancient Chinese had another myth-- a more male centered one. This is something you get all over the world, mostly because, at some point way back in prehistory, men got it into their heads to subjugate and oppress and generally be mean to all the women, so they took over and formed a patriarchy. No one knows exactly why they did this, but you can bet we females are gonna be a Whole Lot More Vigilant when we get the power back, yo. When, not if. The male-centered Chinese origin myth says that this dude, Pangku, was stuck in this cosmic egg. How the egg got there really isn't important, though one would assume some type of really big-ass chicken. But there's Pangku, in this egg, and he spends 18,000 years chipping his way out of the darned thing only to die of loneliness when he'd achieved his goal. (Again, we can only roll our eyes and say 'Men.') However, Pangku's body formed the Earth, and all the flees and ticks and lice became human beings. Whee. Bleeding illustrious origins we have here, eh?

Those are the stories, and pretty darn good ones they are, at that. We've got incest, existentialism, and head lice. What's not to like? Regardless of either of those stories, the archaeological record in China is pretty dang impressive. Drool-worthy, in the minds of anthropologists who, as I've mentioned, are just mad about finding new old things to name. This brings us up to the Neolithic period, with about three different types of peoples milling about in China, working and sweating and having babies and generally doing their thing. You've got the Yangshao, cultivating millet and making pottery with funny fish-god thingies on them. (Another thing archaeologists and anthropologists love to do is assign a Deep Philosophical Meaning to random squiggles. But hey, everyone needs a hobby.) You've got the Dawenkou/Longshang dudes, growing wheat and barely and making these bleeding awesome black pots that look like something you'd buy at Satanic Worshipers 'R' Us. Then you've got these Liangzhu guys. We've also got some evidence of a matriarchal society.
Jackpot, bay-bee!

There's this swinging place called Banpo-- or, at least, it was swinging, back somewhere in-between 10,000-3,000 B.C.E. Banpo was built by those Yangshao dudes, with about thirty or forty houses, clay dama, and-- dig this-- graves with women buried together with large amounts of grave goods. This one little twelve year old girl had 758 beads in a jar. That, my friend, is a bleedin' lot of beads, if you can but dig it.

So we've got this flourishing agrarian cultures where the women are held in pretty high regard. People are startin' to get all specialized, you know? Not having to worry about your survival every single second leaves room for a bit o' hobby time, if you catch my drift. This, of course, is when the guys have to go screwing everything up, inventing war and demanding power and whatnot. You've got coed burials, and an emphasis on the nuclear family. That's about when some Ancient Scholars say this kingdom called the Hsia popped up. The thing about these Hsia, man, is there's no historical record of them. Poof, finito, imasen-- they ain't there. It's a possibly fictitious kingdom! Maybe even a hallucination on the part of Confucius, but whatever. We're here to gently mock, not to judge, am I right?

This is when we get to the Shang, and the real fun stuff. I promised you human sacrifices and headlessness, didn't I? Rightee-Oh! These Shang are around from about 1776-1142 BCE (don't you just love how prehistory goes backwards? I do. Bloody hilarious) and they've got these thingy-majigs called Longgu. Dragon bones, in the English. Only they're not really dragon bones, they're turtle shells and oxen shoulders, boiled in beer. Don't listen to the drunken Greek Fraternities when they say they invented the kegger-- the Chinese were there long before hand. Not only is this indicative of a lot of really drunken Chinese, but it also shows that these dudes really wanted to write stuff down. They weren't writing grocery lists or 'LORD SHAO WUZ HERE', oh no. They were writing questions to their ancestors. Questions like, 'Will it rain today?' Let's hope the ancestors were a lot more accurate than that sap on Channel 9, yeah? Another big concern was poop. We're talking excrement, dukie, the brown stuff. As much as I hate to stoop to the common vernacular, shit. This stuff wasn't just smelly, it was mui importunate. They needed it to fertilize their fields. That's what you can going back 'ta nature, if you catch my not-so-subtle drift.

These Oracle Bones had writing on them, though not quite the regimented fanciness we see in Kanji of today. It was more like a rough picture, and consisted of things like 'metal worker', 'water', 'moon', 'slave' and 'decapitated person'. Great stuff, huh? That's where the other Dragon Bone question comes in. 'Cause, you know, the Ancestors aren't gonna get off their long-dead butts and answer their upstart descendants questions for nothing, now are they? No, sir. Therefore, the Shang decide to sacrifice human beings to please the old folks. And really, who wouldn't be pleased with a bunch of decapitated people you don't even know? Only a creep, that's who.

So we've got a pretty advanced agrarian culture sitting around making bronze vessels and chopping off people's heads. Life's a party, right? Well, it never lasts. Meet Chi Chang, a rebellious SOB with an axe to grin against the current Shang Emperor, one Tzu Shou Hsin, esq. Seems Mr. Tzu imprisoned Chi Chang's daddy, and now Number One Son is out for a little old fashioned vengeance. So Chi Chang overthrows the whole bloody empire 'cause he's feeling pissy, and establishes the next dynasty, that of the Chou. But Chi Chang's got a big problem on his hands-- he's smart enough to know he could easily follow Tzu down to the executioners block if he doesn't find some way of reaffirming his legitimacy. There's a two-dollar word for you. Le-git-i-macy, as in 'I have every right to lazy about all day watching football and drinking beer, while y'all go build me a temple'. That sort of legitimacy. There hasn't been a king or governor or president or whatever on Earth that hasn't had to worry about this little concept. The Romans worried about it, the Anglo-Saxons worried about it. George Dub-yah, in whatever scraps of lint pass for his brain, lies awake at night worrying about it. (Though, I grant you, he probably hasn't gotten past worrying how to spell it.) Luckily, Chi Chang's got a pretty darn radical idea, and the balls to actually try and pull it off. What does he do? Why, he declares himself the Son of Heaven.

That's right. According to Chi Chang, "God" has handed down a Heavenly Mandate. Seems Chi Chang is the only one who got this little memo, and the memo says that Chi Chang is God's numero uno choice for Leader of the People. Now, let's stop a minute here and clear something up. The Chinese have always been kinda fuzzy on the subject of "God"-- it's more like "God, Fate, Heaven, Whatever". It's out there, but it's definitely not the pressing concern it is for the Western World. Saves the Chinese a lot of hassle in the long run, and they're not nearly as uptight about sex. Always a bonus. But here's Chi Chang saying that GFHW (God, Fate, Heaven, Whatever) not only exists, but that whatever it is gives enough of a damn about the Chinese people to appoint them a Leader. Pretty radical stuff right there, my friend.

Chi Chang's feel'n pretty darn good about himself right now. Because, I mean, honestly-- who's gonna argue with GFHW? It's really hard, especially seein' as you can sit around for-bleedin-ever waiting for a rebuttle. Old ol' pal Chang decides to call GFHW tien. Then he decides that, just to make sure no one goes around spicing his take-out with arsenic, he starts giving out important positions to all his family members. He goes and makes this complex system aristocracy, with five levels, each to be inherited by the first son of the primary wife. That's important there-- the Chinese, like many pre-modern peoples, were mad about having more than one wife. (Some pre-modern peoples were mad about having more husbands. That one looks a whole lot more apealing to you ladies, now doesn't it?) Some Chinese Emperors had more than three hundred wives. Ye-ah. The line for the bedroom forms on the right, and you can just bet there was never any hot water when he finally go the bathroom all to himself. Serves the dude right. But Chang thinks he's got is all covered. How can there be a rebellion when the ruling class is composed of your family?
Obviously this guy's never met MY family.

Stay tuned for The Fall of The Chou Dynasty And Other Fun Things To Do With Arrows, coming whenever to a livejournal near you.
 
 
Emotional Temperature: hopefulhopeful
The Band Plays:: "Drops of Jupiter"-- by Train
 
 
 
Miyekomiyeko on October 23rd, 2005 09:08 pm (UTC)
What happens if you turn this in for an essay test? (^_^)
Meredith Bronwen Mallory: lovesecretgarnettrees on October 24th, 2005 12:54 am (UTC)
I imagine Dr. K would use me as an in-class example of human sacrifice. ^_~
-Meredith
Mishhsapiens on November 2nd, 2005 07:11 pm (UTC)
hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!! *wipes eyes* You rock, woman. I've known your name through reading older SG-1 fan fic and now I'm delighted to find your LJ, wherein you tackle history.

So yeah, two hundred years ain't really history, not in the grand scheme of things...

I'm sure you've encountered the difficulty in explaining time to John Q. Public, for whom what he ate for lunch last Thursday is history. I had a prof once who had a great line: "Urbanization is an experiment for humanity. It hasn't run long enough to know if it's for real or a flash in the pan."

(Another thing archaeologists and anthropologists love to do is assign a Deep Philosophical Meaning to random squiggles. But hey, everyone needs a hobby.)

Gods, yes. And when it's something seemingly inexplicable, describe it as "religious or ceremonial." Tag assigned, case closed.

in the minds of anthropologists who, as I've mentioned, are just mad about finding new old things to name

*nods* Oh yeah. Absolutely. Mmmm-hmmmm.

~~~

I took survey courses of Chinese history and archaeology but I can honestly say I learned more that I'll retain a week from now from this -- and I'm looking forward to the Fall of the Chou Dynasty.
Meredith Bronwen Mallory: love2garnettrees on November 6th, 2005 10:46 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you were amused, Mish! This is the first historical "parody" I've done, so your encouragement is greatly appreciated.

You're absolutely right about John Q. Public and time. Some of the things people call 'historic' would make me laugh if it wasn't so bloody insane.

And wow, you learned something, too! ^__^ Who'da thought? ^_~
Thanks again,
-Meredith