Who were the first people in China? Stone Age China
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Stone Age China

Chinese jade dragon
Jade dragon-pig from New Stone Age China

The first people (leaving out Neanderthal-type pre-humans) seem to have reached China about 50,000 BC, probably coming to North China across Central Asia, and to South China up the Pacific coast from Southeast Asia. This is about the same time as the first people in Europe. These people lived in caves, made fires, used stone and bone tools, and wore fur and leather clothes. They were hunters and gatherers.

But big changes happened around 4000-3000 BC, in the Neolithic or New Stone Age, when people began farming rice and keeping animals (like sheep and chickens) in China. West Asian people had already been farming for about three thousand years, but we don't know whether people in China learned how to farm from the West Asians or began doing it on their own. Probably they began on their own, just as a natural response to being more crowded and needing to produce more food on their land, or because of climate changes. As in Egypt and West Asia, the first place where people began settling down in cities was in a river valley, along the Yellow River in northern China.

Once people living in China began farming, they also began to live in villages and build small houses with reed roofs. Around 3000-2000 BC, they also began to make pottery. Again, this is later than in West Asia, but that doesn't mean that the Chinese learned how from the West Asians. We know about two kinds of Chinese pottery from this time:
Red clay pots with swirling black designs from north-west China, and
Smooth black pots from north-east China.

About this time people in China also began to use silk to make clothes, and to use wagons with wheels. Probably, like the Sumerians, they learned about carts with wheels from people in Central Asia who had been using wheeled carts since about 3700 BC.

Learn by Doing - cook some rice for lunch
Did you understand this page? Take the quiz and find out!
Check out this series of shows about jade on CCTV China

Bibliography and further reading about Stone Age China:

Stone Age Chinese Art
Stone Age China Architecture
Shang Dynasty - 1766-1122
Chinese Environment
Ancient China

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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