Finding a magical piece of China’s long history in my husband’s backyard


It’s one thing to see history on display behind a museum glass and another to experience it right beneath the soles of your hiking shoes.

My husband has always told me China is a magical place. And among the “magical” things about his native country is, naturally, its amazing 5,000 years of history. Over the years that I’ve been together with John — first as his girlfriend, then as his wife — I’ve heard him gush with pride about how China is one of the world’s oldest civilizations. And why wouldn’t he? If I came from a country with a continuous culture that stretched back thousands of years, I’d be proud of it too.

We’re both history and culture buffs, so naturally we’ve visited lots of museums on our travels across China, often in awe of the beauty and craftmanship of artifacts that are thousands of years old.

But I never believed we would ever find a piece of China’s history right in John’s humble little village in the countryside.

While exploring a ridge trail that cut across patches of bracken ferns, bamboo and satintail grasses on a hilltop, we suddenly came upon a clearing on the hilltop — and a historical marker carved into a slab of marble. That landmark designated the fertile ground beneath our feet the site of an ancient civilization that flourished 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.

That’s right. Four to five thousand years ago!

I couldn’t believe we found this on our hike! I surveyed the clearing around us, covered in mugwort, clover and other small weeds. Nothing about the geography could have told us we would stumble upon an ancient site on this ridgetop. And then I wondered, what was it like back then? How did these people live? Were any of the stones around the area evidence of their civilization as well?

Stones scattered around the site. Just coincidence or were they left behind by the ancient civilization?

But the other side of the marker provided no introduction or description for the culture, beyond that it was an ancient site dated to China’s Neolithic age.

I also wondered about what it meant for John and his past. Were these people among John’s ancestors? The idea thrilled me for a moment, even if we had no way to confirm it.

Later, when my husband looked up the site online, we learned that archaeologists had discovered a cache of broken pieces of ancient pottery at the site, including the legs of ding vessels, and suggested it was a part of Zhejiang’s Liangzhu culture.

When I saw an online photograph of the site’s scattered pottery fragments, each like a lost puzzle piece, I knew the find would only stand as footnote in China’s ancient history. Since the archaeologists already unearthed the major artifacts on the site, there wasn’t much to see there, apart from the landmark the government left behind. Meanwhile, friends and family in the village didn’t even know about it, and nothing about that hillside nor its trail even suggested that a fantastic find lay hidden beneath the trees and bushes.

Still, it felt magical all the same to know that a small part of China’s ancient history sat right in our backyard.

The hillside where we found the landmark. It looked so ordinary from afar!

Have you ever stumbled upon a historical or ancient site?

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12 Replies to “Finding a magical piece of China’s long history in my husband’s backyard”

  1. That’s a really cool find.

    However, I am skeptical of this “we Chinese have 5,000 years of culture” idea. (I also REALLY REALLY HATE IT when people try to act all superior to foreigners by saying ‘you don’t understand our 5,000 years of culture’, but that’s a tangent and I am sure your husband doesn’t do that).

    Yes, something you could call “Chinese culture” has a history that dates back thousands of years and is remarkably well-recorded, and that’s cool. But when you really look at it, the first few thousand years of those “5,000 years” are full of dubious, unverified history without contemporaneous recording – that tablet is not 5,000 years old because not even the oracle bones date back that far. It would be impossible for it to have been written, let alone for it to be readable today. It would have been placed there much later by people who said that that was what was on that ridge (although the pottery shards etc. could well be the real deal, which may be why they were unearthed and taken away and the tablet was not).

    The first verified history we have of Chinese civilization is more like 3500-4000 years old, and even then it was fragmented, it evolved, it mingled, it fractured. It evolved some more. The Chinese culture that existed then was probably not that similar, although it was the evolutionary root of, the Chinese culture that exists today, or exists before the Cultural Revolution.

    And on top of that, if you are going to accept that a fractured, commingled and ever-evolving “cultural history” counts as a “continuous culture”, then you get to apply that to any culture. You don’t get to dismiss other ones because they were static. You can date proto-Indo-European language and culture back that far, to Hellenic and Anatolian roots (and Egyptian goes back farther, but that’s a side note here).

    That means that if you apply the same standards to Western culture that you apply to Chinese culture to get that “5,000” number, **Western culture is just as ancient**. There is not much that is special about the antiquity of Chinese culture. It’s one ancient culture with a vague ancient history…just like a number of other cultures.

    And if you only date it back to when writing, archaeology and contemporaneous historical accounts start to line up, you can only date Chinese culture back about 3500 years, which is about as far back as you can date the same thing in Western culture.

    So, it’s great to take pride in your culture and your roots, but really it’s not such a big thing as many Chinese imagine.

    1. wow, you know Cultural Revolution. It seems you know much about China. It was indeed a disaster to China’s culture and its people.

  2. Wow! Is it possible to do some digging of your own without offending the law? You should do some more searches and see where it may lead you to. Fascinating! Who knows what you may find? And even if you don’t find anything, it is still some interesting project to occupy oneself with. Never mind about the argument as to whether Chinese culture or history is that long or continuous anyway.

  3. Amazing! I’m with Nicki and others who have suggested digging around yourself. Heheheh. That’s how the terra cotta soldiers in Xian were found — a farmer was digging in his field . . . . In any case, thanks very much for sharing another very interesting day!

  4. The continent of Africa. New discoveries every day. Where I am I have found ancient fossil stones, and many times farmers find ancient arrow heads in their fields. Vendors wire wrap them or sell them as is. There are a number of mound sites, and some areas of the city/state are known to have been areas where Native people lived. Outside of ancient sites, the majority of place names are Native American. I did stumble on a large ancient fish fossil near a river once, I decided to leave well enough alone, later a couple of kids from the local college “discovered” it and managed to lug it back to the university. Some professor took credit for the find.

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