Questioning China’s “5,000 years” master trope (repost from Isham Cook)

“Isham Cook” is a blog we have started following – Isham is the pen name of an American writer based in China for seventeen years, a former teacher of literature and an essayist with catholic interests in a wide variety of subjects. Isham writes “by ‘essay’ I mean the essay as opposed to the ‘article’; the essay proper suits me because it fails to fit into preconceived categories but is by its very nature disturbing to those who seek to be reassured by the conventional pieties of the article.” His weblog has many interesting essays – here we repost with permission a link to a recent post from Isham that discusses the oft-heard shibboleth about China’s 5000 years of history and culture.

Questioning China’s “5,000 years” master trope

Posted on May 7, 2012 by

“About four or five thousand years ago, numerous tribes began mobilizing in the Yellow and Yangtze river basins…” begins this chapter from volume one of the national junior high school history textbook. …what all Chinese everywhere of whatever political persuasion agree upon is the figure used to mark the extent of their lineage: “5,000 years of civilization” and “5,000 years of history” are the most repeated phrases you’ll hear the Chinese use to describe their country. Indeed it is not so much something agreed upon as simply taken for granted. …I have long been interested in how this “5,000″ figure took hold, what founding or inaugurating event it was which established around 3000 BC the entity known as China, and what particular evidence has undergirded this early date. For as even official Chinese accounts will admit, it is an era shrouded in legend and myth.

Read Isham Cook’s article Questioning China’s “5,000 years” master trope.

Baidu has an article on 炎黄战蚩尤, “Ancient Tribal Wars of China,” (which begins with 传说, “according to legend”).

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