For thousands of years, questions regarding the origin of the heavens, the earth and man have puzzled people all over the world. In western countries, the Judaic tradition taught that "God created the heaven and the earth and created man in his own image." While in China, myths such as that of Pangu creating the heavens and the earth and Nvwa creating man are widely known to everyone. However, none of these gave us an irrefragable answer of how the earth came into being and how mankind appeared.
Fortunately, the development of science, especially modern archaeology, paleontology and geology offer powerful aids in the solving of these mysteries.
In China, the human fossils found in Wushan in the county of Chongqing were over 3,000,000 years old and are believed to be the remnants of the earliest humankind that lived in China. Also, large quantities of fossils have been found widely spread over a number of other sites in China. Known as Yuanmou Man, Lantian Man, Peking Man, and Upper Cave Man (Shandingdong Man), these provide sufficient evidence to substantiate the fact that China was one of mans birthplaces as well as ancient Africa.
In those days, people depended primarily on fruit collecting, fishing and hunting. Archaeological and paleontological research in recent decades has proved that the appearance of man was the result of evolution while primates are considered to be his ancestors.
In the long process of evolution from primate to ancient man, labor plays a significant role. Originally, the productive tools made and used by man were of coarsely chipped stone. In order to distinguish these from the ground stone implements that man used later, archaeologists named the period of making and using these chipped stone implements the Paleolithic Age (the Old Stone Age), and the age of making and using ground stone implements the Neolithic Age (the New Stone Age).
About 10,000 years ago, humans entered the Neolithic Age. In order to adapt to new circumstances, they moved from mountainous areas and settled in groups near water. Subsequently, houses were built, pottery was invented, primitive agriculture developed and thus man adopted a new life style in permanent settlements. As stone grinding and drilling techniques became more efficient, the production of various stone tools became more widely practiced with a greater dependence on their use. Forsaking a total reliance on hunting, man began to make a living by growing crops, specifically rice in the south and millet in the north.
In these ancient times, due to low productivity and an adverse environment, people had to live in groups and depend on their collective skills to survive. They worked together and equally shared the food they acquired. To facilitate the needs of survival and development a fair, upright and capable person was chosen as a head to lead the people in their work and to organize their defense against invasion. This became a process whereby Yao recommended Shun, Shun recommended Yu and Yu recommended Gaotao and so on. Later generations named this way of choosing a tribal head The Abdication System. This period of widely practiced egalitarianism was characterized by peace, equality and the common ownership of wealth. So historians called it a Society of Great Harmony.
In ancient times, people lived in tribes or groups. During the long development of history, as the population increased, some people inevitably broke away from their groups to form new clans. Some small clans, connected by a blood relationship, combined together to form large tribes. These clans, living in similar periods and places would have a similar lifestyle including their levels of productivity, mode of building and burial arrangements. However, in time these gave birth to a variety of different cultures such as the Yangshao Culture, Banpo Culture, Hemudu Culture, Daxi Culture, Dawenkou Culture, Majiayao Culture and Qujialing Culture.
In order to survive in an often inhospitable environment, ancient people had to struggle with various natural disasters. Many legends have been passed down to us from those times. For example, "Yu the Great Fighting the Flood" which has especial significance in China.
By the time the late primitive period had evolved, there was a large number of clans and tribal groups living in China. Archaeologists have recorded them as the Huaxia Group, the Eastern Tribes and the Southern Tribes. In the main, the Huaxia Group was comprised of both the Huangdi and Yandi Tribes. In due course, the influence of the Huaxia Group, while at the height of its power, extended to the Yangtze and the Hanshui river valleys. Later generations, such as those of the Yu, the Xia, the Shang and the Zhou, were all descendants of the Huangdi. In this way, the Huaxia Group, established a unique place in history because the Huangdi became the common ancestors of the Chinese nation.
In these ancient times, due to low productivity and an adverse environment, people had to live in groups and depend on their collective skills to survive. With improved productivity, an individual was able to produce more than he could consume. This meant that following hostilities with neighboring clans captives were keep alive as slaves instead of being killed. These slaves were obliged to work and their total output became the property of their owners. In this way, private ownership evolved. As more and more people became either owners or slaves, a class structure developed within the society, thereby replacing the former primitive Society of Great Harmony.
The Longshan Culture is a prime example of this period. In order to protect their own interests, the privileged classes abandoned the Abdication System and adopted a new political system and social regulations. After the death of Yu the Great, his son Qi killed the appointed successor and usurped power. In so doing, he established a new era of hereditary monarchy which subsequently ruled in China for nearly 4000 years. This was the time when, Xia (The 21st to the 17th century BC), the first hereditary dynasty in China began.