Myths and Legends of China

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Arrival of the Chinese in China

Taking into consideration all the existing evidence, the objections to all other theories of the origin of the Chinese seem to be greater than any yet raised to the theory that immigrants from the Tarim valley or beyond (i.e. from Elam or Akkadia, either direct or via Eastern Turkestan) struck the banks of the Yellow River in their eastward journey and followed its course until they Page 16reached the localities where we first find them settled, namely, in the region covered by parts of the three modern provinces of Shansi, Shensi, and Honan where their frontiers join. They were then (about 2500 or 3000 B.C.) in a relatively advanced state of civilization. The country east and south of this district was inhabited by aboriginal tribes, with whom the Chinese fought, as they did with the wild animals and the dense vegetation, but with whom they also commingled and intermarried, and among whom they planted colonies as centres from which to spread their civilization.

The K’un-lun Mountains

With reference to the K’un-lun Mountains, designated in Chinese mythology as the abode of the gods—the ancestors of the Chinese race—it should be noted that these are identified not with the range dividing Tibet from Chinese Turkestan, but with the Hindu Kush. That brings us somewhat nearer to Babylon, and the apparent convergence of the two theories, the Central Asian and the Western Asian, would seem to point to a possible solution of the problem. Nü Kua, one of the alleged creators of human beings, and Nü and Kua, the first two human beings (according to a variation of the legend), are placed in the K’un-lun Mountains. That looks hopeful. Unfortunately, the K’un-lun legend is proved to be of Taoist origin. K’un-lun is the central mountain of the world, and 3000 miles in height. There is the fountain of immortality, and thence flow the four great rivers of the world. In other words, it is the Sumêru of Hindu mythology transplanted into Chinese legend, and for our present purpose without historical value. Page 17

It would take up too much space to go into details of this interesting problem of the origin of the Chinese and their civilization, the cultural connexions or similarities of China and Western Asia in pre-Babylonian times, the origin of the two distinct culture-areas so marked throughout the greater part of Chinese history, etc., and it will be sufficient for our present purpose to state the conclusion to which the evidence points.

Provisional Conclusion

Pending the discovery of decisive evidence, the following provisional conclusion has much to recommend it—namely, that the ancestors of the Chinese people came from the west, from Akkadia or Elam, or from Khotan, or (more probably) from Akkadia or Elam via Khotan, as one nomad or pastoral tribe or group of nomad or pastoral tribes, or as successive waves of immigrants, reached what is now China Proper at its north-west corner, settled round the elbow of the Yellow River, spread north-eastward, eastward, and southward, conquering, absorbing, or pushing before them the aborigines into what is now South and South-west China. These aboriginal races, who represent a wave or waves of neolithic immigrants from Western Asia earlier than the relatively high-headed immigrants into North China (who arrived about the twenty-fifth or twenty-fourth century B.C.), and who have left so deep an impress on the Japanese, mixed and intermarried with the Chinese in the south, eventually producing the pronounced differences, in physical, mental, and emotional traits, in sentiments, ideas, languages, processes, and products, from the Northern Chinese which are so conspicuous at the present day. Page 18

Inorganic Environment

At the beginning of their known history the country occupied by the Chinese was the comparatively small region above mentioned. It was then a tract of an irregular oblong shape, lying between latitude 34° and 40° N. and longitude 107° and 114° E. This territory round the elbow of the Yellow River had an area of about 50,000 square miles, and was gradually extended to the sea-coast on the north-east as far as longitude 119°, when its area was about doubled. It had a population of perhaps a million, increasing with the expansion to two millions. This may be called infant China. Its period (the Feudal Period) was in the two thousand years between the twenty-fourth and third centuries B.C. During the first centuries of the Monarchical Period, which lasted from 221 B.C. to A.D. 1912, it had expanded to the south to such an extent that it included all of the Eighteen Provinces constituting what is known as China Proper of modern times, with the exception of a portion of the west of Kansu and the greater portions of Ssŭch’uan and Yünnan. At the time of the Manchu conquest at the beginning of the seventeenth century A.D. it embraced all the territory lying between latitude 18° and 40° N. and longitude 98° and 122° E. (the Eighteen Provinces or China Proper), with the addition of the vast outlying territories of Manchuria, Mongolia, Ili, Koko-nor, Tibet, and Corea, with suzerainty over Burma and Annam—an area of more than 5,000,000 square miles, including the 2,000,000 square miles covered by the Eighteen Provinces. Generally, this territory is mountainous in the west, sloping gradually down toward the sea on the east. It contains three chief ranges of mountains and large alluvial plains in the north, east, and south. Three great Page 19and about thirty large rivers intersect the country, their numerous tributaries reaching every part of it.

As regards geological features, the great alluvial plains rest upon granite, new red sandstone, or limestone. In the north is found the peculiar loess formation, having its origin probably in the accumulated dust of ages blown from the Mongolian plateau. The passage from north to south is generally from the older to the newer rocks; from east to west a similar series is found, with some volcanic features in the west and south. Coal and iron are the chief minerals, gold, silver, copper, lead, tin, jade, etc., being also mined.

The climate of this vast area is not uniform. In the north the winter is long and rigorous, the summer hot and dry, with a short rainy season in July and August; in the south the summer is long, hot, and moist, the winter short. The mean temperature is 50.3° F. and 70° F. in the north and south respectively. Generally, the thermometer is low for the latitude, though perhaps it is more correct to say that the Gulf Stream raises the temperature of the west coast of Europe above the average. The mean rainfall in the north is 16, in the south 70 inches, with variations in other parts. Typhoons blow in the south between July and October.