The ancient Yue

This week’s rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Tattooed Faces And Stilt Houses: Who Were The Ancient Yue? (1.6 MB PDF), by Heather Peters.

Here’s the introduction:

Recent archeological evidence excavated at Hemudu, a site in northern Zhejiang Province south of Shanghai (Zhejiang Provincial Museum 1978), suggests that were we to step back in time to the 5th millennium B.C. in southern China, we would find people cultivating wet rice, raising water buffalo and living in houses perched high on stilt posts. Culturally, these people differed radically from the millet growing pit dwellers found in the Yellow River Valley region; their discovery has raised new and important questions regarding the development of culture and civilization in southern China.

At long last Chinese archeologists have begun to reinterpret the developments of early civilization in southern China. In so doing they have emphasized the emergence of a southern cultural complex which they call “Yue” (?). The Yue culture, as defined by Chinese archeologists, spans both the Neolithic and early state period.

As more and more archeological data are retrieved from southern China, Chinese archeologists are asking the question, who were the people who created this Yue culture? Were they ethnically different from the people who lived in northern China? What language(s) did they speak? One favorite theory at the moment is that the Yue people were ancestral to the various Tai speaking populations, i.e. the Tai Lue, Tai Neu, Tong, Shui, Bu Yi and the Zhuang, living today primarily in southwestern China.

This was originally published in April 1990 as issue no. 17 of Sino-Platonic Papers.

5 thoughts on “The ancient Yue

  1. One of the characters is used in the Shiji ?? and the other in the Houhanshu ???, I forget which at the moment. The second character is used in texts before that time for the people of the area around Shanghai. It was gradually extended down the Coast to where Guangdong is. Eventually it was just another name for “southern barbarian” like “Man” ?. This is particularly eveident in works like Huainanzi ??? which uses the terms ? and ? in opposition referring to non-Chinese peoples of the north amd south respectively. The people called Vietnamese now didn’t start using the name themselves until the tenth century, when their rulers called the country Dai Co Viet. They probably used the term Viet/Yue because it was so old it had some Classical prestige.

    So the modern Vietnamese aren’t related to the ancient Yue by anything other than their locale in the south. Their name for themselves back during the Han, it was most likely Lac/Luo written with the Character ? or ?.

  2. The current Vietnamese are from ?? (La?c Viê?t) originally. Then they merged with the ?? (Âu Viê?t) & ?? (Tây Âu) around 258BC by ?? (Thu?c Pha?n) and called themselves ?? (Âu La?c). By 207 BC, they merged with the ?? (Nam Viê?t) by ?? (Triê?u ?a?) and kept the ?? (Nam Viê?t) identity. As a country, ?? (Nam Viê?t) was wiped out around 111BC. Thus, ?? (Nam Viê?t) is the last ? (Viê?t) identity of the current Vietnamese. Ever since 111BC, whenever the ancestors of the current Vietnamese was able to wrest control from the ?? (Hua Xia), they called their countries ? (such as ???,??, etc…) Whenever the ?? (Hua Xia) was able to dominate the ancestors of the current Vietnamese they immediately changed the country names to something humiliating such as ?? (Jiaozi), ?? (Annan), etc… Around 19th century, The Qing dynasty didn’t want the current Vietnamese to lay claim to the 2 ? (Guangs), as historically part of ?? (Nam Viê?t). And as the ? (Qing) dynasty was weakened, they understood they couldn’t continue calling these ? (Viê?t) people Annamese (so they were called by the Chinese at the time). They finally decided to reverse the requested country name of ?? (Nam Viê?t) by the Annamese into Viê?t Nam (??) to cause confusion later on. Quite clever!

    Besides coming from a bunch of ? (Viê?t) people, the ancestors of the current Vietnamese aslo practiced “…raising water buffalo and living in houses perched high on stilt posts…” like the ? (Viê?t) of ZheJiang. So comparing between the current Vietnamese and the ?? (Hua Xia) squatters on ? (Viê?t) land, they obviously have more in common with the ? (Viê?t) of Zhejiang.

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