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.