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” (越). 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.

non-sinitic state of Yue: SPP 176

Sino-Platonic Papers has released a completely new issue (not something from its archives): “The Submerged History of Yue,” by Eric Henry of the University of North Carolina.

This work uses passages in early Chinese texts, archeological findings, and comparative historical legend to build up a picture of the history and culture of the ancient state of Yue, located in the Mount Guiji area of present-day Zhejiang province. The article stresses the non-sinitic nature of this state and shows that it continued to exist in Southeast China long after the supposed date of its destruction.

The article is divided into the following sections:

  • The Distinctiveness of Yue
  • Material Remains
  • Chronology, Kinglists, and Survival
  • Language and Folklore
  • The Genesis of the Legend of Xi Shi
  • Conclusion

This is followed by two appendices and a photograph of the tomb of a Yue king.

The work is also available as a PDF (1 MB).

Here’s a bit of linguistic information:

It can also be deduced from surviving cultural and linguistic hints that the Yuè language belonged to the Austroasiatic family, which includes, among its modern members, Vietnamese, Mường, Chrau,Bahnar, Katu, Gua, Hre, Bonan, Brou, Mon, and Khmer, or Cambodian. In spite of the scantiness of surviving ancient evidence, Jerry Norman and Tsu Lin Mei, in a 1976 article, were able to demonstrate, based on ancient references to Yue words and dialectal survivals of non-sinitic words in the Mǐn dialects of Fújiàn, ten cases of words cognate with modern Vietnamese that were current in the Yuè cultural area in ancient times.*

* The modern Vietnamese words for which Norman and Mei demonstrate the existence of ancient southeast coastal cognates are: chết (to die), chó (dog), đồng (shaman), con (offspring), đằm (moist, soaked), sam (crab), biết (to know), bọt (scum, froth), bèo (duckweed), and kè (type of small fish).

Zhejiang orders Pinyin, numerals removed from business names

Xinhua is reporting that beginning in March 2007 the names of businesses in China’s Zhejiang Province must use no Hanyu Pinyin or numerals (Arabic numerals, most likely) and must have at least two Chinese characters.

This is reportedly the first time a local Chinese government has made this regulation. (But see also 911 restaurant?!.) Since this is a new regulation, it seems likely that it was created to counter an emerging practice. I expect we’ll hear soon of a crackdown against English in names, too.

Míngnián 3 yuè qǐ, fánshì zài Zhèjiāng de qǐyè jiù bùnéng zài shǐyòng yóu Hànyǔ Pīnyīn Zìmǔ huò shùzì zǔchéng de shānghào le, ér bìxū gǎiyòng yóu liǎng ge yǐshàng Hànzì zǔchéng de shānghào míngchēng.

Jù liǎojiě, zhè shì guónèi shǒu bù guānyú qǐyè shānghào guǎnlǐ hé bǎohù de dìfāngxìng fǎguī.

source: Shānghào yòng Hànzì bù shǎoyú liǎng ge (商号用汉字不少于两个), Xinhua, via Héběi qīngnián bào (河北青年报), December 2, 2006

related reading: Chinese man forbidden to use letter ‘D’ for son’s name, Pinyin News, November 5, 2005