Chinese words are transcribed according to the Wade-Giles system with the exception of names for which already a popular way of transcription exists (such as Peking). Place names are written without hyphen, if they remain readable.
THE EARLIEST TIMES
1 Sources for the earliest history
Until recently we were dependent for the beginnings of Chinese history on the written Chinese tradition. According to these sources China’s history began either about 4000 B.C. or about 2700 B.C. with a succession of wise emperors who “invented” the elements of a civilization, such as clothing, the preparation of food, marriage, and a state system; they instructed their people in these things, and so brought China, as early as in the third millennium B.C., to an astonishingly high cultural level. However, all we know of the origin of civilizations makes this of itself entirely improbable; no other civilization in the world originated in any such way. As time went on, Chinese historians found more and more to say about primeval times. All these narratives were collected in the great imperial history that appeared at the beginning of the Manchu epoch. That book was translated into French, and all the works written in Western languages until recent years on Chinese history and civilization have been based in the last resort on that translation.
Modern research has not only demonstrated that all these accounts are inventions of a much later period, but has also shown why such narratives were composed. The older historical sources make no mention of any rulers before 2200 B.C., no mention even of their names. The names of earlier rulers first appear in documents of about 400 B.C.; the deeds attributed to them and the dates assigned to them often do not appear until much later. Secondly, it was shown that the traditional chronology is wrong and another must be adopted, reducing all the dates for the more ancient history, before 900 B.C. Finally, all narratives and reports from China’s earliest period have been dealt a mortal blow by modern archaeology, with the excavations of recent years. There was no trace of any high civilization in the third millennium B.C., and, indeed, we can only speak of a real “Chinese civilization” from 1300 B.C. onward. The peoples of the China of that time had come from the most varied sources; from 1300 B.C. they underwent a common process of development that welded them into a new unity. In this sense and emphasizing the cultural aspects, we are justified in using from then on a new name, “Chinese”, for the peoples of China. Those sections, however, of their ancestral populations who played no part in the subsequent cultural and racial fusion, we may fairly call “non-Chinese”. This distinction answers the question that continually crops up, whether the Chinese are “autochthonons”. They are autochthonons in the sense that they formed a unit in the Far East, in the geographical region of the present China, and were not immigrants from the Middle East.