Yueshi Culture

Yueshi Culture (岳石文化), by Fang Hui (Jinan: Shandong renmin chubanshe, 2004, 118 pages).

Reviewed by Qiaowei Wei (PhD. Candidate, Shandong University; HYI Visiting Fellow)

Among various archaeological cultures found in the Shandong region, the Yueshi culture shows signs of important sociopolitical transformation during the period from the late Neolithic to the early Bronze Age. Although no radiocarbon dating has been carried out at sites of Yueshi culture (for further discussion see Prof. Fang Hui’s paper on Kaogu 1998, 岳石文化的分期与年代), current research on pottery chronology suggests that it followed Longshan culture (ca. 2600-1900 BC.), and was replaced by the early Shang culture, which means the remains date to between roughly 1900-1500 BC. Despite the fact that only a finite number of sites have been found, many archaeologists consider the Yueshi culture an important case for studies of social change during the late Neolithic period in the Shandong area. It is also believed that this area played an important role in the origins of Chinese civilization. Previous studies that used a cultural-historical framework have not been able to interpret the relationship between Longshan and Yueshi culture, nor have they been able to illustrate the process of social change from Longshan culture to Yueshi culture. However, in this book, Fang Hui provides us with a social context of Yueshi culture, even though the topic of this book is archaeology.

As one of the outstanding archaeologists in China, Prof. Fang focused on the Yueshi culture when he was a graduate student in Shandong University. He spent more than ten years in archaeological investigation and excavation in Shandong region, and collected a wealth of archaeological data. These data relate to three different themes for understanding the social context of Yueshi culture.

The first is the origins of Yueshi culture. It is believed that the Yueshi culture has its origins in the Longshan culture. This hypothesis is based on a consideration of similarities in landscape, as well as the presence of “ding-dou” type vessels, which are also present in the Longshan culture. The Yueshi culture, however, has more than one vessel type. The author tries to clarify the interrelationship between the relevant cultures, using a typology of vessels. He compares the Yueshi culture to the lower Xiajiadian culture, the Shuangtuozi Culture, the Dianjiangtai culture and a number of others. These comparisons demonstrate that the Yueshi culture must have been in contact with and adapted to a number of cultural zones, and was not limited to exchanges between ‘Yi’ (the culture of eastern China) and ‘Xia’ (the culture of the central plain).

The sociopolitical structure of Yueshi culture is also discussed at length in this book. Given the presence of a settlement with a limited number of central places surrounded by smaller settlements, as well as the sophisticated methods of building the earthern-walls, which surround the site, Prof. Fang Hui proposes that different elements of civilization arose during the Yueshi culture. However given the limitations of the evidence at hand, it was not possible for the author to say whether the sociopolitical structure of the Yueshi culture was in the form of a state.

The last issue discussed in this book is the question of how to conceive the social networks of Yueshi culture. According to the historical literature, a social group named “Yi” lived in the area to the east of the Central Plains. The discoveries of the Yueshi culture found in the Shandong region led some archaeologists to suggest that the inhabitants of the Yueshi culture must have been the “Yi” people described in the texts. Prof. Fang Hui, however, believes that it is difficult to say whether the inhabitants of the Yueshi culture were representative of the “Yi”, because of the high level of human migration and movement that occurred in this region in prehistory.