Brief Introduction to Chinese Culture: (1) The Origin of the Chinese People and their Culture - Tales from Early Times

Xin Yuan

PureInsight | June 26, 2006


Chapter 1:  The Origin of the Chinese People - the Genesis Stories

With respect to the origin of Heaven, the Earth and all other things,
westerners think that they were created by God.  In China, there
is a legend about Pan Gu creating Heaven and Earth.  According to The History of Three and Five,
written by Xu Zheng in the Three Kingdoms Period, the universe was
created by a God named Pan Gu.  He created Heaven, the Earth and
all other things. Afterwards, a Goddess named Nu Wa came.  She
used her power and created men and women in her own image.  

Chinese people thus came into being on the Earth.  However, the
people who had just been created didn't know where to live, what to
eat, how to shelter themselves from wind and rain, and what to do when
they were sick.  Therefore, some gods came from Heaven to teach
them basic living skills and brought the initial culture for

These gods included You Chao Shi who taught people how to build houses,
Sui Ren Shi who taught people how to make a fire out of wood, Fu Xi Shi
who taught people how to hunt and farm and determine initial Chinese
names, and Shen Nong Shi who taught people how to find food and medical

The ancient Chinese people enhanced their quality of life with help
from certain gods.  They acquired the capability to understand and
cope with the nature.  They began to have the basic protocols of
human kind.

Chapter 2:  The Splendid Culture of Chinese People

Chinese people often refer to themselves as "the children of the Yan and Yellow Emperors."  Why do they say this?

The ancestors of the Chinese people initially lived near the Huang
River.  This, of course, had something to do with the abundant
natural resources near the river.  Later, people started migrating
to the south.  At that time, people lived in clans.  All
clans respected Shen Nong Shi as the common god, the "Yan
Emperor."  The clans of Shen Nong Shi mainly lived in the lower
streams of the Huang River.

The legend says that there was another emerging clan in today's
southeastern Zhuolu area in Hebei Province near the Huang River. 
The clan was called You Xiong Shi.  The leader's last name was
Gong Sun, and his first name was Xuan Yuan.  He was later selected
as the leader of all the clans nearby and called "the Yellow Emperor."

Later, the clan of the Yan Emperor started losing control of other
clans.  The leader of the Jiu Li people in today's Hebei, Henan
and Shandong Provinces, Chi You, was especially fierce.  In order
to occupy the lower stream area of the Huang River, Chi You had a big
fight with the Yan Emperor's people and defeated them.  He formed
an alliance with the Yellow Emperor.  The Yellow Emperor led the
people of the two clans and defeated Chi You in the rural area of

Afterwards, the two Yan and Yellow clans had a battle.  The Yellow
Emperor won again.  All clans then respected the Yellow Emperor as
the common lord, namely Tian Zi replaced the Yan Emperor.  Tian Zi
means beloved son of Heaven who rules the human world by the order of
Heaven.  The Yellow Emperor was the first emperor who conquered
all Chinese groups with violence and battles.  Therefore, the
Chinese people call themselves "the children of the Yellow
Emperor."  They also refer to themselves as "the children of the
Yan and Yellow" because the Yan and Yellow clans together were the
ancestors of the Chinese people.

Under the leadership of the Yellow Emperor, the clans gradually
combined into the people of Hua Xia.  Hua means "splendid." 
It refers to the colorful clothes of Chinese people.  It also
indicates a prosperous culture.  Xia means "great."  The
People of Hua Xia are the people who live in the center area with a
prosperous culture.  At that time, there were other people living
at the peripheral areas.  Nowadays Chinese people also use "Hua
Xia" as another name of China.


 "The Children of the Yan and Yellow" initially meant the People
of Hua Xia, namely the Han race.  Now it refers to all Chinese,
including overseas Chinese.

The predecessor of the Han race was the People of Hua Xia.  The
name "Han" came from the Han Dynasty established by Liu Bang.

After Qin Shihuang (The First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty) united China,
he adopted a series of measures to standardize currency, language,
residential areas and so on.  This laid the foundation for the
formation of the Han race.

After Liu Bang took over China, he named his dynasty "Han" because he
was once the Duke of Han.  Historians called it the Western Han
Dynasty.  During the period of Western Han, China enjoyed a
relatively long period of prosperity.  The Han Dynasty became
especially powerful during the ruling period of the Han Wu
Emperor.  At that time other people and countries called the
Chinese people "the Han people." "The Han People" at that time largely
consisted of the People of Hua Xia.  However, as the Western Han
Dynasty expanded, many other peoples were incorporated into the Han
Dynasty.  The People of Han gradually formed, but the name "Han
race" had not appeared yet.

During the period of Wei, Jin and South and North Dynasties, many
rulers were minorities.  They call northerners the "Han
people."  "Han" in the Sui and Tang Dynasties mainly referred to
people who lived in what used to be Tang Dynasty territories. 
During the Yuan Dynasty, the melting of different nationalities
accelerated.  The Ming Dynasty adopted the policy of making
everything completely Han style.  The Qing Dynasty's policy was to
divide its people into three tiers:  Manchu as first class
citizens, Mongols as the second class and Han as the third class. After
the Republic of China was established, the "Han people" were formally
called the "Han nationality."  Currently China has 56
nationalities, among which the Han nationality constitutes 92% of the
total population.  The total population of the other 55
nationalities is only about 90 million.  They are
minorities.  About 18 nationalities, including Mongols, Hui
(Chinese Muslims), and Tibetans have populations on the scale of
millions.  Yunnan Province hosts the greatest number of
minorities.  Except for the Hui nationality, the other 54
nationalities have their own spoken languages.  Very few have
their own written languages.

The Children of the Yan and Yellow Emperors went through dynasties one
after another.  During the process of melting of different
nationalities, they left a splendid Chinese culture for their
descendants.  For morality, we have Confucianism.  For
righteous faith and cultivation, we have the Tao of Lao Zi and
Buddhism.  For literature, we have poems such as Fu (a cross
between poem and prose) in the Han Dynasty, poems in the Tang Dynasty,
lyrical songs in the Yuan Dynasty and Ci (lyrical poems) in the Song
Dynasty.  For arts, we have calligraphy, paintings, architecture,
sculpture, ceramics, and gardening.  For science, we have great
inventions.  Some achievements our ancestors made in the fields of
medicine, astrology, agriculture, math and water conservancy are still
stunning, even for today's people.

(To be continued)

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