Hongshan culture testifies the formation of Chinese community

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2024-02-15

C-shaped jade loong Photo: Provided to CSST

The remains of the Hongshan culture were discovered as early as the early 20th century, with its main distribution in the West Liao River basin and the northern and southern regions of the Yanshan Mountains in northern China. The Hongshan culture is a representative archaeological culture of the middle and late Neolithic period in northern China, dating back approximately to a period from 6,500 to 5,000 years ago.

Cultural community

From various perspectives such as the connotation, nature, and social ideology of the Hongshan culture, it is an important component of the diverse and integrated cultural landscape, serving as a significant symbol of the early formation of the Chinese cultural community. The most prominent features of the Hongshan culture are its custom of revering loong (Chinese dragon) and valuing jade. The close connections, exchanges, and integration of prehistoric regional cultures have led to the formation of a common cultural heritage, laying the foundation for the formation and development of a unified multi-ethnic state.

Previous research findings have shown that the production technology, productivity level, social complexity, and ideology of the Hongshan culture are not inferior or backward compared to other archaeological cultures of the same period. The culture had a broad and profound influence on the origins of Chinese civilization and the formation of Chinese culture, making it one of the main sources of later Chinese civilization and culture. In-depth study of the cultural relics of Hongshan reveals its role and contributions in the historical process of the formation of diverse and integrated Chinese civilization, which is of great significance for a profound understanding of the historical interactions, exchanges, and integration of the Chinese nation, and for firmly establishing a sense of community for the Chinese nation.

Loong & jade

According to existing information, the custom of valuing jade in China can be traced back to the middle and late Neolithic period. This reverence for jade, which began in the Stone Age, has developed over thousands of years to become a culturally rich tradition that permeates the depth of Chinese national culture, spreading and expanding across the lands and enduring to this day.

The jade artifacts of the Hongshan culture reached a considerable level in terms of technology, art, and other aspects. Research has shown that jade artifacts from the Hongshan culture have varying degrees of influence on cultures such as the Liangzhu, the Dawenkou, and the Taosi, although these influences may have been indirect. Renowned archaeologist Guo Dashun believes that the most direct influence of Hongshan jade on later periods is the influence it had on jade artifacts of the Shang Dynasty (c. 16th century–11th century BCE). The representative jade artifact in the Shang Dynasty, the carved jade loong, bears a direct line of inheritance in terms of its shape and imagery from jade loongs of the Hongshan culture.

Equal exchanges

By researching the Hongshan jade artifacts and jade usage systems from various archaeological cultures, it can be seen that the external influence of the Hongshan culture shares similarities with its own social development and expansion, as it predominantly utilized a more egalitarian mode of exchange.

Loong worship is one of the most important elements of various traditions, permeating many aspects of Chinese culture. The loong, as a composite of multiple animals, symbolizes the fusion of diverse cultures. Through continuous artistic processing and refinement, its imagery eventually took shape in the Shang Dynasty. China’s loong worship culture has a long and enduring history, and has been passed down to this day. Prehistoric loong worship relics and artifacts discovered during archaeological research are most concentrated, abundant and thematically diverse in the Hongshan Culture remains.

The West Liao River basin in the northern region of Yanshan Mountains is considered one of the earliest origins of loong worship culture. Among the manifold unearthed relics, the earliest and most representative is the C-shaped jade loong discovered in Sanxingtala, Wengniute Banner, Inner Mongolia.

Various jade loongs of the Hongshan culture are highly standardized in terms of their design and production, demonstrating striking consistency in both the overall image and the artistic treatment of details, reflecting the preliminary shaping of its form and concept in people’s minds. The loong reverence customs and culture of the Hongshan period have had a profound and widespread impact on later generations, becoming a significant social and cultural phenomenon.


Cui Shuhua is from the Inner Mongolia Academy of Social Sciences. Lian Jilin is from the Inner Mongolia Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

Editor:Yu Hui

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