The 2023 World Great Rivers Civilizations Forum was held in Zhengzhou, Henan province, on Sept 17 and 18. (CHINA DAILY)
The importance of great rivers in the development of civilizations and how to better protect cultural heritage in these areas was under the spotlight at a major forum in Zhengzhou, Henan province, last month.
More than 300 heritage professionals and diplomatic envoys from China and other countries with great river basins, including the Indus, Mesopotamian and Nile, attended the 2023 World Great Rivers Civilizations Forum on Sept 17 and 18.
Wang Wei, director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Academic Division of History, says that, in the long history of China, most of its prehistory and dynastic changes took place in the Yellow River Basin.
About 10,000 years ago, people in this area began to grow millet, one of the earliest attempts at organized agriculture in the world. With the advent of agriculture, populations increased, which in turn promoted the development of handicrafts and further population growth.
As a result, social differentiation gradually intensified, leading to the emergence of class-based dynasties and states, says Wang. "Most of the influential ancient Chinese political systems and ideological beliefs were born in this area. That is why we say Yellow River culture is the root of the Chinese civilization."
He also points out that the Yangtze River, another great waterway in China, also played a vital role in the formation of Chinese civilization as rice-based farming and its associated culture developed.
Yang Jianhua, a professor at Jilin University's School of Archaeology, makes comparisons between the origins of civilizations in the Yellow River Basin and Mesopotamia, both cradles of civilization, in terms of family structures, patterns of culture, regional integration and religious traditions.
According to her, the Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia and Chinese civilization, as represented by the Yellow River, are two of the most important early civilizations in history. Their development paths into states are of universal significance to the world.
She also points out the discontinuous nature of Mesopotamian civilization when compared with the Yellow River. "In the Yellow River Basin, the continuity of kinship guarantees the continuity of cultural concepts and national identity, which is the foundation of the continuity of a civilization," says Yang.
People listen attentively to speeches made by attendees of the forum on the importance and protection of great river basins. (CHINA DAILY)
"On the other hand, the development of geopolitical organizations in Mesopotamia was at the cost of weakening kinship. As a result, national identities were constantly reorganized and replaced traditional cultural identity, making the civilization a noncontinuous one.
"They represent two different modes of the process of state formation. … The difference influenced ancient societies in each region and provides an important reference for us to understand differences in the current world."
Wang says that, without a thorough understanding of other civilizations in the world, it's difficult to summarize the characteristics of Chinese civilization.
"That is the reason why we Chinese archaeologists have gone out of China with big strides in recent decades," he says.
"Altogether, 36 Chinese teams have carried out archaeological work in more than 20 countries, including one to study the Mayan civilization since 2015 and one to study Egyptian civilization since 2018," he adds.
Tu Weiming, vice-chairman of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies, highlights the importance of communication between civilizations.
Greek philosophy and the Enlightenment, and the intellectual and philosophical movement in Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, have also inspired modern Chinese thinkers, he adds.
Wang says, "We hope to make the forum an international academic platform for scholars from various countries to exchange ideas and reach more cooperation in various fields in the future."