China, Egypt and Orion

In the past year, Sun Weidong, a highly decorated geochemist, has ignited a passionate online debate with claims that the founders of Chinese civilization were not in any sense Chinese but actually migrants from Egypt. In a lecture Sun gave at the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, the capital of the province of Anhui in China, the scientist presented several historical and scientific reasons to support the theory that the Xia dynasty, dating from 2070 to 1600 BC, was founded by Egyptians.

The professor cited several ancient Chinese classics, among which historian Sima Qian’s first century historiography, the "Records of the Grand Historian." In this work, Sima Qian described the topography of the empire, traditionally regarded as China’s first dynasty: "You trace the Yellow river from Stone-pile to Dragongate, southward to the north of Mount Hua, eastward to Tich‘u, again eastward to the ford Mêng, eastward you pass the junction of the Lo river to Tapei, northward past the Chiang water to Talu, northward the stream is divided and becomes the nine rivers, reunited it forms the opposing river and flows into the sea."

In other words, the stream in question wasn’t China’s famed Yellow River, which flows from west to east. Amazingly, these ancient Chinese texts seemed to better agree with the geography of Egypt than that of China, as a map of the famed Egyptian river Nile and its delta — with nine of its distributaries flowing into the Mediterranean— would show.

An important archaeological artifact for understanding the early cultural and technological development of China are the splendid Yin-Shang bronzes found in the ancient city of Yi, dating back to ca. 1400 BC. These objects, representing a significant advancement in metal working, appeared suddenly at that time in the alluvial plain of the Yellow River. It remains obscure where the copper, lead, and tin ores used to manufacture the bronze came from, but in the 1990s, Sun conceived of a connection with Egypt when he was performing radiometric dating of the ancient Chinese bronze wares.

To his surprise, their chemical composition more closely resembled those of African mines, which is the same as those from ancient Egypt, than native Chinese ores. Sun argues that this Bronze Age technology, widely thought by scholars to have first entered the northwest of the country through the prehistoric Silk Road, actually came by sea. According to him, its bearers were the Hyksos, the Western Asian people who ruled parts of northern Egypt as foreigners between the 17th and 16th centuries BC, until their eventual expulsion.

Sun notes that the Hyksos possessed at an earlier date almost all the same remarkable technology — bronze metallurgy, chariots, literacy, domesticated plants and animals — that archaeologists discovered at the ancient city of Yin, the capital of China’s second dynasty, between 1300 and 1046 BC. Since the Hyksos are known to have developed ships for war and trade that enabled them to sail the Red and Mediterranean seas, Sun speculates that a small population escaped their collapsing society using seafaring technology that eventually brought them and their Bronze Age culture to the coast of China.

Archaeologists say inspiration for the famous Terracotta Warriors, found in 1974 at the Tomb of the First Emperor near today's Xian, may have come from Ancient Greece. They believe the First Emperor was influenced by the arrival of Greek statues in Central Asia in the century following Alexander the Great, who died in 323BC. The same Greek influence had already led to the use of Buddha statues in India, where such depictions had not been allowed until then.

Both Sun’s ideas and the controversy surrounding them flow out of a much older tradition of Chinese archaeology, which for more than a century has sought to answer a basic scientific question that has always been heavily politicized: Where do the Chinese people come from? Although the public has mostly received Sun’s theory with an open mind, it still lies outside the academic mainstream.

Since the 1990s, most Chinese archaeologists have accepted that much of the nation’s Bronze Age technology came from regions outside of China. But it is not thought to have arrived directly from the Middle East in the course of an epic migration, but rather transmitted into China from Central Asia by a slow process of cultural exchange (trade, tribute, dowry). Nevertheless, Sun's theories sparked a heated discussion in China – as most of the people that reacted do not believe his theories prove that Egypt built ancient China, but that it was merely influenced by Egypt.