Is There Really No History? Archaeology Sacrificed

Like Olive and Kent, my hometown Shenzhen is said to have no history, despite discoveries of Neolithic artifacts. I ask why.

Figure 1. Shenzhen’s Central Business District at sunset. Photograph from China Daily, available at http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201902/28/WS5c7720fda3106c65c34ebd70.html.

Hong Kong’s neighbor and one of China’s fastest-growing cities, Shenzhen (Figure 1) is known by its own residents to have no history. The Reform and Opening-Up Policy of 1980 jump-started the city we know today, which is so densely populated with young elites and world-class IT companies that it seems as fresh as its technology. Allegedly, prior to the Policy, Shenzhen was a nameless, pastless fishing village.

Archaeology proves otherwise. A 2006 excavation at the Xiantouling archaeological site unearthed Neolithic features and artifacts from 7,000 years ago, evincing the existence of a history quite remarkable in scope within city borders (Li & Liu 2007). Located in Longgang District, the sandy hill preserved ancient features such as hearths and stone poles, alongside earthenware like cups (Figure 2), dishes, and vessel-bases and stone tools like stampers. The quantity and quality of features and artifacts indicate that Xiantouling may be the center of contemporary Pearl River Delta settlements. Moreover, shared stylistic features between Xiantouling wares and those discovered in Hunan Province position the site in an even larger cultural background. Subsequently, the site was rated as one of the biggest archaeological discoveries in China in 2006 (China Heritage Project 2007).

Figure 2. White earthen cup discovered at the Xiantouling Neolithic site. Photograph from the article by Hairong Li and Junxiong Liu in Kaogu (2007.7).

However, despite Xiantouling’s monumentality, the tale of no history prevailed. In fact, few of my family and friends know of the site, and none recall the announcement of its discovery. I was never taught of it in school. Famed on paper, Xiantouling is barely recognized by its very own townspeople. 

This lack of local exposure leads me to question Shenzhen’s official propaganda. In a society where the government controls public opinion through information dissemination, people’s perception of history is often molded by the city council and its sanctioned news. If Shenzhen wishes to maintain a youthful city image, such ancient discoveries may be downplayed in mainstream media and city propaganda. Therefore, I infer that Shenzhen has forsaken Xiantouling in exchange for an image of development, youth, and innovation — as a city that chases the future, not the past. To expand its history from a convenient 40 years to a strenuous 7,000 is to murder the spectacle of over-night success. Indeed, even on the city’s official website, its history is only briefly mentioned in a subpage — with the name Xiantouling nowhere to be found — and development projects dominate the rest of the website (Shenzhen Government). Similar to New York City’s Watershed Communities, in my town, archaeology and history are sacrificed for a political agenda. 

Known for information technology, Shenzhen is unaware that 7,000 years ago on the same land lived a people who embodied the same spirit of craftsmanship as they developed the technology of their times. Archaeology is a sacrifice; buried with it is this ancestral bond, a bond between today’s programmers and prehistory’s potters, a bond between the neolithic and modern times.

References

Li, Hairong and Junxiong Liu

  2007  The Xiantouling Neolithic Site at Shenzhen City, Guangdong. Kaogu (7): 9-16. 

http://www.kaogu.cn/uploads/soft/Chinese%20Archaeology/8/The%20Xiantouling%20Neolithic%20Site%20at%20Shenzhen%20City,%20Guangdong.pdf. Accessed Sept 13, 2019.

China Heritage Project

  2007  China’s Archaeological Oscars: The Top Ten Discoveries of 2006. China Heritage Quarterly (11). 

http://www.chinaheritagequarterly.org/articles.phpsearchterm=011_topten.inc&issue=011. Accessed Sept 13, 2019.

Shenzhen Government

Brief Introduction to Shenzhen. Entering Shenzhen. 

http://www.sz.gov.cn/cn/zjsz/gl/201907/t20190703_18031514.htm. Accessed Sept 13, 2019.

Further Readings

  1. Chi, Zhang and Hung Hsiao-Chun, The Neolithic of Southern China–Origin, Development, and Dispersal: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/46735009_The_Neolithic_of_Southern_China–Origin_Development_and_Dispersal
  2. Chi, Zhang and Hsiao-chun Hung, Later hunter-gatherers in southern China, 18000-3000 BC: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286143979_Later_hunter-gatherers_in_southern_China_18_000-3000_BC

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