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Top Ten Things to Know about China in the Twenty-First Century

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TEN—THE PAST IS NOT SO FAR AWAY China is one of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations. This ancient culture of shared legends, rituals, ideas, traditions, and written language helps to explain even today why the Chinese people act the way they do and how they interpret their world.

The Chinese early on set up a pantheon of  “brilliant human beings” who were “inventors of Chinese culture.”  These extraordinary “mythical sages” were fathers of agriculture, industry, family institutions, and writing. They domesticated animals and invented boats and carts, ploughs and hoes, and bows and arrows. They established calendars and rituals, state institutions and hereditary succession. One of them was Yu the Great, who supposedly founded the Xia Dynasty (ca. 2200–1750 BCE). This legendary father of flood control is in the Chinese news even today. The Chinese compare his great flood-quelling ability with that of the engineers who are building the (estimated) 30 billion dollar Three Gorges Dam on the Yangzi River and who claim it will generate as much power as eighteen nuclear power plants and tame floods at the same time.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I would like to thank Mary Cingcade (East Asia Resource Center, Henry Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington), Carey Moore (Pacific Village Institute), and Philip West (University of Montana) for their helpful comments and suggestions on the manuscript.