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                                               XU, Rihui*

                               Gansu Provincial Tienshui Senior Normal College
           (Translated and interpreted by W. Tsao, Ph.D., edited by Joan Archibald & Bryan Gordon)

Abstract: This is the first article to discuss the connection of Qin and the agricultural civilization
of Dadiwan in Tienshui, Gansu province. The Chinese character “Qin” represented agricultural
civilization and resembled millet and seedling, which was called “mi zi” in Gansu province, and
was one of the popular crops grown in the Tienshui areas. “Qin” originated directly from the
agricultural civilization of Dadiwan and the surrounding areas of Tienshui, Xishanping and
Shizhaocun and the 7800-year old ancient civilization formed here. After moving to Qin in the
west of the Long Mountains, the “Ying” family started the state name of “Qin Ying”. When Qin
Fei Zi guarded the west boundary for the Zhou emperor, he actually did that to guard his own
safety against the “Xi Rong” race. To strengthen its own power, Qin gradually developed the
military on an agricultural foundation. After the leader Qin Wen Gong’s success in the Chien
Wei affair, Qin finally succeeded in the great work of unifying the country.

        The State of Qin originated from Tienshui, Gansu province. One of the ancestors of Ying
family, Fei Zi, was awarded the Qin area for his work in keeping battle horses for Emperor Zhou
Xiao, forming the state of “Qin Ying”. Dadiwan was also in Tienshui, Gansu Province and a
famous origin of Chinese agricultural civilization. As no research was done on ties between these
two historical civilizations in the same area, the present article tries to look into this.

(1)    The present section does not discuss the question of the origin of the Qin family. Rather,
research is aimed at the period after Qin people moved west to the Long Mountains. The
following was recorded in the Shi Ji, Qin Ben Ji:

        Fei Zi lived in Quanqiu. He liked horses and other livestock and was good at raising
horses. People from Quanqiu reported his special ability to Emperor Zhou Xiao and the emperor
summoned him to be in charge of his battle horses at the place between Chien and Wei. Horses
increased in large numbers and the Emperor Zhou Xiao said: “In the past, Bai Yi was in charge
of livestock breeding for Emperor Shun. Livestock increased and Bai Yi was given land and the
name of Ying. From now on, your posterity should also take care of my horses. You should be
given land and be a subordinate state of Zhou.” Fei Zi was then given Qin land and formed the
state of Qin Ying.

        Therefore, according to Shi Ji, the state of Qin Ying was originally formed this way . The
place “Qin”, according to Ban Gu, was “Qin Ting or Qin Gu”(1). Based on my research, as of
July 6, 1953, this place should be in the area of Zhangchuan County in

        Tienshui, Gansu(2). From this time on (910-895 BC), due to the effort of Fei Zi, the Ying
family was able to rebuild the family temple after several hundred years of decline. Because of
the acquired land, the Ying family could return to the historical stage and form a brilliant
political state for the next 600+ years. From then on, Qin people adopted the word Qin as the
name for both their family and country (Dynasty). Foreigners also first came to know this
country around this time and named it China after the word Qin.

        The Qin area was given its name much earlier than its being given to the Ying family.
Originally, the word “Qin” represented a symbol of agriculture. According to ancient pictographs
on shells and bones, the word “Qin” resembled an elephant grinding rice in a mortar with a
wooden pole. In the book “Shuo Wen” (On Written Characters), it is said the character “Qin”
had the same implication in both “Jin” and “Tao” periods.

      Qin was the feudal domain of Bai Yi and his posterity. As this place was good for
growing grain, the written character resembled grain and mortar…

        As it was evident the written character Qin meant grain, including sorghum and several
varieties of millet, it also became the pronoun of grain and good crop. In 1978, the discovery of
the famous Dadiwan site in the original Qin State solved many mysteries of the Gansu and
Qinghai areas. Dadiwan was in Wuying village at the northeast side of Qinan County, Tienshui
City, Gansu Province, on the west side of the Long Mountains on the second and third hills of
the lower Qingshui River (a Wie tributary). In 1978-1984, 13,700 sq. m was excavated,
including 8,000+ items such as 240 houses, 342 lime quarries and kilns, 79 tombs, and 38
brothels(3). The Dadiwan site dated 4800-7900 years ago, with ca. 3000 years of civilization
categorized into “First Period” and “Early, Middle and Late Yang Shao periods”, their rich
unique items representing Dadiwan civilization. Sorghum and rape seed, plus stone knives,
spades, axes, etc., from the 7800-year old “First period” were important, changing previous
concepts and making Dadiwan an origin of Chinese agricultural civilization. From its location,
the Qingshui Valley was Qin domain in the Zhou Dynasty. As aforementioned, Qin was also
called Qin Ting and was in Zhangchuan County at the northeast side of Tienshui City. Broadly,
Qin domain was on the west side of the Long Mountains on the Wei River on the Shenxi/Gansu
Provincial border. It included the current Zhangchuan, Qinan, Qinshui, Gangu, Wushan,
Qincheng, Beidao and other counties under Tienshui City in Gansu Province. More broadly, it
should also include Xihe, Lixian, etc., i.e., “Xi” and “Xixian” in the Zhou Dynasty. Yuanhe
County records state “Emperor Xiao made counties and a tributary state of Zhou from Qin
area”(4). The Wei River area was prosperous agriculturally since ancient times. From data in
Dadiwan and surrounding areas, the renowned Qin agricultural civilization was first, then Ying
Family domain. According to research of He Shuangquan, a regional archaeologist, the stone
knives, spades, axes, etc., are all practical tools. Some spades with shouldered mid-protruding
blade were hand tools, and when fixed with long handles, used as hoes, all designed to increase
efficiency. As Mr. He also pointed out that scratches on some clayware may indicate the
prototype of certain crops(5); his theory could well be correct. Zhang Pengchuan revealed
polychrome ceramics reflect social life and totem worship(6), imitating original shell and bone
pictographs. Pictographic symbols most closely related to the written character of “qin” are
“shu” and “he”, the “shu” symbol resembling a grain with open spike, “he” a grain, and “qin”,
crops being hand-ground after harvesting. The classical “Shuo Wen” states:

       “Shu” (sorghum) is a grain with sticky grains. It is planted after the season of “Da Shu”
       (mid summer) and therefore named “shu”.

       “He” (crop) is a good grain crop.

       “Qin” is a place suitable for growing crops. The written character “qin” composed the
       word “crop” in the lower part and a part of the word “mortar” in the top part. Qin is
       also the name of a grain crop.

         From these definitions, historical progress from “shu” to “qin” is evident, but this
progress could also be the process from planting to harvest. As “qin” was its last stage, under
certain conditions it represented “shu” (sorghum). With further consideration, we may find ties
between “qin” and “shu”. In the local dialogue of Tienshui and surrounding areas, “shu” was “mi
zi”, its pictographic symbol resembling a plant with several bent open spikes that differed from
“he” (crop). Symbolic “he” has only one spike and “shu” or “mi zi” has several open flowers.
When shaken, grains fall like raindrops. The first crop harvested in Dadiwan was “shu”, the
representative grain of the Qin Dynasty. In the ancient Shang Dynasty, “shu” was the main crop
and one of the most important ingredients in wine making. In Zhou Dynasty, “shu” was still a
very important crop. According to the statistics published by Mr. Liu Yuzong, the book of “Shi
Jing” listed “shu” (sorghum) 28 times, “ji” (millet) and “shu ji” (millet varieties) 16 times each,
“su” (corn) 10 times, “mai” (wheat) 11 times, “dao” (rice) 6 times, “shu” (bean) 9 times, and
“ma” (hemp) 7 times(7). Much sorghum grew in the Qin and Han Dynasties, most for wine
making. It was during the East and West Han Dynasties that winter wheat started to replace
sorghum. According to Mr. Shao Yilin, sorghum was the most important food crop for several
thousand years(8), and even now, Tienshui people influenced by Dadiwan civilization, still grow
sorghum as an important crop, especially in the dry mountain area.

         When we attempt to tie Dadiwan sorghum grain to Qin, an association appears such that
we may even conclude Dadiwan civilization was the origin of Qin civilization. The late scholar,
Mr. Feng Shengwu, once said: “The valley of the Qing River in Dadiwan was one origin of
Chinese agricultural civilization and the original home of sorghum, millet and other dryland
crops in China.” In his article, Historic Periods of Environmental Change in the Clay Plateau of
Gansu, Wong Naiong said “Seeds of rape and sorghum were taken from the first level of
Dadiwan civilization. Sorghum is a grain with very short growing season that survives in very
harsh dry weather and was suitable for growing in sandy soil in the clay plateau. That farmers
still grow this crop here from 7000 years ago, indicates weather conditions did not drastically
change in this period, i.e. half humid and half dry weather. Settled villages formed in the first
period of Dadiwan civilization… stone spades and knives, shell sickles, etc., also occur, showing
farmers weeded and cultivated with tools sharpened by grinding and that agriculture was very
advanced”(10). It is obvious Qin people settled here and lived mainly by farming, fishing and
hunting, like that of the Fu Xi period (ca. 2850 BC). Historic records show Qin ancestors lived in
Chengji, the birthplace of Fu Xi, another ancestor. Mr. Wu Ruzha noted that livestock raising in
the Gan-Qing area also occurred at this time. Agriculture and livestock raising resulted under the
most difficult conditions(11). From Mr. Wu’s research, we can analyze a combined Qin and
Dadiwan civilization. Along the upper Wei River, the 7000 year-old Shizhaocun and Xishanping

sites are ca. 7 km and 15 km west of Tienshui City, respectively. Several types of finds, like
those from first period Dadiwan and Beishouling lower level, etc., occur in Xishanping. Mr.
Wong Jihuai said “Xishanping cultural material shows ca. 4000 years of growth; for many
generations our agricultural ancestors lived, worked and made a solid settlement (12). At the 7000
year-old Xishanping site, first period axes, plates, spades, stone knives, bone saws and clay
farming tools were excavated(13). Mr. Wong concluded: “Based on site materials, ancient
residents tied the use of stone and clayware directly to agricultural growth(14). Similar items also
occur at Shizhaocun, making it another valuable site after Dadiwan and Xishanping. According
to the report of Mr. Xie Duanqiong and colleagues, the discovery of Shizhaocun changed the
order of prehistoric civilization in eastern Gansu Province(15). Work is ongoing because of the
recency of site discovery. Another first period site (ca. 5500-5800 years) was found in marshland
of the Wong Family, 5-6 km northeast of Dadiwan. Similar stone knives and files, clay knives,
shell spearheads, etc., plus many symbols engraved on clayware occur.(16), but unfortunately,
modern research often neglects big community studies. In fact, ever since recording began,
Dadiwan and surrounding communities were all under the name of Qin. Fei Zi of the Ying
family actually started as a small subordinate state here(17). If there were no long Qin agricultural
history, there would not have been the state of Qin Ying, let alone the strong Qin Dynasty.

        Qin was famous for its agricultural and livestock production as early as the Zhou Dynasty
due to several thousand continuous years of civilization. The Che Lin poem in the Qin Feng
section of the Book of Odes wrote:

       “Fan” has lacquer trees.
       “Fan” has mulberry trees.
       “Xi” has chestnut trees.
       “Xi” has willow trees.

        This poem praised Qin prosperity when Qin Zhong, Fei Zi’s posterity, ruled Qin.
According to usual remarks made by historians, “fan” was hillside-terrace and “xi” was low
marshland. In my opinion, “fan” in this poem was actually the Long Mountains. In ancient times,
the Long Mountains were also named “Long Di” or “Long Fan” and occur in geographic notes in
Han Su (Han Book), which indicated Long Di or Long Fan are the Long Mountains. The word
“xi” in the poem should be the low marshland west of The Long Mountains where, according to
history, Qin Zhong’s domain was situated. Because this poem praised Qin Zhong, I think that
“fan” and “xi” specify the Long Mountains. Even today, much of the Long Mountains is still
covered with lacquer, chestnut, and willow trees which are still the major income of local

       Besides classical documents and the Book of Odes, the Zhi Fang chapter in the Zhong Li
book indicates Qin was a good place for “livestock raising of cattle and horses; and grain
farming of millet and sorghum”. It is evident Dadiwan was originally a rich farming centre with
dryland grain crops then spreading elsewhere. To investigate this, Mr. Feng Shengwu
hypothesized eastern spread was via the south side of the Long Mountains to the Guanzhong area
and the Yellow River triangle, and from there south or north(18), a hypothesis still unproven.
Tienshui was the geographic centre of China, with the upper Wei River a major activity area. In

my opinion, Dadiwan, Xishanping, and Shizhaocun agricultural civilization started much earlier
and likely influenced the surrounding area.

       There are, however, three additional aspects to be discussed:

(A) Ying family was skilful in livestock-raising, unlike their totem worship

        It was never questioned in Chinese history that the Ying family was skilful in
livestock-raising. However, my research indicated Qin people were not close to horses and
livestock originally. All evidence indicates Qin people came from the East, their totem of
worship a “blackbird” or swallow - a migrating bird and symbol for farming races. It migrated
north in spring and south in fall according to seasonal change, an important aspect for farmers.
During early agriculture, farmers of various races arranged their fieldwork by migrating birds,
with few ties to livestock raising. Thus, with their swallow totem bird, the life of the Ying family
had obvious ties to agricultural growth.

        There were additional indications in classical documents. The book Shuo Wen stated:
“Ying was the last name of Emperor Shao Hao”, the leader of the Dong Yi race (barbarian
eastern tribes). His first name was Zhi, alias Hao Jin Tien Shi. The book Zuo Chuan states:

               In autumn, Tan Zi came to his lord’s court and was given a party where it was
       said: “I know stories of my ancestors. When my great grandfather, Shao Hao ascended
       the throne, the phoenix arrived. Thus, our state always worshiped the bird, even naming
       the official in charge of telling correct calendrical time as “phoenix”, the official
       announcing spring’s arrival as “black bird”, the announcer of winter’s arrival as the
       shrike, that of summer’s arrival as blue bird, and that of autumn’s arrival as red
       bird…and nine subordinate positions governing agricultural works so that people would
       act accordingly.

       According to annotations made by historians:

       As the phoenix knows the right time of season, the calendar official was named after it.
       The black bird is the swallow, which comes in spring and leaves in fall.
       The shrike starts to sing when summer comes and stops when winter arrives.
       The blue bird starts to sing when spring is here and stops when summer arrives.
       The red bird or pheasant comes with autumn and leaves when winter arrives.
       The last four birds (positions) were subordinate to the phoenix (or the calendar official).

        It is evident that Ying family bird worship rose with ancient agriculture. The calendar
was inaccurate, so farming was timed on the behavior of different birds, like the ancient
Egyptians who used the first Nile flood as the first day of the year. Emperor Shao Hao’s purpose
in using bird names as calendar officials was to remind farmers to do proper work by season.

(B)    Ying family horse-raising in the Qin area was for defense and growth

        Fei Zi of the Ying family first reared horses on Qin land for defending the west border of
Zhou. As stated in an ancient document: “The Yun Guang nomad was moving west along the
Long Mountains and by the king’s order, the army was not to move west of the Long Mountains.
We came to offer birds and by his order, moved to a place called Lue”(19). A political map found
in a tomb near Tienshui(20) places Lue ca. 10 km from Dadiwan(21). The above document dated
ca. 822 BC, and Lue was probably also the name of one of many tribes living there(22). While
defending the west border for Emperor Zhou Xiao, the Ying family developed agriculture and
put much effort into raising livestock, becoming self-sufficient. In this way, they could not only
protect themselves effectively but also prepare to take over other states when opportunity
permitted. The Qin Gong Jia Bell, which was excavated from Shensi in 1978, had the following
engraved inscription:

       Qin Gong (the duke) said: “By Heaven’s will, my ancestor created this state. My
       ancestors Zhao Wen Gong, Jing Gong, etc., never disappointed the Emperor and we are
       here to continue our service to him and will handle business with the barbarians

       The Qin Gong Yi Bell had the following engraved inscription:

       We joined other states to create a rich and stable living place, to conquer the barbarians
       and put them under our protection(23).

        Mr. Wong Hui noted these so-called barbarians were those absent in “hua xia” or True
China. As Qin people came from the east, they called their state the true “hua xia”, with those
about them as barbarians; e.g., one particular engraved inscription identifies the barbarians as the
Xi Rong tribe(24)(25). In my opinion, as Qin’s fundamental duties were border defense and
handling barbarian business for the Zhou Empire, there was actually nothing to dampen their
ambition of conquering surrounding states. Thus, raising horses was not just a living but obvious
military strategy. The Qin Gong Yi Bell inscription clearly indicates this, as historically recorded
in the book of Shi Ji:

              “Qin Wu Gong (the Duke) invaded the Kui state, eventually reaching the Rong
       barbarian state and put it under Zhou protection. He occupied thousands of acres in 12
       additional places and thus Qin became the ruler of the Xi Rong area.”

        On one memorial container in the period of Qin Jing Gong (the Duke), the engraved
inscription reads:

       Maintaining Qin domain. Handling ties with barbarians.

        Maintaining Qin domain meant honoring its position of handling barbarian ties and
showing it had already connected East and West. From original Zhou subordination, it changed
to a position of defense from barbarian attack. As Qin was increasing its power at this time,
East-West ties must have been very carefully handled. Thus, it is clear that horse-raising was not
a Qin original skill, but for protecting its profit.

(C)    The transformation from agriculture to livestock-raising was gradual

        From the time of Fei Zi, the Ying family began transforming agriculture to raising
livestock and cavalry horses. The Li County Cultural Museum still has records of “Tienshui
family horses” and other early stages of Qin material. The following statement is recorded in the
book of Shi Ji in the Qin Ben Ji chapter:

       In the third year (763 BC), Qin Wen Gong lead 700 soldiers to hunt on the east side of
       the country. In the fourth year, he reached the place where the Chien and Wei Rivers
       joined and said: “Earlier, the Zhou emperor gave this place to the Ying family, and we
       thus became one of the feudal princes.” He then settled and started to build at this place
       where the divination gave a good indication.

        It must have been a very glorious yearlong hunt at that time and Mr. Lin Jianming noted
that such hunting may be the one and only occasion among those described at that time(26). In my
opinion, it was the dress rehearsal for Qin eastern advance because they moved slowly but
steadily east that year, occupying several states. At the same time, Qin Wen Gong watched the
Zhou emperor to see if he would act. As the emperor did not, Qin Wen Gong settled in Mei
County on the east side of the Long Mountains, definitely not a mere hunting but an east-bound
movement carefully planned with specific purpose. After the successful Chien Wei affair, Qin
started to stand equal to eastern feudal princedoms. This meant a great deal because they began
to become belligerent such that they finally unified all China. As we stand in front of the great
Qin burial effigies of soldiers and horses today, who could imagine that this small state, once
moved by the Zhou to the west border, started from an agricultural state to reach such heights.


1. Han Book, Geographic section.
2. See “Knowledge of Literature and History”, 1983.
3. “Ten years of archaeological work in Gansu Province”. In Ten years of archaeological work
    on cultural material.
4. County Maps of Yuan He County, No. 39.
5. “On the archaeology of Qin agriculture in Gansu Province”. Agricultural Archaeology, 1987,
    No. 1.
6. See “Category of the Chinese colored pottery, Research section”.
7. “The knowledge on sorghum and millet during the period of the Book of Odes” Collective
    articles on Agricultural History, No. 2.
8. “Special characteristics of geography and agricultural growth in the Huang-Huai valley
    during Qin-Han period”. Historical Georgraphy, No. 11.
9. “Discussion on the origin of Chinese agriculture based on Dadiwan site” included in
    “Report of Geography”, 1985, No.3.
10. See Historical geography, No. 8.
11. “The pre-historical agriculture in the Gan-Qing area” included in Agricultural Archaeology,
    1990, No. 3.
12. “See Agricultural Archaeology, 1991, No. 3.
13. See Archaeology, 1988, No. 5.

14. See Archaeology, 1990, No. 7.
15. See Archaeology and Culture, 1984, No. 2
16. See notes in the classic Biography of Monks.
17. “Historical category of engraved inscriptions on Qin copperware”. San Qin Publications,
18. See Culture, 1989, No. 2.
19. Published in Gansu People, 1997.
20. Shi Ji, Qin Ben Ji.
21. See “Historical manuscript of Qin”, The Shanghai People, 1981.

*Xu Rihui (male, 44 years old) is currently a library associate research fellow in Gansu Provincial Tienshui Senior
Normal college, majoring in Chinese history, racial history and historical geography. He has published more than 50
articles in Racial Research, Knowledge Monthly and other periodicals, one book on a special subject, and
co-authored 9 other articles.


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