PERSPECTIVES ON THE PAST
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Linda Walton, Portland State University
Archeological discoveries from the Hongshan culture, a group of Neolithic sites in Northeastern China, show remarkable evidence of female imagery. Most notable is the goddess temple, with lifesize and larger statues that are identifiably female. Hongshan culture includes ceremonial sites with extensive jade carving and elite burials. Dated by carbon-14 methods to as early as the 4th millennium BCE.
The iconography of Hongshan sites like the goddess temple indicates an ideology that privileges the female principle. This is especially seen in the presence of symbols such as turtles or dragons associated with water, a representation of the female principle: yin. The use of these symbols, along with the female statues, suggest that women played important roles in Hongshan society.
Discoveries like this, compel scholars to reconsider their ideas, such as the notion that gender inequality necessarily precedes the origins of the state. In the case of China, the Hongshan discoveries raise questions about the role of gender before the formation of the patriarchial society that emerged to dominate the written historical record in later times.