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Why ancient China saw Kunlun Mountains as origin of Yellow River
   2016-08-30 21:19:11    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Guan Chao

A file photo of the stone city near Tajik Autonomous County of Taxkorgan, in northwest China¡¯s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. [Photo: CRI Online]

Field research on the Kunlun Mountains will kick off on September 1.

The research aims to unveil mysteries that have loomed over this area for centuries.

CRI's Bridget Grace has spoken with experts on the research team.


As the source of many Chinese tales, the Kunlun Mountains have long been seen as the origin of the Chinese civilization.

For ancient Chinese people, Kunlun transcended geography and became a cultural symbol, even though the mountain was just a legend, and the exact location was unclear to them.

Archeological expert Yang Lin of the Chinese National Museum says he thought the worship of Kunlun resulted from both cultural and political factors.

"Ancient Chinese thought Kunlun was home to gods and sacred animals. The record of Kunlun worship can be found on bone and bronze inscriptions of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties. In the Qin Dynasty, when people saw heaven and earth as the representation of gods and began to promote the idea of country unification, Kunlun was seen as the symbol of the emperor. "

By the West Han Dynasty, Emperor Wu had chartered the mountains that now bear the Kunlun name in south Xinjiang.

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Researcher Ye Shuxian says he thinks Emperor Wu named this place after the legendary sacred mountain because the region is abundant in jade.

"In prehistoric time that we call the 'jade age', people in China worshipped this translucent stone as a symbol of heaven, god, and eternal life. Wherever people found jade would be seen as sacred. This is why Emperor Wu named this mountain Kunlun, after his envoy Zhang Qian brought him jade from there."

According to historical records, after Zhang Qian opened the ancient Silk Road across the Kunlun Mountains, Emperor Wu also chartered Kunlun as the origin of the Yellow River, which is more widely seen as the symbol of the Chinese civilization.

Yang Lin says ancient Chinese people saw the Yellow River as a convergence of multiple rivers from the Kunlun Mountains.

"This view had been carried over until the Qing Dynasty, namely the Kunlun Mountains as the origin of the Yellow River or even the source of Chinese civilization. This is also the reflection of the emperor's power and ancient people's pursuit of unification."

Ye Shuxian says he thinks the legend of the origin of Kunlun and the Yellow River in ancient people's minds reflects the Chinese people's faith.

"The Yellow River to Chinese is like Christ to Christians. Ancient Chinese believe the river to be the longest on the earth. For them, this largest river must be converged from small rivers flowing from the highest land in the west region."

According to the experts, the Yellow River's origin in ancient people's minds is a cultural concept, which doesn't contradict with geographical location.

During the coming field research in the Kunlun Mountains, the experts will further unveil how this worship of Kunlun came into being.

For CRI, I'm Bridget Grace

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