Among the many theories on the origin of the Chinese ethnos (some of them were formulated as far back as the 18th century) pride of place is taken by hypotheses stemming from two directly opposed theoretical premises. The first of them, propounded by the majority of European scholars, emphasises migrations and diffusions that played the decisive role in the formation of the Chinese ethnos. As for many Chinese scholars, the problems of migrations and foreign influence in ethnic history do not exist for them at all, in as much as they regard the Chinese ethnos as an absolutely autochthonous one, which came into being directly on the basis of ancient populations, inhabiting the territory of modern China since the time of Paleolith. Both these views taken in their extreme form seem to be insolvent theoretically and do not correspond to the present-day knowledge of the history of the Chinese ethnos.
An essential premise in the methodology of studying ethno-genetic processes in Soviet ethnographic science is a comprehensive approach to the problem. It is the violation of this principle that was the cause of failure of many attempts to answer the question as to how the ethnic entity of the ancient Chinese had taken shape.
Meanwhile, a researcher of the ethnic history of the Chinese finds himself in incomparably more favourable conditions than many of his colleagues studying the history of other peoples; for he has at his disposal sources allowing him to trace the history of the Chinese during an exceptionally long period of time, moreover, to study it continuously, step by step.
The formation of the ethnic entity of the ancient Chinese, that emerged in the middle of the first millennium В. C. on the Central China Plain, had been preceded by complex and long processes of anthropo- and racial genesis. The Archanthropus, whose appearance in Eastern Asia can be dated back to the Middle Pleistocene (about 500,000—600,000 years ago) and the Paleoanthropus that had replaced them, were the distant ancestors of those populations that were in contact with each other in the epoch of the Neolith and the Bronze age. However, they were not their direct or only ancestors; in the process of the formation of modern man alien sapient forms had undoubtedly taken part also.
Paleoanthropological data testify to the fact that at the end of the Later Paleolith the territory in question was already inhabited by various populations of the Pacific Mongoloids. The Shanting tung man who lived in North China regions has been found to have revealed some features of the Eastern branch of the Pacific Mongoloids (the East Asian race). But that man cannot be regarded as the direct ancestor of the Chinese, because the most ancient ethnolinguistic entities that stood at the sources of the modern linguistic families of Eastern Asia, had apparently taken shape only in the epoch of Mesolith (10,000—7,000 years B.C.).
An analysis of archaeological, linguistic and anthropological material makes it possible to formulate a hypothesis that the sources of the North Chinese Neolith should be sought in the regions to the south. It can be presumed that one of the groups of the early neolithic population in the south of China, that had occupied a marginal position with regard to the centre of cultures of the later Hoapinian type migrated in the 5th millennium В. C. along the Chialingchiang River (the present province of Szechwan) and having found passes through Chinling Range reached the basin of the Wei Ho River. The population which the migrants had come across here, was extremely sparce (those few settlements with microlithic implements, which are known in the middle reaches of the Hwang Ho River, apparently belonged to it).
The favourable natural conditions of the Wei Ho valley contributed to the formation and swift progress of agriculture on floodlands in the area. At the end of the 5th — beginning of the 4th millennia В. C. a developed Middle Neolithic culture of painted pottery Yangshao (local variant — Panpo) came into being in the Wei Ho basin. The settlers of Panpo, Paochi, Huahsien and other sites belonged, in their physical type, to an eastern group of the Pacific Mongoloids, with pronounced distinctive features pointing to their southern origin (alveolar prognathism, wide-nosedness). This neolithic population can, in all probability, be regarded as a branch of the tribes speaking the Sino—Tibetan languages.
In the 4th millennium В. C. the area of neolithic culture that had emerged in the Wei Ho valley considerably expanded. On the basis of a chronologically later variant of Miaotikou two groups of the population appeared; one was shifting to the east, the other to the west. The first, while moving along the Hwang Ho River came into contact, in the western part of the present Honan province, with the inhabitants of the settlements of the Chin-wangchai type, who were connected by their origin with the basin
of the Hanshui River. The interconnection of these tribes, different as they were in their cultural pattern and, as it can be presumed, in their language, laid the foundation for the shaping of the Shang (Yin) community. The language of the Yin, as far as we can judge on the basis of the extant inscriptions of the late 2nd millennium В. C., was the Ancient Chinese: Sino— Tibetan in its basis it revealed some features which were unusual for other languages of this family.
The group of Yangshao tribes that had spread in western direction in the 4th millennium underwent further differentiation. One of its branches that had come to the upper reaches of the Huang Ho River (the present province of Kansu) later became known as Chiang (or Jung), whereas another branch made the backbone of the Chou. At the end of the 2nd millennium В. C. the Chou defeated an alliance of tribes formed in the Central China Plain by the Yin, having united this territory under their influence.
On the basis of early state formations created as a result of the Chou invasion and in the process of an intensive interaction with neighbouring tribes speaking the Tibetan—Burmese, Prototungus, Austronesian and Thai languages an ethnic entity "Huahsia" took shape in the 6th—4th millennia В. C. in the Central China Plain, which can be called "Ancient Chinese".
An analysis of historical data allowing, at least in a most general way, to follow the process of the shaping of the ethnic entity of the Ancient Chinese, at the same time gives ground for making broader conclusions, some of which can further be corroborated by another ethnic material. These conclusions deal, first and foremost, with the very concept of "ethnic entity" and its distinctions. This work confirms the expedience of the differentiation between the so-called ethno-formative factors (common territory, common socio-economic structure, etc.) and the "distinctive features of ethnos" proper (language, the sum total of cultural features, ethnic self-consciousness). It is necessary to take into account that ethnic self-consciousness is a phenomenon differing from other ethnic distinctive features. Ethnic self-consciousness is a result of the comprehension of the objectively existing features of ethnos; however, these two categories do not always fully coincide.
The singling out of a number of various components of ethnic self-consciousness seems to be rather useful. Some of them are an adequate reflection of the objective distinctions of ethnos (language, for example). Others have a conventional and selective character (the really existing ethnic distinctions in material culture are not at all fully reflected in ethnic self-consciousness). Finally, there are some components of ethnic self-consciousness which only exist on a subjective level and do not represent an adequate reflection of any objective distinctions of ethnos (the idea of superiority of one's "own" ethnos over the "barbarians", etc.).
The factual data analysed in the book show that qualitative distinctions in ethnic self-consciousness at various stages of its development are revealed, for one, in the relation between its components. One of the major components of the ethnic self-consciousness of the Ancient Chinese in the 7th-6th centuries В. C. was the idea of their common origin. Later, another component of ethnic self-consciousness — distinctive features of culture — were put to the fore. During the last centuries В. C. the idea of the common origin of all "Huahsia" lost its topicality whatsoever.
But in the development of ethnos not only the relation between the various components of ethnic self-consciousness was changing but also the essence of the components themselves. Although, ethnic self-consciousness has apparently always been based on the controversy — "we — they", the character of this contraposition differs essentially at various stages of social development. The principle of contraposition "by pairs" is typical of the self-consciousness of ethnic entities in the preclass epoch: each ethnos realised its distinction from others but distinguished itself from each one of them separately, without endowing their sum total with any common features. The emergence of the notion "Barbarians" uniting all foreign elements, coincides with the shaping of the ethnic self-consciousness of "one's own" ethnic entity, which typologically was not similar to the tribe.
The study of the ethnogenesis of the Ancient Chinese makes it possible to approach, in a more concrete manner than before, the problem of criteria with the help of which an explorer can reveal that "critical point" in ethnic development, on reaching which an ethnos can be regarded as formed.
Apparently, the process of ethnogenesis, in its most general form, includes the following stages: with the definite external conditions the sum total of ethno-formative factors takes shape, under whose influence a new ethnic entity begins to emerge. During this process, certain features gradually appear which objectively distinguish it from other ethnoses that exist or are being formed simultaneously. Finally, the time comes when these objective distinctive features find reflection in the collective self-consciousness of the members of this new ethnos, who regard themselves as a definite community. It is the emergence of distinct ethnic self-consciousness, whose outward reflection is the common name that can serve as an evidence that the process of ethnogenesis has ended. Naturally, the ethnos that has thus taken shape does not remain immutable. But its transformation now qualitatively differs from ethnogeny in a narrow sense of the word.