Peopling of China

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Looking at Y-DNA studies, it would seem that one of the earliest groups of humans to reach Asia did so approximately 50 -60,000 years ago. People bearing genetic marker ancestral to both the Haplogroup C and D came through coastal India and proceeded to Southeast Asia. Haplogroup C moved to East Asia, Australia and the Americas. Another group of peoples bearing the Y-DNA Haplogroup D, have left descendants in the Andaman islands, Tibet, and the Ainus of northern Japan.[1][2]

A later group, carrying the Y-DNA haplogroup K was established approximately 40,000-50,000 years ago, whose origins were probably in Southwestern Asia or South Asia.

One branch, Haplogroup Q, believed to have arisen in Central Asia or South Asia approximately 17,000 to 22,000 years ago, went north to populate Siberia and the Americas. Some northern Chinese have this genetic marker.

One branch, Haplogroups N and O, went south and by 35,000 years ago went on to populate first Southeast Asia and then East Asia.

Mitochondrial DNA likewise supports the hypothesis that the ancestors of the Chinese came to Asia from Africa. The M Haplogroup, a descendant of the African L3 Haplogroup, originated somewhere between Africa, India and Central Asia. This marker alone is carried by all populations in South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, Oceania, and most of the Ameridian populations.[3]

Early settlement patterns[edit]

We assume that the early settlement patterns along the path of migration were either hunter-gatherer societies, or marine environment based societies characterized by shell middens.[4] Relatively speaking the land was sparsely populated, as the peoples followed the coastal regions and the river valleys.

Last glacial maximum[edit]

One factor both inhibiting and encouraging the movement of people was the Last Glacial Maximum, 29,000 to 18,000 years ago. It is believed that northern China was a treeless steppe with areas of permafrost and that southern China lost much of its forest cover. The sea level was much lower. Borneo, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Japanese archipelago may have been accessible by land.

We know that with the end of the last ice age, a period of warming occurred lasting from 18,000 to 10,000 years ago. The oceans rose and inundated vast regions leaving little trace of coastal settlements used by these people. We know little of the languages. Of their cultures we can assume they were diverse. There are many limestone cave sites in southern China which show human settlements. There is evidence of pottery making. The inhabitants had bone tools, fished, hunted pigs and deers.[5]

Climate issues[edit]

It is believed that the climate in southern China was warmer and wetter south of the Qing Ling mountains; elephants are known to have inhabited the Yangtze river region. The climate in Northeast China north of present-day Beijing was characterized as a cold steppe environment during this period. The presence of woolly mammoth is well documented.[6]

The climate was also much warmer between 8,000 and 3,500 years ago. In the Shandong region, excavations have found the bones of alligators and elephants.

With the domestication of millet in the Yellow River valley region and rice in the Yangtze River valley about 10,000 years ago, we assume the acceleration in the growth in the number and size of settlements and the intensified development of local cultures and languages.[7]

Settlement distribution[edit]

Neolithic settlements have been found from Liaoning province in the northeast to the Chengdu region in the southwest; from Gansu province in the northwest to sites in Fujian in the southeast. The settlement pattern in the Tibetan region is yet unclear, as there is debate as to whether there was a pre-Neolithic population movement into the region.[8]

Cultural development[edit]

The sequence of development of some of these languages and cultures are as yet unknown. We can assume that Mon-Khmer language was widespread not only in Southeast Asia but in China as well. Perhaps they originated in the Yangtze river valley and entered Southeast Asia via Yunnan and the Mekong. We can assume the Miao, Thai, Burmese, Tibetan languages evolved in China. It may be even be that some proto Austronesian speakers left China for Formosa and on to the islands of the Pacific.[9] By 3,000 years ago, the sophistication of some of the cultures neighboring that of the Han Chinese can be seen in the bronzes of Sanxingdui (Sichuan), Ban Chiang (Thailand) and Dong Son (Vietnam).

The Han Chinese historical record also describe some of the neighboring peoples of the Han Chinese variously as sporting tattoos, as head hunters and as herders. The domestication of the horse 6000 years ago in the Eurasian steppes led to cultures that mixed animal husbandry and agriculture. Indo-Europeans are known to have reached the Xinjiang region and perhaps further east 4,000 years ago. Cultures as varied as the Koreans, the Japanese, the Hmong had shamans. Even today there exists matriarchal societies in Yunnan, China. We can assume that before the advent of agriculture there were many such societies. In the historic period, we know of the constant contact with steppe nomads. More recently, the records indicate that Arab merchants in their thousands frequented Song dynasty ports in the 11th and 12th century. All of China was conquered by the Mongols in the 13th century and ruled for over a century and a half. Later the Manchu conquered China in the 17th century and ruled for over two hundred years.

We can assume thousands of cultures were destroyed or assimilated as first the various cultures collided with each other and later as states started to form and grow; and finally when the Han Chinese states expanded across China. Even today, the Manchu language is dying, kept alive by a few elderly speakers. However, because the East Asian landmass was initially populated from the south, and the historical record shows the Han Chinese migrating to the south and southwest; the genetic relationship among all the peoples of China is unclear.[10]


  1. ^ "Asian Ancestry based on Studies of Y-DNA Variation: Part 1 Early origins — roots from Africa and emergence in East Asia". Genebase Tutorials. 
  2. ^ Shi H, Zhong H, Peng Y, et al. (2008). "Y chromosome evidence of earliest modern human settlement in East Asia and multiple origins of Tibetan and Japanese populations". BMC Biol. 6: 45. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-6-45. PMC 2605740free to read. PMID 18959782. 
  3. ^ Yao, Y; Kong, Q; Bandelt, H; Kivisild, T; Zhang, Y (March 2002). "Phylogeographic differentiation of mitochondrial DNA in Han Chinese". Am. J. Hum. Genet. 70 (3): 635–51. doi:10.1086/338999. PMC 384943free to read. PMID 11836649. 
  4. ^ Higham, C.F.W.; Xie Guangmao; Lin Qiang (June 2011). "The prehistory of a Friction Zone: first farmers and hunters-gatherers in Southeast Asia". Antiquity. 85 (328): 529–543. 
  5. ^ Zhang Chi; Hsiao-Chun Hung (Fall 2008). "The Neolithic of Southern China-Origin, Development, and Dispersal". Asian Perspectives. 47 (2): 299–329. doi:10.1353/asi.0.0004. 
  6. ^ Shelach, Gideon (December 2000). "The Earliest Neolithic Cultures of Northeast China: Recent Discoveries and New Perspectives on the Beginning of Agriculture". Journal of World Prehistory. 14 (4): 363–413. doi:10.1023/A:1011124209079. 
  7. ^ Zhang Chi; Hsiao-chun Hun (March 2010). "The emergence of agriculture in southern China". Antiquity. 84 (323): 11–25. 
  8. ^ Aldenderfer, Mark; Zhang Yinong (March 2004). "The Prehistory of the Tibetan Plateau to the Seventh Century A.D.: Perspectives and Research from China and the West Since 1950". Journal of World Prehistory. 18 (1): 1–55. doi:10.1023/B:JOWO.0000038657.79035.9e. 
  9. ^ Austronesian people
  10. ^ Black ML, Wise CA, Wang W, Bittles AH (June 2006). "Combining genetics and population history in the study of ethnic diversity in the People's Republic of China". Hum. Biol. 78 (3): 277–93. doi:10.1353/hub.2006.0041. PMID 17216801.