Image of Detail of Liangzhu culture man and beast motif

Liangzhu and the origins of complex society in China

The inaugural China Centre lecture in the 'China in the World' seminar series was delivered by Professor Lord Colin Renfrew on Thursday, 21 February 2019 in the Webb Library, Jesus College.

Professor Renfrew spoke about Liangzhu and the origins of complex society in China, giving an account of the recent excavations of the largest known site of the Liangzhu civilisation in Zhejiang Province, which flourished between 3400-2250 BC. 

He explained that the state-like civilisation was based on complex control of water, with irrigation agriculture using paddy rice as well as aquaculture. The archaeological excavations at the city-site have revealed dams, dwellings, docks, boats, oars, workshops and burial plots. Among the most distinctive artefacts are a variety of jade objects including discs (Bi), ceremonial axes (Yue) and cylinders (Cong).

Professor Renfrew made extensive comparisons with other ancient state-like civilisations, including those of Peru and Mexico, and especially those of the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East. He drew the audience's attention to the Liangzhu Museum, designed by David Chipperfield Architects and located in the north-western outskirts of Hangzhou.

The seminar concluded with an in-depth Q&A session between Professor Renfrew and the seminar attendees.

Professor Renfrew is an Emeritus Fellow and former Master of Jesus College. He is also a Senior Fellow of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and was the Institute’s Founding Director.