Science without border: Johan G. Andersson and his archeologic discovery in China

I. Preface

The date of today is 01/02/2017, people in my hometown are still enjoying the last few days of new year celebration. At this special time, I am going to tell you a story. The story is about China but not limited to China, as it transcends all the known geographical boundaries; the story took place 100 years ago, but its script had already been written down before some 10000 years, and it is readily available on the shelf for everyone today.

II. Who is Johan Gunnar Andersson and where to find him

Let us boat against the time and finally arrive in the year 1917, the fourth year of Johan G. Andersson’s stay in China, where he was assigned mining advisor by the Chinese government. In his previous career, Andersson was a Swedish geologist who gained worldwide fame for his scientific discovery made in expedition to the polar regions; but now, he was responsible for discovery of new coal and iron resources for the newly established Republic of China. In the foreign land, Andersson tried to fit himself into his new job and  gave himself a Chinese name: 安特生 (Antesheng).  In Chinese, the character “特” means “speciality or serendipity” while “生“ means “to deliver or a life”. Certainly at that time Andersson could not foreseen the serendipity he delivered using his speciality will change his life, the lives of many and will rewrite our understanding of Chinese history.



Photo of Andersson taken during his field study in China

(Museum of Far East Antiquities, Stockholm, Sweden)




III. In the night

In Chinese, the translation of “China” does not equal to ceramic; instead, “China” means “the Country in the middle”. As we all know, the history of China as a country with centralized government can be traced back to the Shang Dynasty 4500 years ago, according to archeological record. But no one knew how China looked like before it was first regarded as a country. Though it was widely suspected that the Chinese culture was rooted from Yellow River Region, no proof could be provided.

 The Yellow River Region from the map of China

IV. “The night is darkest just before the dawn”

1917 was not a good year for Andersson’s new job: due the the turmoil in the previous year, his funding from the Chinese Geographic Institution was running short.  But it is not a bad year though: because of the shortage in funding, Andersson and his colleaguee V.K. Ting at the Chinese Geographic Institution decided to shift their focus to excavation and study of ancient animal fossils. Luckily, their new plan was supported by both the Chinese and Swedish governments.

One year after, rumors said that there were an abundance of chicken bones at Zhoukoudian district near Beijing, the capital city of China. If you were Chinese, you must be able to tell the other half of this story from the name “Zhoukoudian”, right? Today in China, the name of Zhoukoudian can be found in every fundamental social/history/Chinese language textbook and it was remarked officially as the “the Beginning of the Chinese Civilization”. But remember, Andersson and Ting, who lived 100 years ago, certainly knew nothing this theory of “the Beginning of XXX”. Andersson, the former geologist and mining advisor, was now trying to fit himself into his new job again: he paid his first visit to Zhoukoudian and collected the so called “chicken bones” for his new research orientation there.

Thank you for your interest in my new blog!

But……. it isn’t finished: I am still collecting more scientific resources, while trying to make it less boring to read. (I have to admit to strike a balance is not easy, especially when my weakness in English writing is taken into account :P)

Be patient!