In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Human Origins in China

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • History of Paleontological Study in China
  • Homo Erectus and Archaic Homo Sapiens
  • Isolated Teeth from Middle Pleistocene
  • Paleo-DNA Study

Chinese Studies Human Origins in China
Xinzhi Wu, Xu Xin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0103


Based on the human fossils that have been found the history of human evolution could be as follows: the first human population of Homo erectus, represented by the human incisors found at Yuanmou, Yunnan Province, southwestern China, came to China from the southern part of Asia. Homo erectus became more and more prosperous and dispersed to broader areas in China. Some of their descendants became extinct and some interbred with populations or individuals who came from outside this region, and they emerged as populations of early or archaic Homo sapiens in the period between 30,000 and 200,000 years ago. The fate of early Homo sapiens in China has been interpreted by different hypotheses, such as the “Recent out of Africa” hypothesis (ROA) and the multiregional evolution hypothesis (MRE). According to the ROA, it is hypothesized that populations of early modern Homo sapiens migrated from Africa and entered the southern part of China around 60,000 years ago; they then dispersed northward. They replaced totally the indigenous human beings and they are the unique ancestors of the modern Chinese. So this hypothesis is also called the total replacement hypothesis. It is supported by DNA studies on extant populations of Chinese (see Genetic Studies Based on Living People). According to the MRE hypothesis, early Homo sapiens who lived in China interbred with immigrants from outside; thus, human evolution in China is continuous and the indigenous populations absorbed genes from populations outside this region. Therefore, human evolution in China could be summarized as continuity with hybridization. This hypothesis is supported by evidence that includes human fossils, cultural remains, and findings dealing with the paleo-environment.

General Overviews

In the early 20th century, Sinanthropus fossils were the most important findings for the study of human evolution. Black, et al. 1933 summarizes these achievements and other paleoanthropological study up until that time. After 1949, more and more human fossils were found in China. Wu and Olsen 2009 and Wu and Poirier 1995 are more recent books summarizing the achievements of paleoanthropology in China. Wu and Wu 1994 is a catalogue of human fossils found in China until that time. All of the works cited above are written in English. Wu, et al. 1989 is another book summarizing the achievements of paleoanthropology in China, but it is written in Chinese. Wu 1990 and Wu 1999 are devoted mainly to studying the evolutionary significance of human fossils found in China until dates of publication. Several common morphological features are shared among the human fossils of China. A few morphological features seen rarely in China but more frequently shown in Europe may imply the gene exchanges between China and Europe. Based on these and the morphological mosaic between different taxa of fossils, it is proposed that human evolution in China is continuous with gene flow from other regions. Wu, et al. 2012 deals with a narrower field, namely, a study of the variation of the nasal floor.

  • Black, Davidson, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, C. C. Yang, and W. C. Pei. Fossil Man in China: The Choukoutien Cave Deposits with a Synopsis of Our Present Knowledge of the Late Cenozoic in China. 11 vols. Beijing: Geological Survey of China and the Section of Geology of the National Academy of Peiping, 1933.

    This is a comprehensive study of the Zhoukoudian cave deposits with a synopsis of the knowledge of the Late Cenozoic and human and cultural remains of North China.

  • Wu, Rukang, and John Olsen. Paleoanthropology and Paleolithic Archaeology in the People’s Republic of China. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2009.

    A detailed description of Chinese paleoanthropology including its retrospect and prospect, morphology of human fossils, data of Paleolithic assemblages, and chronology. The book also contains human remains of Neolithic, Gigantopithecus, Ramapithecus, Sivapithecus, and Pleistocene mammalian fauna. This book is written only in English, but a Chinese translation of its title has been printed on the cover (中华人民共和国古人类学与旧石器时代考古学 Zhonghuarenmingongheguo gurenleixue yu jiushiqishidaikaoguxue).

  • Wu Rukang 吴汝康, and Wu Xinzhi 吴新智. “China.” Hominid Remains: An Update, No. 7 (1994): 1–105.

    This journal article includes the locations, discoveries, geological contexts, stratigraphic ages, archaeological contexts, associated fauna and flora, absolute dates, human remains, anatomical description, repository of the fossils, and repository of the casts of the human fossils found in China (edited by R. Orban and D. Roels, Bruxelles, Belgium: Laboratory of Anthropology and Human Genetics, Universitité Libre de Bruxelles, pp. 1–105).

  • Wu Rukang 吴汝康, Wu Xinzhi 吴新智, and Zhang Senshui 张森水. Zhongguo yuangu renlei (中国远古人类). Beijing: Kexue chubanshe, 1989.

    A book written only in Chinese containing information on, and discussion of, main human fossils and Neolithic human skeletons, Paleoliths, fossil apes, a description of Pleistocene fauna and paleo-environment, and data of chronometric dating. On the back cover of the book, an English-language abstract and title, “Early Humankind of China,” has been printed.

  • Wu Xinzhi 吴新智. “Zhongguo yuangu renlei de jinhua (中国远古人类的进化).” Acta Anthropologica Sinica 9 (1990): 312–321.

    Materials and chronometric data of seventeen hominin sites; eleven common features shared by human fossils. Eight features show gradual change. Seven features show heterogeneity. A mosaic between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens is shown in five features. Paleoliths and gene exchange are also discussed for supporting the continuity of human evolution in China. Includes English-language abstract and title: “The Evolution of Humankind in China.”

  • Wu Xinzhi 吴新智. “20 shiji de Zhongguo renlei gushengwuxue yanjiu yu zhanwang (20世纪的中国人类古生物学研究与展望).” Acta Anthropologica Sinica 18 (1999): 165–175.

    The human evolution in China could be likened to a river network in which continuity is the main process and in which both hybridization with immigrants from neighboring areas and extinction of small local populations are the subsidiary. Includes an English-language abstract and title: “Chinese Human Paleontological Study in the 20th Century and Prospects.”

  • Wu, Xinzhi, and Frank Poirier. Human Evolution in China: A Metric Description of the Fossils and a Review of the Sites. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

    This book includes detailed description of the human fossils, paleoliths, associated fauna and flora, stratigraphy, relative and absolute datings, and location of the sites at which these are located as well as a chapter dealing with the evolution and dispersal of humans in China. Important fossil apes of China are also presented.

  • Wu, Xiujie, Scott D. Maddux, Lei Pan, and Eric Trinkaus. “Nasal Floor Variation among Eastern Eurasian Pleistocene Homo.” Anthropological Science 120 (2012): 217–226.

    DOI: 10.1537/ase.120709

    Chaoxian and Xujiayao specimens are distinctly bi-leveled. The configuration of Changyang is less apparent. It is either bi-leveled or sloping depending on how to reconstruct the posterior extension of the nasal floor. The specimens from Liujiang, Qilinshan, Ziyang, and Upper Cave 101 are leveled.

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