Eastern China comprises two quite distinct regions, (1) the coastal provinces of Hebei, Shandong, and Jiangsu, distinguished by the location at their extremities of two capital cities, Beijing and Nanjing. For the south-east region, which is equally separate from the above, see under the heading of South China.
(1) A little way south-west of Beijing in Hebei province is Zhoukoudian, the cave site where in 1921 the remains of palaeolithic man in China were first discovered. Popularly known as Beijing Man, they indicated that Homo Erectus occupied the area from 500,000 to 230,000 years ago.
Neolithic man also lived in eastern China, from where his culture spread around the gulf of Bohai on to the Korean peninsula. Most widespread in eastern China, especially around the modern province of Shandong, are sites belonging to the Dawenkou culture and its derivative Longshan culture. Dating from c.4300 - c.2000 BCE, these were evidently somewhat later and more advanced than those of Yangshao culture. They were characterised by sophisticated pottery, mostly undecorated black and white wares and demonstrating mastery of the wheel. Examples from Longshan sites were very fine, and include a wide variety of forms including tripods, steamers, beakers, cups with handles, and containers with lids. Tools were sometimes made of jade.
In imperial times, the importance of eastern China was boosted by association with the town of Qufu, Shandong province, revered as the birthplace of Confucius in 550 BC. To the present day it has remained the location of a major Confucian temple complex, and of a family home belonging to his descendants. Of greater value to modern archaeologists and historians, however, are the tombs of three members of the Wu family, all of whom died in the 2nd century CE and were buried at Yinan, Shandong. Their stone-built chambers were lined with bricks decorated in bas-relief. Not only are these invaluable as evidence of Han dynasty artistic style, but together they provide a wonderful pictorial account of history from earliest times down to 151 CE, as well as an imaginative view of the heavenly realms of the Immortals.
Ports on the Shandong peninsula, and around the mouth of the Yangzi, were points of departure and landfall for ships crossing the dangerous seas between China and southern Korea. This was the route by which Buddhism and the arts associated with it reached the southern Korean kingdom of Paekche in the 4th century. The north Korean kingdom of Koguryo, on the other hand, probably adopted it from the Toba Wei state in north China, via the overland corridor around the Liaodong peninsula.
To the south of the Shandong peninsula, the low-lying coasts of northern Jiangsu province were a principal source of salt. The industry used evaporating pans made of iron, and in 119 BCE both salt and iron were made state monopolies. So important was the tax income derived from their exploitation by Han and successive governments that the state treasury long retained the title of Salt and Iron Bureau.
(2) Manchuria, known to the Chinese simply as 'the North-East', was incorporated into the empire with the inauguration of the Qing dynasty in 1644. ('Manchuria' is a Western name derived from the Japanese attempt to create a separate puppet state, Manchuguo, there in 1932.) It has a harsh climate and much of its terrain is mountainous and forbidding, but it is rich in minerals, oil, gas, and timber, and the soil is fertile. Over many centuries people have come and gone across what are today borders shared with Korea and Russia, so the population is both dense and ethnically mixed.Prof. K. Pratt | Sep 2002