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Older than the pyramids: probe launched after mainland official claims Chinese civilisation is older than ancient Egypt

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 24/11/2022 Mandy Zuo
  • Article claiming China 'created' civilisation of ancient Egypt is met with mockery and confusion by netizens
  • Scholars say official's claim is based on superficial similarities and that he provides no archaeological or historical evidence to support it

A controversial claim by a mainland official that the Chinese "created" Egyptian civilisation has caused an online backlash and prompted a formal investigation.

In an online article, a senior researcher at the Culture and Tourism Bureau of Zhangjiakou city in Hebei province, Yu Ruijun claimed there was "a great deal of evidence to show that it was the Chinese who created Egyptian civilisation".

The article - which was published on Tuesday - sparked immediate controversy when it appeared on the bureau's official WeChat account. It has since been deleted.

The Great Sphinx of Giza, a large half-human, half-lion Sphinx statue on the Giza Plateau on the west bank of the Nile River, near modern-day Cairo in Egypt. Photo: AFP © Provided by South China Morning Post The Great Sphinx of Giza, a large half-human, half-lion Sphinx statue on the Giza Plateau on the west bank of the Nile River, near modern-day Cairo in Egypt. Photo: AFP

The key evidence Yu based his claim on was a bronze basin from the Spring and Autumn Period of 770-476BC which was recovered from a tomb in China and is being exhibited at the Zhangjiakou museum.

The vessel has sculpted carvings that he claimed were similar to those found in ancient Egypt.

Yu then listed five points to support his claim, including racial similarities, cultural relics, medical technologies, units of measurement used and folk customs in the two civilisations.

Yu has previously appeared in official media reports described as a veteran collector of ancient rocks and stone carvings.

The Pyramid of Khafre, the second largest pyramid on the Giza plateau in Egypt. Photo: DPA © Provided by South China Morning Post The Pyramid of Khafre, the second largest pyramid on the Giza plateau in Egypt. Photo: DPA

All existing archaeological evidence and studies from around the world support the conclusion that Egypt's ancient civilisation appeared far earlier than that of China's, despite the shared similarities.

Yu's extraordinary and unfounded claim was met with confusion and mockery.

The bureau refused an interview request from the Post on Thursday, but said an internal investigation into the piece was underway.

Zheng Jinsong, deputy head of the Museum of Southwest University in Chongqing, said that while evidence cited in the article showed there were similarities between the two civilisations, there was nothing to support the claim that Chinese civilisation came before that of ancient Egypt.

Yu has been described as a collector or rock sculpture and carvings. Photo: Handout © Provided by South China Morning Post Yu has been described as a collector or rock sculpture and carvings. Photo: Handout

"When it comes to researching the origins of civilisations, either being over-weening or belittling ourselves would be unacceptable," Zheng told Shangyou News.

Online commentary was scathing of the claims:

"No, no, let's hold that. If we keep on doing this, we'll be like South Korea, which is the origin of everything," one Weibo user joked.

Chinese netizens have engaged in intense cultural spats with their South Korean counterparts in recent years with both sides claiming items of cultural heritage - such as kimchi, South Korea's national food, and hanbok, its traditional wear - as their own.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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