As an archaeologist, I have always believed that one of the best ways of finding out about a society is to study its towns. Or rather not just its towns, but the whole structure of its geography – where people live and in particular on what did they spend their surplus energy and their surplus leisure?
In modern Britain the most obvious palaces are the football grounds, the most lavish assembly places in any town. Then there are the shopping malls, the factories and the acres upon acres of houses where people live. In ancient Rome, the heart of the town was the forum or market place; true there were normally temples at one end and also the Basilica, the law courts and the town council’s offices, — all of them remarkably small. There is often an amphitheatre and theatre, and baths, large and small, where people took their pleasures, and which formed the main target for their surplus money. There are shops and the other houses, and outside in the country, there are Roman villas. And there were no palaces.
But what were Chinese towns like? Indeed, what was the Chinese countryside like? How did the Chinese spend their surplus energy? At the centre, Chines towns appear to have been dominated by the palace. Almost equally grand were the tombs outside the town: clearly the Chinese way of death was almost as elaborate as that of ancient Egypt. But what else was there? So far I have been unable to find out. I need to investigate this further, and find some good books on Chinese towns and the Chinese countryside. Perhaps I might even go to China itself. Is there a Chinese Pompeii where one can see the layout of a whole town?
When I can find the answer to this question, I hope I will be able to give a better answer to the question: how far was China civilised?