Since the end of the Warring States period (221 B.C.), the traditional history of China has always been said to have begun with the “Three August Sovereigns” and the “Five Emperors.” The stages in Chinese civilization were thus personified and ancient society was conceived of as having been ruled by an uninterrupted line of emperors. This early period of Chinese history may be divided into three periods, each of which may be typified by one oracle-graph.
The first period is the era of the legendary personages. This is before the period of the Yellow Emperor and may be represented by the oracle-bone graph for “sage.” The second period is the era of the emperors who created social institutions, an era which may be represented by the oracle-bone graph for “jade pendant.” The final period is the era of authentic dynastic history, covering the Hsia, Shang, and Chou dynasties. This period may be represented by the oracle-bone graph for “king.”
The oracle-bone character for “sage” is a pictograph of a man with extremely keen hearing. This implies exceptional physical or mental capabilities which would enable that person to bring great benefits to the community. This period of the sage saw the invention and development of a series of technological skills and tools which improved the standard of living of the community, but the stage had still not been reached when the social system necessary for political organization could come into being; that is to say, society had not yet reached the stage of true civilization.