Nineteenth century French Academy laureate Albert Etienne Terrien de Lacouperie extensively studied the relationship between China and the West, and wrote numerous articles and books on the subject. In Western Origin of the Early Chinese Civilization (London, Asher & Co., 1894), he wrote:
"The early civilization and writing of the Chinese were simply derivations from those of Elam and Chaldea, about and after the time of Gudea and Dungi [Shulgi], derivations carried eastward later on to the Flowery land, namely in the XXIII century before our era" (1)."C.J. Ball...a collaborator of The Babylonian and Oriental Record, in several papers published in the Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology…has concluded in favor of a close relationship of the Akkadian and Chinese language, a derivation (established by me in 1888) of the Chinese characters from those of Babylonia between Gudea and Khammurabi, and a migration of civilized Akkadians to China at that time" (xi-xii). Terrien de Lacouperie observed that the ancient Chinese records appear to describe the cuneiform writing of their Bak ancestors:
"The comparatively late beginnings of the Chinese civilization showed themselves to be the outcome of an importation, not a distinct growth from common seeds, but simply a loan, a derivation, an extension eastward from a much older form of culture in the west. I was led slowly by overwhelming evidences, direct and circumstantial from the Chinese and W. Asiatic sides, to the unexpected disclosures alluded to, and which, however astonishing they may appear to those who have not followed the gradual advance of my researches, are now proved to be an assured progress of our knowledge and solid discoveries of historical fact" (1-2).
"sifting all fabulous accounts, we find a residue of undisputable evidences showing a small number of families arriving in the N.W. of present China, and in possession of a comparatively advanced civilization which explains the enthusiasm of after ages for these men, and has left a deep impression surviving to the present day in the mental habits of the whole people. The existence of these feelings and beliefs would have been difficult and even impossible, should traces or traditions of savage beginnings, slow development of civilization, pictorial rudiments of writing, and successive progresses of knowledge by self-growth, have ever existed among Chinese, but nothing of the kind exists in their early souvenirs " (3-4).
"Everything in Chinese antiquity and tradition points to a western origin. No Sinologist who has studied the subject has been able to ascertain any other origin for the Chinese than one from the West" (4).
"There are however in the ancient Chinese traditions several allusions which point in so precise a manner to the cuneiform writing, that we must mention them here. Shen-nung=Sargon was reputed to have used signs like tongues of fire to record facts, at a time when the ancestors of the Chinese were not yet acquainted with the art of writing, and Dunkit (modern Tsang hieh) whose name has the same meaning as that of the Chaldean Dungi [Shulgi] of which it was a rendering and under whom the Bak tribes were taught to write, made marks on clay like claws of birds and animals. The primitive writing was always compared to drops of rain finely drawn out and freezing as they fall. It is difficult to mistake in all this, most distinct descriptions of the cuneiform writing of south-west Asia" (5).The identification of the Chinese founders with the Bak people has been challenged by Firth, as referenced in my article "Ethnography, Biblical Studies, and Higher Criticism." Indeed, there is some question whether specific tribal identification can be made due to difficulties of transliteration, changes of pronunciation, the lack of adequate original Chinese records from the earliest eras, and linguistic shifts over time. At best, we can say that Terrien de Lacouperie makes an interesting case for identification of the Chinese founders with the Bak tribes of Elam which falls short of the mandate of proof.
Furthermore, our understanding of both chronology and the Sumerian language has changed considerably since Terrien de Lacouperie's day: In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, King "Dungi" of Ur, under whom orthographic reforms occurred and tribes of the Sumero-Akkadian empire were taught to read and write, was believed to have lived in the twenty fourth century BC, leading Terrien de Lacouperie to postulate an exodus for the Bak tribes toward China in the twenty third century BC. Modern scholars now know "Dungi" as Shulgi of Ur, and assign his chronology to the twenty first century BC. Similarly, contemporary scholars date Gudea's rule circa 2144-2124 BC. Either Chinese migrations would have had to come after this time - which is certainly plausible in view of the lack of proven evidences of these forms of Chinese culture before this date - or they would have had to come earlier under a prior ruler, which is also possible. On the other hand, modern chronologies makes certain elements of Terrien de Lacouperie's theory more plausible. For instance, Sargon the Great's reign was attributed to the period of approximately 3900 BC by the Sumerian King lists, which have since been shown to contain serious chronological errors. Modern scholars accept a date in the 23rd century BC, which would explain a persistent memory of these events closer in time and place to the exodus of the putative Chinese ancestors.
Yet the uncertainty of specific tribal identification does not allow Terrien de Lacouperie's overarching hypothesis to be lightly dismissed in demonstrating compelling similarities between Akkadian and Chinese language, culture, and technology.
A few of the borrowings of China cited by Terrien de Lacouperie from Chaldea include:
The remains and loans of Chaldean culture, which we can still now discover in the early Chinese civilization, are so numerous and bear on so many points that we cannot without difficulty summarize them with clearness...The ancient Chinese, through their civilizers, had learned from Chaldea: the solar year; its duodenary division, with the system of an intercalary month, its subdivision into twenty-four parts, and into periods of five days; also the division of days into double hours, and a certain use of a period of seven days. They preserved from their early teachers the same fourfold division of the year into seasons; and they hand not entirely forgotten the symbolism of the names of the twelve months. Nor had they forgotten the allusions in the names of the planets and their symbolical colours the special colours...LaCouperie continues for many pages citing and documenting various Chinese borrowings from their Chaldean predecessors.
Genetic evidence also suggests that the early tribes of Elam and Chaldea that founded the Chinese civilization may have been genetically very different from modern Chinese. The further back we go, the greater genetic distinctiveness we find between ancient and modern Asian populations. One of the most ancient Asian studies of human remains was conducted in the Linzi area of central China. The authors studied human remains from three different time periods and reported:
"The results indicate that the genetic backgrounds of the three populations are distinct from each other. Inconsistent with the geographical distribution, the 2,500-year-old Linzi population showed greater genetic similarity to present-day European populations than to present-day East Asian populations. The 2,000-year-old Linzi population had features that were intermediate between the present-day European/2,500-year-old Linzi populations and the present-day East Asian populations. These relationships suggest the occurrence of drastic spatiotemporal changes in the genetic structure of Chinese people during the past 2,500 years." (Wang L., Oota H., Saitou N., et al. "Genetic structure of a 2,500-year-old human population in China and its spatiotemporal changes." Mol Biol Evol. 2000 Sep;17(9):1396-400.)]The authors further noted: "the three smallest genetic distances for the 2,500 year-old Linzi population were from the Turkish, Icelander, and Finnish, rather than from the east Asian populations."(ibid). Not only did a 2,500 year-old population with strong European genetic features live in central China, but these people appears to be the oldest inhabitants of China yet identified. Geneticists are aware of this group, whose genetic features seem to be almost entirely absent from modern Chinese populations, only because of recent research. If we were to imagine a hypothetical Linzi group that might have emigrated to an isolated island in 500 BC, the DNA of their descendants would be completely unrelated to that of modern Chinese and would be classified by proponents of "regional affiliation" genetics as belonging to a European culture group. Self-proclaimed experts would undoubtedly claim that this group had been "proven" not to have originated in China at all. The Linzi data wreak havoc upon the theories of critics who indiscriminately extrapolate the genetics of the modern inhabitants onto ancient peoples without supporting DNA evidence. There is evidence of other Caucasian peoples in ancient China, such as the Taklamakan mummies of the Tocharian civilization that inhabited the Tarim basin in central Asia and Xinyiang province. This group was distinct from and much later than the early Bak tribes, yet it provides further evidence of the fact that the ethnic and genetic makeup of groups inhabiting these regions in antiquity was very different from today.
A paucity of data are available regarding the very ancient Chinese populations. We have no data going back 4300 years to the time of the migration of the Bak tribes. But existing genetic data appears to be, at a minimum, fully consistent with Lacouperie's conclusions based upon technology and linguistics that the founders of the Chinese civilization came from Elam and Chaldea. It appears that this group was eventually absorbed into significantly larger populations who assimilated culture, linguistics, and technology, even though the genetic traces of the original founders are scarcely evidenced in modern populations that identify themselves as Chinese.
Political policies of the Chinese also encouraged this process of assimilation. In The Languages of China before the Chinese, Lacouperie noted:
The policy of the Chinese toward the previous occupiers of the soil...which has so much contributed to the formation of their national character, has always been, with few exceptions, strictly followed. They have, as a rule, always attempted to befriend them, and they had recourse to coercion and conquest only when compelled to do so by the aggressiveness of the tribes" (12).