INCA-CHINA SIMILARITIES Although separated by time and space, the civilisation of the Inca Empire shows many close similarities to that of China, and to that of many other countries. Although I believe that all these cultures developed independently, there is evidence to demonstrate that these were parallel, and not dissimilar developments. The main books I use for this essay are: “ Ancient Americans” by C. Mann ( London 2005 ), the classic “ Lost City of the Incas” by H. Bingham (2002 reprint) and D. Jones “ The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of the Incas”, London 2007.
The first Inca king of the Quechua tribe ruled over Cuzco around 1200AD, and was worshipped “as a demi-god, son of the Sun” (Bingham p.29). This is comparable to the notion of Tian/Heaven in China, Amaterasu, the sun goddess ancestor of the Japanese imperial family and similar ideas shared by so many different cultures of East Asia.
The Chinese and the Incas shared a strong ethnocentrism; not only were the cities of both laid out along compass points in a grid, but Cuzco, the capital, was regarded as centre of the world by the Incas, somewhat reminiscent of the notion of “Tianxia” in Chinese history. China, “All under Heaven”, was ruled according to the Mandate of Heaven, whose Son the Emperor was.
Other features reminiscent of China are: the superb stone masonry of Machu Picchu (ibid p.31), houses with courtyards, irrigation ditches and terrace agriculture. Similarly, there were libations and sacrifices, 3-legged braziers (cf tripods in China), bronze metallurgy, incredible textile arts, while the virgin priestesses of the Sun resemble the Roman Vestal Virgins. The Incas also showed a comparable lack of facial hair to the Chinese, DNA make-up is similar and both peoples cannot digest lactose.
The veneration of emptiness in Inca thought is reflected in the sunken courts of kings, as negative space is accorded positive meaning. Similarly, interstellar dark matter has a central importance. Chinese Daoism, likewise, emphasises emptiness and non-action in a positive sense. Furthermore, the Buddhist concept of Nirvana sounds nihilistic, but actually entails blissful release.
The concept of duality in Inca philosophy is very significant. Everything that constitutes nature is part female, part male; dark and light; negative and positive. There is thus an obvious parallel with Chinese cosmology and yin-yang theory, not to mention Vajrayana Buddhism.
Ancestor worship is common and vital to both cultures, as is the fact that the imperial and celestial bureaucracies mirror each other. As in the Chinese system, the Incas’ dynasties of antiquity were founded by legendary ancestors in imperial genealogies. Shamanism and animism were prevalent in both cultures as was the sanctity and divinity of mountains and sacred places The practice of human sacrifice was common to both and the geoglyphs(“nazcos”), lines in the deserts of Peru, resemble the dragon lines of Chinese geomancy. In addition, the Milky Way is referred to as “celestial river” by both peoples.
The buildings of the Incas were mainly 3-walled structures—under the 7 rear niches lay a rectangular block, looking like a sacrificial altar “but more probably a throne for the mummies of departed Incas, brought out to be worshipped” (ibid). These could be compared with the “Chinese” or rather Europoid mummies of the Tarim basin, dating from c 2000 BC, but unlike the Xinjiang mummies, these were dried out in the tropical sun, after removal of the viscera (also unlike the Egyptian mummies). The agriculture, engineering, masonry, monumental architecture, not to mention pottery and metallurgy also had earlier Chinese counterparts.
Amerindians left Eurasia “before the first whisper of the Neolithic Revolution” (Mann, op.cit. p.17). There was to be no Sumerian civilisation for them, but a second independent Neolithic revolution occurred in Mesoamerica 10,000 years ago, and traces of a third Neolithic revolution, even older, have been found in Ecuador, at the foot of the Andes (p.18). The zero symbol was invented in the Americas, long before Sanskrit and Indian mathematics. Like the Tibetans, they did not use the wheel, except for toys, whereas Tibetans seemed only familiar with the concept in the form of prayer-wheels.
The Inca “writing system” is fascinating; the knots on strings (quipu) form a 3-dimensional and 24-coloured “binary code reminiscent of today’s computer languages” (p.66). Although earlier considered as merely a counting device, in reality it appears a bit like an early telephone exchange or internet, or at least much more complex and sophisticated than previously thought. There was evidently no need for a written script. The “amautas” or court historians and philosophers could act as official interpreters. Furthermore, there were fine-line drawings on pots and engravings (Jones p.16). Literary quipus used ideograms in complex patterns, clockwise and anti-clockwise etc to denote shades of meaning.
The Inca Empire was the greatest state in the Andes. However, it was also the shortest-lived; beginning in the 15th century, it only lasted 100 years until the Spanish arrived. Like the Egyptian rulers, Thupa Inka practised the custom of marrying his sister in the 15th century. Although there was a delicate and refined metallurgy and iron was plentiful, no steel was produced and the Iron Age of China never materialised.
As for the royal mummies, they were not considered really dead: each Inca’s royal lineage “ retained all his possessions forever, including his palaces, residences and shrines…clothes, eating utensils, fingernail parings and hair clippings. Therefore, most of the treasures and expenses were under the control of the dead” (p.89). This is remarkably similar to the burial arrangements for Qin Shihuangdi, the First Emperor of China.
There seem to have been different waves of migration to the Americas. Pleistocene Man evolved in New Jersey (p.145) and there seems to have been an independent evolution. The languages spoken by the Amerinds of Central and South America occurred at other times than that of the other two language family groups. Evidence of boats from 20,000 years ago is there (p.172), and between 3200-2500BC ancient Peruvians on the coast were building cities at the same time as Sumer (p.145), receiving sustenance from the sea, and domesticating cotton. The theocratic chiefdoms in Norte Chico resembled ancient China, with the Emperor as intermediary between Heaven and Earth, a Chief Priest in between the celestial and imperial bureaucracies. The Staff God, a fanged, staff-wielding deity in the Andean pantheon could possibly be a chief god, or Heaven-like figure, as were two other deities of paramount importance: Inti, the Sun God incarnate in the Emperor and Viracocha.
The origin of writing in Sumer and the Americas is inspired on a differing basis. For the Sumerians, it was economics and the related record-keeping that provided the impetus for the origination of writing there c 3400BC, whereas for the Amerinds it had chronographic origins. Timekeeping was of central importance, while the zero was probably invented even before 32BC, centuries before India.
The only actual person I know to have compared the civilisations of China and the Incas is G. Menzies in his book “1421” (London 2002). Menzies shows that the Inca Emperors frequently wore feathers: in Quechua the word for chicken was hualpa and the name of the Emperor overthrown by Pizarro was Atahualpa, conclusively proving that the Indians had a word for chicken, an Asiatic variety, 40 years before the conquistadors. The Inca Amerindians, furthermore, used these birds for sacrifice, divination and healing the sick, like the Chinese. In addition, the belief that a melanotic chicken protects the house from evil spirits is shared with the Chinese. Moreover, Menzies finds “the overwhelming evidence of pre-Columbian voyages between China and the Americas in Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.” (p.199). However, his view that contact happened only in the 15th century is unconvincing; most probably, common features were shared in a broad cultural continuum going back to ancient days, although contact and trade were indeed possible.
In conclusion, it must be said that, despite striking similarities between China and the Inca Empire, both civilisations appear to have evolved separately from a common cultural predisposition. Of course, although the Americas were to be populated later by successive waves of peoples from Eurasia, the defining feature is the independent development of both cultures. Both societies manifest a similar evolution and a different focus than the Sumerian one. While the Americas and China have a common religio-political, perhaps iconographic tradition, Sumerian civilisation rested on a different, economic basis. Hence the differing emphasis. I am much indebted to and inspired by the late Professor K.C. Chang for the formulation of this idea in his revelation of the “China-Maya Continuum.”