added by archaeologs [Ch’u]. A state that ruled a large area of central China during the Zhou period. According to tradition a Chu ruler was given a title by the second Western Zhou king, implying that a Chu kingdom existed as early as cl000 bc. Little is known of this kingdom until the Eastern Zhou period, however, when archaeology and historical sources reveal it as a distinctive, highly civilized cultural and political entity. From the 8th century until its destruction by Qin in the 3rd century bc Chu was the largest and most powerful of the Eastern Zhou states, presenting a constant threat to its neighbours on the west, north, and east. Chu occupied modem Hubei province and adjacent parts of Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui, and Henan. The distribution of Chu sites suggests that the main settlements lay on the shores of a great lake called Yunmeng in ancient texts, of which Lake Dongting is today the remnant, and along the rivers that flowed into or out of the lake (Xiang, Han and Yangzi). Major finds have also been made to the north of this region (see Xiasi) and northeast across the Dabieshan mountains in the Huai River valley (see Xinyang), but Chu remains are most densely concentrated at Ji angling in southern Hubei and Changsha in northern Hunan. The Chu capital was at Jiangling from 689 to 278 BC, when the city fell to Qin. The Chu court then retreated to the Huai valley, remaining there until its final overthrow in 223 bc (see Shou Xian). Although surviving documents show that the Chu people wrote and thus presumably spoke Chinese, the contemporary states in the north, direct heirs of the Shang and Western Zhou empires, always regarded themselves as ‘more Chinese’. The cultural differences that set Chu apart are clearly visible in the archaeological record and also in ancient texts such as the Chu ci or Songs of Chu, a remarkable collection of Chu poems. These differences are of special interest to the historian, for much in Chu culture that was exotic by comparison with the Shang and Zhou tradition had by the end of the Han period entered the mainstream of Chinese civilization. Few Chu habitation sites have been excavated. Evidence for the material culture of Chu comes instead from countless tombs, including some that date from the Han dynasty (see Mawangdui). Chu bronze-casting was highly developed and idiosyncratic (seeXiASi, Sui Xian), but the Chu art form par excellence was painted lacquer. Lacquered objects range from containers of all sorts to strange wooden effigies, musical instruments, coffins, and other wooden tomb furniture. Paintings on lacquer and silk together with a few illustrated silk manuscripts hint at a rich mythology made explicit in the Chu ci, whose shamans and weird demons have no parallel in contemporary texts originating outside the Chu sphere. The bronze ritual vessels essential to the religious observances of the northern states seem to have been less important to Chu ceremony than the musical instruments, especially bells and drums, found in large numbers in Chu tombs. The bells and also certain animal motifs ubiquitous in Chu art — birds, snakes, tigers — argue for continuity with Shang-period local cultures of the Yangzi region (see Ningxiang). Silk, lacquer, and iron were all Chu specialities, and the northern states felt the appeal of Chu material culture long before the Han dynasty (see Yunmeng). With the incorporation of Chu into the Han empire — whose founder was of Chu descent — the influence of Chu art throughout China became overwhelming. The contributions made by Chu literature, philosophy, and government administration seem to have been equally crucial for the genesis of Han civilization.
The Macmillan dictionary of archaeology, Ruth D. Whitehouse, 1983