Archaeologist of the Month: Li Ji

In a time when archaeology was just beginning as a discipline in China, Dr. Li Ji was there to light the way. Known as “The Father of Chinese Archaeology,” he pioneered the discipline of modern scientific archaeology in China.

Dr. Li Ji (commonly romanized as Li Chi) was born in 1896 in Zhongxiang city, Hubei province of China. Dr. Li was born to a wealthy family and enjoyed a traditional Chinese education in his hometown as well as studying at Tsinghua University in Beijing. In 1918, Dr. Li went abroad in order to study at higher education institutions in the United States. Like many other Chinese students of the time, Dr. Li was hoping to bring back Western scientific research methods to help China as it rapidly modernized. He first began by studying at Clark University where he received a BA in psychology and an MA in sociology. He then received his Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard University, in 1923. His dissertation, “The Formation of the Chinese People: an Anthropological Inquiry”, was published in the Harvard University Press in 1928. He returned to China in 1923, after earning his Ph.D. He then became involved in archaeological research and excavations. The first one that he conducted was at the Neolithic site of Xiyincun in 1926. He pioneered scientific archaeological excavations in China and even came up with innovative methods to record where objects were found in 3Dspace.

He had a varied background of knowledge and experience working as an archaeologist. He was appointed as the first director of archaeology in the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, in 1928. He then decided to undertake multiple excavations as director. He had a tumultuous time excavating at Anyang, but he persevered through inclement weather, civil war, and bandit attacks. His excavation found over 300 graves, including 4 nobles, and legitimized the Shang Dynasty. This was a big deal at the time because this was the first historical evidence that the Shang Dynasty existed, and marks it as the earliest proven Chinese Dynasty. Dr. Li’s work in verifying the authenticity of the Shang Dynasty influenced millions of people. Dr. Li discovered proof that a legend was real, and because of this, as well as his many other contributions, he is considered the “Father of Chinese Archaeology” (Hsü, Chang).

Hsü, Cho-yun, and Kwang-chih Chang. “Obituary: Li Chi (1896-1979).” The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 40, no. 1, 1980, pp. 217–19. JSTOR, Accessed 16 Sep. 2022.

“Li Chi.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,

Liu, Li. “Li Chi & Pei Wenzhong.” Great Archaeologists, edited by Brian Fagan, Thames& Hudson, S.l., 2022, pp. 207–209.

Peng, Peng. “Decentralizing the Origin of Civilization: Early Archaeological Efforts in China: History of Humanities: Vol 6, No 2.” History of Humanities, The University of Chicago Press Journals,

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Page last modified October 7, 2022