From Oliver August

THE Yellow Emperor, regarded as the founder of the Middle Kingdom, was buried under the impact of a meteorite 5,000 years ago, Chinese scientists said yesterday.

According to the official China Daily newspaper, scientists believe that a 3ft long meteorite fragment found near the Emperor Huangdi’s mausoleum in the city of Xian, in north central legend, according to which Huangdi “died when the land was shattered” and was “broken up by nine dragons”.

The discovery of the meteorite has “great significance in answering questions about the beginning of China’s 5,000-year-old civilization,” the newspaper said.

The experts from the Shaanxi Provincial Coal Geological Prospecting group, who estimated the age of the meteorite, did not detail what method of research led them to this conclusion.

More cynical observers regard the discovery as part of a broad propaganda campaign by the Communist Party to use Chinese history to legitimize its territorial ambitions.

The longevity of Chinese Empire, from Huangdi to Chairman Mao, is meant to justify the latter’s claim to ruling Taiwan, Tibet and Xinijang, which only occasionally were part of China over the centuries.

During a ceremony at Huangdi’s mausoleum, a government official said: “ On this day, we wish to let our Taiwan compatriots know, especially the Taiwan authorities, that we have the same ancestor.”

China sees Taiwan as a renegade province, which it has every right retake by force.

In academic circles, skepticism abounds over Huangdi. He is credited with the word “emperor” and the imperial colour yellow, but Chinese legend also claims that he unified three big tribes in the Yellow River and Yangtze River areas, invented the cart and the boat, and that his dialogues with the Physician Qi Bo were the basis of China’s first medical book, the Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Medicine.

His wife, Lei Zu, appartently taught the Chinese how to weave silk form silkworms and his minister Cang Jie devised the first Chinese characters. The Emperor is said to have reigned from 2697 to 2597BC.

About 50,000 Chinese visited the mausoleum, first erected in the Han Dynasty (206BC to 221AD), to pay their respects last Friday for annualTomb Sweeping Day.

Since 1992, China has spent £16 million on renovating the mausoleum outside Xian.