The Sunken Sil­ver of Jiangkou

From June 26 to Sep­tem­ber 26, an ex­hi­bi­tion held at the Na­tional Mu­seum of China show­cased ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies from the site of the Jiangkou Bat­tle­field in Peng­shan, Sichuan Prov­ince from 1646.

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Niu Huizi Edited by David Ball

Jiangkou Town in Chongqing has long been of great mil­i­tary im­por­tance due to its strate­gic and re­mote lo­ca­tion. In 1646, Zhang Xianzhong (1606–1647), leader of the peas­ant up­ris­ing in the late-ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644), led 80,000 troops south­wards down the river along with his be­long­ings.

Ac­cord­ing to Yang Zhan zhuan (“Bi­og­ra­phy of Yang Zhan”), “Yang Zhan, a vice-com­man­der in the Ming Dy­nasty, led an army to fight Zhang Xianzhong at Peng­shan Moun­tain. Yang dis­patched boats with firearms to at­tack Zhang's ships. Hun­dreds of fire ar­rows were launched si­mul­ta­ne­ously, burn­ing down al­most all the rebel ships and killing most of Zhang's sol­diers. All of their looted gold, sil­ver and jade trea­sures sank to the bot­tom of the wa­ter.”

From June 26 to Sep­tem­ber 26, 2018, “Sunken Sil­ver—an Ex­hi­bi­tion of Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Dis­cov­er­ies from the Jiangkou Bat­tle­field” is be­ing held at the Na­tional Mu­seum of China (NMC). The ex­hi­bi­tion is co-hosted by the NMC along with gov­ern­ment agen­cies and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal in­sti­tutes, in­clud­ing the Sichuan Pro­vin­cial Cul­tural Relics and Ar­chae­ol­ogy Re­search In­sti­tute, and the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Cul­tural Her­itage's Un­der­wa­ter Cul­tural Her­itage Pro­tec­tion Cen­tre. The ex­hi­bi­tion dis­plays more than 500 arte­facts, in­clud­ing the gold tiger seal of the “Yongchang Grand Mar­shal” and sil­ver in­gots of the “Daxi State.”

Mys­tery of the Sunken Sil­ver

The site of the an­cient Jiangkou bat­tle­field is lo­cated on the Min­jiang River in Jiangkou Town, Peng­shan County, Sichuan Prov­ince. The pro­tected area of the site spans east to the high­way, west to the river em­bank­ment, south 1,000 m to the Min­jiang River Bridge, and north 500 m to the con­flu­ence of the Min­jiang River and Fuhe River, cov­er­ing an area of ap­prox­i­mately one mil­lion sq.m.

Ac­cord­ing to the Shu­nan jishi (“Records of Mis­for­tunes in the State of Shu”) from the early-qing Dy­nasty, when Zhang Xianzhong's troops left Sichuan by the river, there were too many sil­ver in­gots for the wooden ships to carry. Zhang there­fore or­dered his men to in­sert the sil­ver in­gots into wooden scab­bards so that they could float down the river, plan­ning to sal­vage them later in the nar­rower sec­tions of the river. How­ever, his army was later at­tacked and ships blocked his course, so most of the sil­ver in­gots sank.

Ac­cord­ing to the Peng­shan xi­anzhi (“Jour­nal of Peng­shan County”), “In win­ter 1794, a fish­er­man dis­cov­ered a scab­bard in the Jiangkou River and re­ported it to Viceroy of Liang­guang Sun Shiyi. He sent men to Jiangkou to sal­vage trea­sures for

many days, where they re­cov­ered tons of sil­ver, jew­ellery and jade items.” Em­peror Xian­feng (reign: 1850–1861) of the Qing Dy­nasty asked Chengdu Gen­eral Yu Rui to try and ex­ca­vate the river, but they re­turned empty-handed. Dur­ing the Repub­lic of China (1912–1949) pe­riod, the Sichuan army also con­ducted spe­cial sal­vage op­er­a­tions, but un­cov­ered lit­tle.

Since the 1920s, many arte­facts have been dis­cov­ered in the Min­jiang River at Jiangkou. Sure enough, by 2005 and 2011, round logs with sil­ver in­gots in­side, in­scribed gold tablets and a gold coin in­scribed “The Daxi King's Award” as well as a few sil­ver coins were dis­cov­ered. A dozen ex­perts from the In­sti­tute of Ar­chae­ol­ogy of the Palace Mu­seum and the Depart­ment of Com­pre­hen­sive Ar­chae­ol­ogy of the NMC stud­ied and dis­cussed the Sunken Sil­ver site and arte­facts, and fi­nally is­sued a writ­ten com­ment: “Records de­scrib­ing the ‘Sunken Sil­ver of Jiangkou' can be con­firmed, and the ‘Jiangkou Sunken Sil­ver Site' in Peng­shan is one of the core ar­eas of the his­tor­i­cal records.” More than 42,000 arte­facts have since been ex­ca­vated from the site, which has not only solved the mys­tery of the “Sunken Sil­ver of Jiangkou,” but also played a role in show­ing the po­lit­i­cal, mil­i­tary and so­cial life dur­ing the mid- to late-ming Dy­nasty.

The Rise and Fall of the Daxi State

In 1644, Zhang Xianzhong, a leader as fa­mous as Li Zicheng in the peas­ant up­ris­ings dur­ing the late-ming Dy­nasty, de­clared him­self em­peror in Chengdu. He es­tab­lished the Daxi (“Great West”) State and changed the reign ti­tle to “Dashun.” The Daxi regime es­tab­lished in­sti­tu­tions at all lev­els and im­ple­mented a se­ries of mea­sures to con­sol­i­date its po­lit­i­cal power. Thou­sands of arte­facts di­rectly re­lated to the Daxi regime were dis­cov­ered at the an­cient Jiangkou bat­tle­field site. These finds have pro­vided a large amount of phys­i­cal items to help un­der­stand the es­tab­lish­ment of the regime, mil­i­tary sys­tem and eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing the peas­ant up­ris­ings in the late-ming Dy­nasty.

At that time, gen­er­als were re­warded with coin-shaped medals which were cast af­ter Zhang Xianzhong oc­cu­pied Sichuan. These medals were made of gold, sil­ver or cop­per, were round with a square hole in the cen­tre, and in­scribed with

“The Daxi King's Award” writ­ten in xieshu (reg­u­lar script). Prior to the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tions of the an­cient Jiangkou bat­tle­field site, this kind of re­ward coin was ex­tremely rare.

But how was the Daxi Army con­fig­ured? The ex­hi­bi­tion of­fers up some an­swers. The Daxi Army was di­vided into 102 bat­tal­ions, each of which was named ac­cord­ing to cer­tain po­lit­i­cal or mil­i­tary con­no­ta­tions, such as the Zhenwu (“Re­in­forc­ing the Mil­i­tary”), Xiaoyou (“Valiant on the Right”), Yuan­jiao (“Res­cue Troops”) and Xiaoqi (“Valiant Cal­vary”) bat­tal­ions. Each bat­tal­ion was run by a com­man­der and was is­sued with an of­fi­cial seal, which was num­bered and ti­tled and passed through the whole bat­tal­ion.

What was life like in the mil­i­tary camps of the time? In the ex­hi­bi­tion, there is a rub­bing of a tablet which con­tains an in­junc­tion is­sued by the Daxi regime to the mil­i­tary and of­fi­cials, “The Xiaoqi Bat­tal­ion Com­man­der Liu In­junc­tion of the Daxi State,” which of­fers a par­tial an­swer. A closer look at the rub­bing re­veals that the in­scrip­tion was made by Liu Jinzhong, com­man­der of the Xiaoqi Bat­tal­ion in the sec­ond year of the Dashun Reign. The tablet lists rules for of­fi­cials and mil­i­tary per­son­nel. Stat­ing, for ex­am­ple, there shall be no unau­tho­rised re­cruit­ment of sol­diers that ha­rasses lo­cal peo­ple; no re­lay sta­tions, per­son­nel or horses may be used with­out au­tho­ri­sa­tion; and no sta­tioned mil­i­tary of­fi­cers shall han­dle civil law­suits with­out au­tho­ri­sa­tion.

Af­ter its es­tab­lish­ment, the Daxi regime fought many bat­tles with the lo­cal Ming Dy­nasty armed forces, such as the Bat­tle of Jiangkou in 1646 against Gen­eral Yang Zhan. The dis­cov­ery of a large num­ber of weapons, es­pe­cially firearms, from the an­cient Jiangkou Bat­tle­field site is clear ev­i­dence that was the lo­ca­tion of the an­cient bat­tle.

An­other ex­hibit on dis­play is a triple­bar­relled huo­chong, or hand can­non. This kind of hand­held can­non is shaped like a base­ball bat and can hold two or three pro­jec­tiles. When the en­emy is thirty or forty paces away, sol­diers would fire a vol­ley of rounds to de­liver a heavy blow to the en­emy. Once the pro­jec­tiles had been used up, the sturdy hand can­non could also still be used as a club to at­tack the en­emy. The large amount of nails and rig­ging from the sunken ships pro­vided fu­ture gen­er­a­tions with clues to help them lo­cate the var­i­ous ship­wrecks and un­der­stand the de­vel­op­ment of Shu boats.

Moun­tains of Gold and Sil­ver

A con­sid­er­able amount of gold and sil­ver finds have been dis­cov­ered at the Jiangkou bat­tle­field site. Some of the sil­ver in­gots, gold and sil­ver in­scribed tablets and other arte­facts are marked with their pro­duc­tion time, lo­ca­tion and other in­for­ma­tion— with the items span­ning from the midto late-ming Dy­nasty. Ge­o­graph­i­cally speak­ing, they were pro­duced over an area that reaches north to He­nan, south to Guang­dong and Guangxi, west to Sichuan, and east to Jiangxi, cov­er­ing the ma­jor­ity of China's ter­ri­tory dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty. Each of those items had its own role to play.

The front of a gold tiger seal is en­graved with the words “Yongchang Grand Mar­shal Seal” in nine-fold seal script cut in re­lief. The left side of its back is en­graved with the words “Pro­duced in Mid­win­ter of the Year of Gui­wei” in xieshu script in in­taglio, whilst on the right side

is the seal's name in the same style. The seal's back is dec­o­rated with a tiger-shaped but­ton. Its dis­cov­ery played a cru­cial role in ver­i­fy­ing the age and na­ture of the site.

The ex­hi­bi­tion also dis­plays the first ever ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dis­cov­ery of a Ming Dy­nasty king's gold seal. Ac­cord­ing to Ming­shi ( His­tory of the Ming Dy­nasty), when a prince was given his ti­tle, he would re­ceive a gold in­scribed tablet and gold seal; when the prince's el­dest son then in­her­ited the ti­tle, he would be awarded a gold in­scribed tablet and in­herit this gold seal, there­fore there was only one gold seal in each king's palace. The ex­hib­ited gold seal for the in­vesti­ture of the King of Shu is the palace seal. The first gen­er­a­tion of the King of Shu was Zhu Chun, the eleventh son of Taizu of Ming, Zhu Yuanzhang (1328–1398, found­ing em­peror of China's Ming Dy­nasty). In 1390, he was made King of Shu in Chengdu, Sichuan. Al­though only one cor­ner of his gold seal re­mains, the Chi­nese char­ac­ter “蜀” (shu) is still clearly vis­i­ble. A num­ber of gold and sil­ver in­scribed tablets re­lated to the Royal Palace of the Rong­wang King in the Ming Dy­nasty were also found at the site of the an­cient Jiangkou bat­tle­field. These dis­cov­er­ies have ver­i­fied many records in the his­tory books.

A large amount of sil­ver has been found at the an­cient Jiangkou Bat­tle­field site. In the ex­hi­bi­tion, a num­ber of sil­ver pal­lets, sil­ver plates, sil­ver in­gots and more are on dis­play. One liang dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty is equiv­a­lent to ap­prox­i­mately 37 grams to­day. The sil­ver in­gots were made into “boat-shaped” in­gots, and the largest sil­ver bar weighs 500 liang (about 18.5 kilo­grammes [kg]), which would have been stored in a town­ship's re­serves outof-cir­cu­la­tion. The “Dushuisi Premium Sil­ver In­gots” from Wu­gangzhou, each weigh­ing 100 liang (3.7 kg), are ex­tremely rare. An av­er­age-sized sil­ver in­got weighed 50 liang, medium-sized in­gots weighed about 12 liang and smaller-sized ones weighed 5 liang. One rea­son why the Sunken Sil­ver of Jiangkou is so fas­ci­nat­ing is re­lated to peo­ple's ideas of wealth, as well as a de­sire to in­ter­pret the his­tory be­hind it.

Some of the sil­ver finds are tax pay­ments from dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty. A large num­ber of the sil­ver in­gots are en­graved with their date and lo­ca­tion of pro­duc­tion, pur­pose of use, and the names of of­fi­cials and sil­ver­smiths. The taxes in­volved in­clude “grain tax,” “sol­dier's pay,” “as­sis­tance tax,” “of­fi­cials' pay,” “ti­tle deed tax” and “busi­ness tax,” and cover prov­inces such as He­nan, Hu­nan, Hubei, Sichuan, Jiangxi, Guangxi and Guang­dong. How­ever, the sil­ver is not only an em­bod­i­ment of the tax­a­tion sys­tem in the mid- to late-ming Dy­nasty, but also ev­i­dence of the main routes taken by Zhang Xianzhong's army.

An “An­nual Trib­ute to the Royal Palace” gold in­got from Chang­sha Pre­fec­ture weighs 50 liang (1.85 kg), so you can imag­ine how heavy it feels to hold. The base of the in­got is en­graved with the in­scrip­tion: “In the first year of the Tianqi Reign, Chang­sha Pre­fec­ture of­fers its an­nual trib­ute of 50 liang in pure gold to the Royal Palace; Trib­ute by Yang Xu; Made by Zhao.” This is the an­nual trib­ute to the lo­cal king's palace from Chang­sha Pre­fec­ture, as well as the largest known Ming Dy­nasty gold in­got, mak­ing it an ex­tremely rare item. In Au­gust 1643, Zhang Xianzhong con­quered Chang­sha. So, it is pos­si­ble that he ob­tained the in­got from King Ji­wang's Palace. Hav­ing un­der­gone spe­cial­ist clean­ing, the gold in­got daz­zles vis­i­tors with the wealth it rep­re­sents.

This moun­tain of gold and sil­ver makes peo­ple won­der just how rich Zhang Xianzhong once was. Ac­cord­ing to Zhang Jian­bin, a mem­ber of the Na­tional Lead­ing Group Of­fice for the Com­pil­ing of Qing His­tory, com­pared to Zhang Xianzhong, even Em­peror Chongzhen's wealth was small fry. Zhang Xianzhong once put his trea­sure on show in Chengdu to demon­strate his wealth—24 rooms filled with ex­otic trea­sures, and gold and sil­ver in­gots. Some his­to­ri­ans have es­ti­mated that he must have owned at least 10 mil­lion liang of sil­ver. Mea­sured by the pur­chas­ing power of one liang of sil­ver be­ing equiv­a­lent to 300 yuan nowa­days, he would have had a stag­ger­ing wealth of 3 bil­lion yuan.

Old Fash­ions

Against a back­drop of con­tin­u­ous wars, life went on. A va­ri­ety of items used in peo­ple's daily lives were dis­cov­ered at the an­cient Jiangkou bat­tle­field site, in­clud­ing in­tri­cately-de­signed and well-crafted gold and sil­ver or­na­ments from the Ming Dy­nasty. A large num­ber of exquisite, in­ge­nious gold and sil­ver or­na­ments, hair ac­ces­sories, head­pieces, ear­rings, bracelets, fin­ger jew­ellery, waist dec­o­ra­tions and so on have also been dis­cov­ered, re­flect­ing the aes­thetic taste and work­man­ship dur­ing the mid- to lateMing Dy­nasty, af­ford­ing later gen­er­a­tions the chance to glimpse into life at that time.

A gold plaque with a flower and bird pat­tern fea­tures carved plum blos­soms and mag­pie dec­o­ra­tions, with a bam­boo-joint pat­terned frame. An­other gold plaque, this one with a dragon de­sign and on dis­play in the ex­hi­bi­tion is hol­lowed out, its ma­te­rial sym­bol­is­ing rich­ness and hon­our while its dec­o­ra­tion con­vey­ing good bless­ings. Al­though it has been se­verely mis­shapen over time, it is still a fine item and one can

imag­ine just how per­fect it would have looked when it was com­pletely cir­cu­lar.

The ex­hi­bi­tion also fea­tures a san­shi’er (“three things”). De­spite its con­fus­ing name, vis­i­tors will in­stantly know what it is at first sight. The san­shi’er is a type of pouch used dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty to carry items for per­sonal groom­ing. These pouches would of­ten con­tain a tooth­pick, ear pick and tweez­ers. The “three” is only a ref­er­ence, and peo­ple at­tached any num­ber of dif­fer­ent im­ple­ments, or even dif­fer­ent sizes of the same tool.

Gao Dalun, di­rec­tor of the Sichuan Pro­vin­cial Cul­tural Relics and Ar­chae­ol­ogy Re­search In­sti­tute, said that these gold and sil­ver ob­jects were not dis­cov­ered in iso­la­tion, but were grouped to­gether with gold tablets, sil­ver tablets and sil­ver in­gots which date al­most cer­tainly from the same pe­riod. These gold and sil­ver ob­jects are very sim­ple, yet finely carved in places, con­form­ing to the aes­thetic style of the Ming Dy­nasty.

New Ar­chae­ol­ogy Tech­nolo­gies

The an­cient Peng­shan bat­tle­field site in Sichuan Prov­ince had been buried be­neath three lay­ers of coarse sand and gravel. Be­low the lay­ers of sed­i­ment lies the red sand­stone river bed, which, hav­ing been eroded by cen­turies of flow­ing wa­ter, has formed mul­ti­ple scour troughs. More than 42,000 arte­facts were found hid­den in these troughs, which had helped pre­vent them from drift­ing away.

There are sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences be­tween the arte­facts un­earthed from on land and those from the wa­ter. Dur­ing the ex­ca­va­tion of the an­cient Jiangkou bat­tle­field site, ar­chae­ol­o­gists ap­plied new tech­niques and ap­proaches, pi­o­neer­ing cof­fer­dam ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tions in in­land waters within China, in what has be­come a new prac­tice in un­der­wa­ter ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tion. Us­ing this method, the area is first ex­ca­vated me­chan­i­cally and man­u­ally us­ing trial trenches, af­ter which large ma­chin­ery then ex­ca­vates the mud, sand and peb­bles from the site. Af­ter be­ing cleaned, ev­ery­thing is fil­tered through a con­verted siev­ing ma­chine to en­sure noth­ing is missed. Key ar­eas are ex­ca­vated us­ing “ex­ploratory” and man­ual meth­ods to clean up and col­lect the arte­facts in lay­ers.

Near the end of the ex­hi­bi­tion, a se­ries of equip­ment used dur­ing the ex­ca­va­tion is also dis­played along­side pho­tos re­veal­ing how staff used these tools in their ar­chae­o­log­i­cal work. For ex­am­ple, in order to de­ter­mine the area to be ex­ca­vated, geo­phys­i­cal prospect­ing ap­proaches such as metal de­tec­tion, and mag­netic, elec­tronic and ground pen­e­trat­ing radar were used in the early stages. PTK tech­nol­ogy was used dur­ing the ex­ca­va­tion be­cause ac­cu­rately record­ing the lo­ca­tion each ob­ject was taken out of the wa­ter re­quired an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal data man­age­ment sys­tem for the whole site. These ex­pe­ri­ences will act as im­por­tant ref­er­ence points for fu­ture mud flat ex­ca­va­tions and in ex­plor­ing sites in shal­low-wa­ter. Be­sides the large num­ber of pre­cious arte­facts on dis­play, the ex­hi­bi­tion in­cludes high-tech ex­hibit­ing meth­ods in­clud­ing im­mer­sive video pro­jec­tions and the in­no­va­tive idea of show­cas­ing the lat­est ar­chae­o­log­i­cal meth­ods and tech­niques.

As the years and decades have flowed by, the scour troughs along the riverbed are no longer young. How­ever, the Min­jiang River con­tin­ues to re­veal new sto­ries about the an­cient Jiangkou bat­tle­field through the finds it presents.

Pho­tos by Zhao Meng and cour­tesy of the Na­tional Mu­seum of China

A gold in­got from Chang­sha Pre­fec­ture weigh­ing 50 liang (1.85 kg)

A triple-bar­relled huo­chong (a hand can­non)

View­ing arte­facts

A gold plaque with dec­o­ra­tive pat­terns

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