Zhong­shan: The Lost State of the War­ring States Pe­riod

The Lost State of the War­ring States Pe­riod

China Scenic - - Lens - By Gu De­mao Pho­to­graphs by Ya Ning, and as cred­ited

The State of Zhong­shan, a vas­sal state es­tab­lished by the no­madic Xianyu peo­ple, ex­isted from 414 BC to 296 BC, dur­ing which time it strove for dom­i­na­tion along­side the most pow­er­ful states of the time. Af­ter hav­ing been sub­merged in slum­ber for over 2000 years, the cap­i­tal of Zhong­shan once again resur­faced, at long last bring­ing to light the true face of this mys­te­ri­ous state.

Zhaoyutu is a plan de­sign of the Zhong­shan Royal Tombs un­earthed in the ru­ins of its cap­i­tal Ling­shou City. Com­bin­ing the bronze etch­ing and re­lated his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments, our il­lus­tra­tor cre­ated this re­pro­duc­tion that de­picts the spec­ta­cle of a sac­ri­fi­cial cer­e­mony held be­fore the“wor­ship Hall”in the Zhong­shan Royal Tombs. Il­lus­tra­tion/ Liu Fan

The State of Zhong­shan, a vas­sal state es­tab­lished by the no­madic Xianyu peo­ple, ex­isted from 414 BC to 296 BC, dur­ing which time it strove for dom­i­na­tion along­side the most pow­er­ful states of the time. For many years, all we knew about Zhong­shan was what we had learned from scat­tered un­of­fi­cial his­tor­i­cal records. Then, af­ter hav­ing been sub­merged in slum­ber for over 2000 years, the cap­i­tal of Zhong­shan once again resur­faced, at long last bring­ing to light the true face of this mys­te­ri­ous state.

The War­ring States Pe­riod (475–221 BC), an age of end­less con­tention among schools of thought and the tur­moil of war­fare, had a great in­flu­ence on the ad­min­is­tra­tive di­vi­sion and re­gional cul­ture of China to­day. For ex­am­ple, present-day He­bei Prov­ince en­com­passes the his­tor­i­cal ter­ri­to­ries of Yan and Zhao states, thus He­bei is known as “the great land of Yan and Zhao”. But in fact, in be­tween these two pow­er­ful states there was also a smaller and lesser known one: Zhong­shan.

In 296 BC, Zhong­shan was oblit­er­ated by King Wul­ing of Zhao’s ar­mored cav­alry, and, as liv­ing mem­ory of it faded, it be­came only an anec­dote in the his­tory of the era. But un­like the sim­i­larly fated State of Chu, due to its lack of ac­cu­rate records, later knowl­edge of Zhong­shan was shrouded in mys­tery.

In hope of find­ing out more about Zhong­shan, I trav­elled to the site where it pre­vi­ously stood. My jour­ney took me to the Ling­shou City Ru­ins, which was said to be what re­mained of Zhong­shan’s cap­i­tal in the mid-late War­ring States Pe­riod. The ru­ins were lo­cated among vast farm­ing fields in Sanji Town­ship, Ping­shan County, He­bei Prov­ince, with a cir­cum­fer­ence of more than 10 kilo­me­ters. Upon ar­riv­ing, at the foot of a hill in the dis­tance, I spot­ted an un­even wall jut­ting from the earth, which had once served as the de­fen­sive city wall of Ling­shou.

Out­side the north­west­ern cor­ner of the wall there was a royal tomb that had al­ready been ex­ca­vated, and which was pro­tected by the Ling­shou Ru­ins Man­age­ment Of­fice es­tab­lished there by the cul­tural au­thor­i­ties. The of­fice was over­seen by a man named Huang Junhu, who had im­mersed him­self in re­search re­gard­ing the cul­ture of Zhong­shan, even go­ing so far as to say that he was “an in­dige­nous de­scen­dant of Zhong­shan”. Thanks to ac­counts from Mr. Huang and other schol­ars, I was able to form a very clear idea of what Zhong­shan may have been like, and what re­mains of it to­day.

The First Clue to Un­rav­el­ling the Se­crets of Zhong­shan: A Roof Tile

Any lo­ca­tion of which lit­tle is known must first un­dergo a thor­ough ar­chae­o­log­i­cal discovery to shed light on its past, so as to supplement the lack of his­tor­i­cal records. Em­i­nent Chi­nese author and his­to­rian Guo Moruo once traced the clues left be­hind by the State of Zhong­shan, but by the time he passed away he had yet to make any sub­stan­tial progress in un­cov­er­ing its se­crets.

In the win­ter of 1974, when local farm­ers of Sanji

Town­ship, were col­lect­ing soil from some nearby hills, they came across a pile of roof tiles buried in the ground. Ac­tu­ally, prior to this, the hills of the sur­round­ing area, with a to­tal cir­cum­fer­ence of over 10 kilo­me­ters, had been de­ter­mined to con­tain an­cient tombs, but even though sev­eral of the largest mounds had been given dig num­bers, none had yet to be ex­ca­vated. Ar­chae­ol­o­gists rushed to the scene where the tiles were found, and not only did they dis­cover that the tiles were from the dis­tant War­ring States Pe­riod, the re­searchers also con­firmed that, based on the tiles’ di­men­sions, they must have been from a royal palace ac­cord­ing to con­struc­tion code at that time (flat tile length 92 cen­time­ters, width 55 cen­time­ters; curved tile length 90 cen­time­ters, width 23 cen­time­ters).

As field in­ves­ti­ga­tions and ex­ca­va­tions pro­gressed, through­out the sur­round­ing area the ar­chae­ol­o­gists dis­cov­ered the ru­ins of ce­ram­ics,

bronze and jade work­shops, and not far away they also found the foun­da­tion of what had been a city wall base made of packed earth. Through sev­eral years of con­tin­ued sur­vey­ing the span of the wall in­creased, and its orig­i­nal ap­pear­ance be­came clearer. The city in­cluded all that within the wall, as well as the ceme­tery and res­i­den­tial zone out­side the wall, 4 kilo­me­ters in length and 4.5 in width, for a to­tal area of40 square kilo­me­ters.

Leader of the Zhong­shan ru­ins ar­chae­o­log­i­cal team at the time Chen Yingqi and other ar­chae­ol­o­gists made thor­ough ob­ser­va­tions of the un­earthed relics, and af­ter com­bin­ing these ob­ser­va­tions with writ­ten records, they gave an ini­tial judge­ment: be­neath these 2000-year-old ru­ins was likely to be a part of the long-lost State of Zhong­shan, and it was pos­si­bly the cap­i­tal from its golden age, Ling­shou!

The next step for the ar­chae­ol­o­gists and philol­o­gists was to lo­cate the royal tombs as soon as pos­si­ble, and if within them texts could be found, they could use these to un­ravel the se­crets of Zhong­shan one by one. Af­ter fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion, they num­bered the six royal tombs and di­vided them into two ar­eas: the first area con­tained the two largest tombs, num­bered as Tomb 1 and 2, lo­cated at high al­ti­tudes on the south­ern slope of Xil­ing Moun­tain, two kilo­me­ters to the west of the Ling­shou ru­ins; while the sec­ond area in­cluded four tombs, num­bered 3, 4, 5 and 6, sit­u­ated within the north­west­ern lim­its of the city wall.

Tomb 1 was the largest of all; de­spite hav­ing un­der­gone over 2000 years of weath­er­ing, the mound was 15 me­ters in height, the base 92 me­ters in length from east to west, and 110 me­ters from north to south. The struc­ture atop the mound was pre­lim­i­nar­ily be­lieved to be the “Wor­ship Hall” ( which served as the venue where sac­ri­fi­cial cer­e­monies were held for the tomb’s owner) men­tioned in his­tor­i­cal records. In the burial eti­quette of an­cient China, this struc­ture was an im­por­tant com­po­nent of feu­dal king- and lord-level tombs. Although the “Wor­ship Hall” had long since col­lapsed, based on the ru­ins it could be sur­mised that the tomb-mound-top struc­ture con­sisted of a one-story hall with two sto­ries of gal­leries above. Such an elab­o­rate de­sign re­vealed the in­cred­i­bly high sta­tus of the tomb’s owner.

In au­tumn of 1975, ex­ca­va­tion work on Tomb 6 of­fi­cially be­gan. The mo­ment the main tomb cham- ber was opened, those present were ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed to find that the tomb had been plun­dered and was com­pletely empty. How­ever, while walk­ing on the ground aside the cham­ber roof, an ex­ca­va­tion worker sud­denly fell down through a gap in the floor, much to the sur­prise of the oth­ers present. Chen Yingqi, who was per­son­ally di­rect­ing the ex­ca­va­tion, re­calls: “All we heard was ‘whoosh’, and he fell right down into a deep pit. Due to the tem­per­a­ture dif­fer­ence be­tween the lev­els, a cloud of steam rose from be­low.” With this mis­step, a tomb lay­out never pre­vi­ously seen be­fore had emerged: on ei­ther side of the main burial cham­ber, there were a pair of in­de­pen­dent fu­ner­ary de­pos­i­to­ries.

This un­con­ven­tional tomb struc­ture was later de­ter­mined to be unique to the royal tombs of the State of Zhong­shan. Within the small cham­bers, hun­dreds of ex­quis­ite burial arte­facts had re­mained hid­den for 2000 years, al­low­ing them to es­cape the de­tec­tion of the pre­vi­ous tomb raiders. Among these ar­ti­cles the most cap­ti­vat­ing was a set of “山” (lit. moun­tain) char­ac­ter-shaped bronze sac­ri­fi­cial im­ple­ment, the tallest 143 cen­time­ters in height, and over 50 kilo­grams in weight. This type of sac­ri­fi­cial ob­ject, fea­tur­ing an un­com­mon de­sign, was placed in front of a mil­i­tary camp or a city gate, to rep­re­sent the author­ity of a state and its ruler. It was also the first time such ob­jects were found, and it was con­cluded that they were unique to Zhong­shan, the sym­bol later re­ferred to as its “na­tional em­blem”.

Tomb 6 con­tained two de­pos­i­to­ries, and Tomb 1 con­tained three. Un­for­tu­nately, among all first four de­pos­i­to­ries no writ­ten texts were found, but the fi­nal de­pos­i­tory did not dis­ap­point the re­search team: aside from a stun­ning col­lec­tion of trea­sures, ar­chae­ol­o­gists fi­nally found Zhong­shan’s first writ­ten words! On an enor­mous caul­dron 63 cen­time­ters tall and 28 kilo­grams in weight, a text of 450 char­ac­ters was en­graved. The text re­vealed that buried within the tomb was one of the most ac­com­plished rulers of Zhong­shan, King Cuo. The caul­dron was adorned with pat­terns fea­tur­ing a leg­endary crea­ture of Han folk­lore called the kui­long.

Also re­counted within the text in­scribed on the caul­dron was a war that took place in 314 BC when the State of Zhong­shan in­vaded the State of Yan. His­tor­i­cal records re­gard­ing this war are sparse and

vague, but the caul­dron in­scrip­tion de­scribed it in de­tail. In fact, the caul­dron it­self was cast and en­graved in com­mem­o­ra­tion of the Zhong­shan peo­ple’s vic­tory. From the in­scrip­tion it was also learned that be­fore King Cuo, there had been four pre­vi­ous rulers of Zhong­shan. With this in­for­ma­tion the re­searchers ex­trap­o­lated that within Tomb 6 was King Cheng, the fourth ruler of Zhong­shan, with the fifth ruler King Cuo be­ing buried in Tomb 1. An­cient his­tor­i­cal records also told of a later king named Zici, as well as King Shang, a pup­pet ruler con­trolled by the State of Zhao. Thus it can be con­cluded that Zhong­shan had a to­tal of seven gen­er­a­tions of rulers, four or whom never ap­peared in any ex­tant his­tor­i­cal records.

The discovery of the city ru­ins and un­earthing of the 19,000 relics within have filled the blank in the his­tory of this state, fi­nally bring­ing its civ­i­liza­tion to light.

A “Hub State” Es­tab­lished by a No­madic Tribe

In pre- Qin times (c. 21th cen­tury–221 BC), all no­madic tribes in the north­ern re­gion of China were col­lec­tively known as the “Di” peo­ple. Through many cen­turies of cam­paign­ing and so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, the no­madic cul­ture of the Di and the agri­cul­tural peo­ple of the Huaxia (re­fer­ring to all peo­ple re­sid­ing in the mid-lower reaches of the Yel­low River at the time, namely the Cen­tral Plains) were grad­u­ally fused and in­te­grated to­gether. The Di even­tu­ally learned how to speak Han Chi­nese, and ac­cepted a por­tion of Cen­tral Plains cus­toms.

The an­ces­tors of the State of Zhong­shan, the Xianyu peo­ple, were a branch of the Baidi, or White Di, a branch of the Di peo­ple. The Xianyu first be­gan

Sur­rounded by pow­er­ful states like Yan, Zhao and Qi, Zhong­shan re­sorted to its strate­gic lo­ca­tion as coun­ter­weight to ri­val­ries with its for­mi­da­ble en­emy states.

Sit­u­ated on the plain east of Tai­hang and the up­per area of the Hu­tuo River, the ru­ins of Ling­shou City luck­ily sur­vived be­tween the two reser­voirs along the river.

Il­lus­tra­tion/ Meng Fan­meng

A Map of Zhong­shan State dur­ing the War­ring States Pe­riod

This gold-and-sil­ver-plated bronze square ta­ble base was un­earthed in one of Zhong­shan’s royal tombs. The wooden board of this ta­ble was de­cayed, which left only the bronze frame sup­ported by life­like an­i­mal dec­o­ra­tions — four dragons, four phoenixes, and four sika deer.

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