The Shu: Not Just Valiant War­riors

China Scenic - - ARCHAEOLOGY -

Dur­ing the Spring and Au­tumn and War­ring States pe­ri­ods that fol­lowed, China was frag­mented by a bevy of mu­tu­ally bel­li­cose states. While the Kaim­ing Dy­nasty may have been sat­is­fied to rule the state of Shu, it could not eas­ily en­joy peace. Among the ex­ca­vated ar­ti­facts, weaponry dom­i­nated; fe­male graves ex­cepted, al­most one half of the coffins were found to con­tain im­ple­ments of war. There is a wide range of weapons such as swords, spears and hal­berds, the most dis­tinc­tive be­ing the “wil­low-leaf saber.” It was a rather unique bronze sword widely used by Sichuan’s Ba and Shu peo­ples dur­ing the War­ring States Pe­riod. The sword nose was not cast, and holes were opened in the han­dle, which was fixed by strips of wood and then wrapped with hemp rope. The hemp rope on the hilt of the wil­low-leaf saber in Tomb M32 is still vis­i­ble, and three sabers ac­com­pa­nied the oc­cu­pant of Tomb M39 in his long slum­ber.

The lower por­tion of the sword near the han­dle fea­tures cast pat­terns such as the hu­man palm, birds, tigers and ci­cadas. The body of the sword also has black or sil­ver en­graved or­na­men­ta­tion. Re­sem­bling the spots on a tiger’s coat, they are known as “tiger mark­ings.” In the past, just how th­ese mark­ings were formed was a mys­tery. Thanks to sev­eral ex­per­i­ments car­ried out by Prof. Yao Zhi­hui of the His­tory Depart­ment at Zhengzhou Univer­sity, the in­gre­di­ents of “tiger mark­ings” were found to be a bronze al­loy con­tain­ing zinc, which sug­gests that they were the prod­uct of the hot-dip tin process. Hav­ing un­der­gone this process, the wil­low-leaf saber was tougher and ex­tremely re­sis­tant to cor­ro­sion. When un­earthed, many were as shiny as new and in­com­pa­ra­bly sharp. Dur­ing the Spring and Au­tumn and War­ring States pe­ri­ods, swords used by the Yue and Chu peo­ples were fa­mous, but who would imag­ine that the Shu—an an- cient peo­ple of south­west China who were ac­tive in the Sichuan Basin roughly from the Shang Dy­nasty to the War­ring States Pe­riod—also had some fine sword-mak­ers of their own?

While war char­i­ots of the Qin and Chu heat­edly en­gaged in pitched bat­tle on the plains, over in the Sichuan Basin where water­ways and tow­er­ing peaks dot­ted the land­scape, the Shu sol­diers con­tin­ued to rely upon their ro­bust limbs to cross moun­tain and river. Un­like the bronze swords of the Cen­tral Plains, the wil­low-leaf saber was short and flex­i­ble like a lightly curved wil­low leaf, and thus the ul­ti­mate weapon for close, hand-to-hand com­bat.

Some other relics in­di­cate that the Shu were not sim­ply valiant war­riors. They may even have pos­sessed their own script. Bronze seals were ex­ca­vated from many of the coffins. Tomb M2 had two, both the size of to­day’s quar­ter coin. To the left of one was the Chi­nese char­ac­ter for “king” (“王”), while the right side is a pat­tern con­sist­ing of flames and a pair of hearts. The other seal places the Chi­nese char­ac­ter for the digit “ten” (“十”) on the right and left, a flame and a tree in the mid­dle, and the like­ness of a bronze xue (a sharp tool for delet­ing a scribe’s er­rors on a bam­boo slip) at the bot­tom. Among the Shu, such seals were gen­er­ally con­sid­ered the em­blem of a fam­ily or an of­fi­cial, and are known as Bashu seals. The script or de­signs on the seal are re­ferred to as Bashu hi­ero­glyphs.

Feng Guanghong, an es­teemed scholar at the Sichuan Pro­vin­cial In­sti­tute of Cul­ture and His­tory who has re­searched Bashu hi­ero­glyphs for sev­eral decades, reck­ons that since both the Chi­nese char­ac­ters for “king” and “ten” ap­pear on the seals, this in­di­cates that the Shu had a script, but one that was prim­i­tive and still in the pic­to­graphic stage. In­clud­ing those seals un­earthed at the large- scale Pu­jiang site, ex­tant Bashu hi­ero­glyphs num­ber more than 200. He is con­fi­dent that like the script found on Chi­nese or­a­cle bones, as in­di­vid-

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