The Splen­did An­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion

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

The an­cient Shu civil­i­sa­tion un­der­went three de­vel­op­ment stages: the Sanx­ing­dui Cul­ture, the Twelve Bridges Cul­ture and the Qingyang­gong Cul­ture. The Glimpse of Cul­tural Relics of

Sichuan Ex­hi­bi­tion cur­rently dis­plays an abun­dance of cul­tural relics from the three stages.

The Chengdu Plain nur­tured the im­por­tant an­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion which un­der­went three ma­jor de­vel­op­ment stages— Sanx­ing­dui cul­ture, Shierqiao cul­ture and Qingyang­gong cul­ture—end­ing in 316 BC af­ter the State of Qin an­nexed the Ba and Shu states. It was thus in­te­grated into the vast Chi­nese civil­i­sa­tion along with a se­ries of de­vel­op­ment projects such as the Du­jiangyan ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem, mak­ing a unique con­tri­bu­tion to the for­ma­tion of the Chi­nese civil­i­sa­tion.

At present, The Splen­did An­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion – A Glimpse of Cul­tural Relics of Sichuan Ex­hi­bi­tion, hosted by the Na­tional Mu­seum of China (NMC), De­part­ment of Cul­ture of Sichuan Prov­ince and the Sichuan Cul­tural Relics Ad­min­is­tra­tion, is open to vis­i­tors at the NMC in Bei­jing. Ex­hibits on dis­play come from renowned in­sti­tu­tions such as the Sichuan Mu­seum, Sichuan Pro­vin­cial Cul­tural Relics and Ar­chae­ol­ogy Re­search In­sti­tute, Jin­sha Site Mu­seum in Chengdu and oth­ers. The wide range of cul­tural relics on show draw a de­tailed pic­ture of each de­vel­op­ment stage of this an­cient civil­i­sa­tion. The ex­hi­bi­tion will run un­til Septem­ber 19.

Sanx­ing­dui Cul­ture

In the 1980s, the dis­cov­ery of two burial pits in Sanx­ing­dui un­veiled the mys­tery of the an­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion. The un­earthed stat­ues, busts, al­tars, sa­cred trees and bizarrely shaped bronze­ware, as well as ex­quis­ite gold arte­facts such as masks and an­i­mal fig­urines caused a huge stir both in China and over­seas. A large bronze head, 66 cen­time­tres (cm) x 138 cm x 85 cm, was un­earthed in No.2 Pit of the Sanx­ing­dui Site in Guang­han. The head is roughly square-shaped, with broad cheeks, eyes that look like the Chi­nese char­ac­ter “臣( chen, of­fi­cial),” over­sized ears and pro­trud­ing pupils. This ob­ject is one of the most dis­tinc­tive ex­am­ples of Sanx­ing­dui cul­ture.

The Sanx­ing­dui cul­ture pe­riod started around the early 18th cen­tury BC and ended in the mid­dle of the 12th cen­tury BC, and the Sanx­ing­dui (“three stars mound”) Site was the cen­tre of this cul­ture. The two large burial pits ex­ca­vated in 1986 con­tain the most re­mark­able dis­cov­er­ies from the site. More than 1,700 arte­facts were found, in­clud­ing a large bronze stand­ing fig­ure, bronze head stat­ues, sa­cred bronze trees, bronze al­tars, gold scep­tres, col­lared jade discs and other mys­te­ri­ous ob­jects. Most of the arte­facts men­tioned in this sec­tion come from these two pits.

Many of the ob­jects un­earthed were ar­tis­ti­cally de­signed, of which the bronze coil­ing dragon col­umn is par­tic­u­larly eye-catch­ing. At the top of the col­umn is the head of a dragon, which has a pair of large horns, its mouth wide-open and a beard. The dragon's body and tail mean­while hang down both sides of the col­umn and its two hind talons cling to it. Both the dragon and the main col­umn are in­ge­niously de­signed. Some schol­ars have pro­posed that this col­umn and an­other tiger-shaped col­umn base with a di­am­e­ter of 7.8 cm and a resid­ual height

of 10.8 cm used to com­pose a beau­ti­fully de­signed scep­tre.

The sun wheel-shaped bronze is one of the most mys­te­ri­ous ob­jects un­earthed from the Sanx­ing­dui burial pits. The arte­fact is per­fectly cir­cu­lar with a bulge in the cen­tre, and five “spokes” con­nect­ing it to the outer ring. Judg­ing from the sun dec­o­ra­tions found on other ob­jects in the burial pits, it can be in­ferred that this arte­fact may be an ab­stract por­trayal of the sun—phys­i­cal ev­i­dence of sun wor­ship amongst the an­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion. The eye-shaped bronze­ware on dis­play is also very rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

The fig­ure with the head of a hu­man and body of a bird has a flat head as if it is wear­ing a mask, and has bulging eyes sim­i­lar to the pro­trud­ing-eyed head statue. A sim­i­lar fig­ure stood atop a bro­ken branch was un­earthed from the No.2 Pit. It is as­sumed that the re­mains of this fig­ure was a sa­cred ob­ject. In the mid­dle of the up­per layer of the bronze al­tar un­earthed in the same pit, there was also a sim­i­lar im­age of a hu­man head with bird wings ex­tended, which bears the sa­cred and sym­bolic mean­ing of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween heaven and earth.

The Sichuan Basin is sur­rounded by moun­tains on all sides, mak­ing land and wa­ter trans­porta­tion dif­fi­cult. De­spite this, cul­tural ex­changes into and out of the basin have never stopped. Dur­ing the Sanx­ing­dui cul­ture pe­riod, the an­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion as­sim­i­lated bronze plaque or­na­ments and im­por­tant rit­ual ves­sels such as jade tablets from the Cen­tral Plains. It then trans­formed the types of ob­ject which then com­posed the core of the an­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion with far-reach­ing in­flu­ence.

The ex­hi­bi­tion only dis­plays a sin­gle bronze plaque or­na­ment un­earthed from the Sanx­ing­dui Site in Guang­han in 1987. This item is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of ob­jects from the Er­l­i­tou cul­ture, which be­came pop­u­lar in the Cen­tral Plains re­gion as early as the Xia Dy­nasty. Sim­i­lar bronze plaque or­na­ments have also been dis­cov­ered in Tian­shui, Gansu and Hami, Xin­jiang. The Sanx­ing­dui Site is lo­cated to the south of these three places, mean­ing the trans­porta­tion route con­nect­ing the Shu and Long opened for traf­fic at least dur­ing the Xia and Shang pe­ri­ods.

One bronze ves­sel un­earthed from Pit No.2 of the Sanx­ing­dui Site con­tained shells in­side, and other bronze shell­shaped hang­ing dec­o­ra­tions were found in the same pit. This proves that the an­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion's con­tact with the out­side world reached be­yond the basin as far as coastal ar­eas.

Ac­cord­ing to spec­u­la­tion by some schol­ars, these two burial pits re­flect a vi­o­lent po­lit­i­cal revo­lu­tion that took place among the an­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion to­wards the end of Sanx­ing­dui cul­ture. The an­cient state's valu­able arte­facts were de­stroyed and buried as the ruler of the state changed among dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups, lead­ing to a sub­se­quent de­cline. The Shierqiao cul­ture then emerged, re­sult­ing in the trans­fer of the cen­tre of the an­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion from the Sanx­ing­dui Site to the Jin­sha Site.

Jin­sha Cul­ture

The Shierqiao cul­ture pe­riod be­gan in the mid­dle of the 12th cen­tury BC and ended in the 6th cen­tury BC, roughly co­in­cid­ing with the pe­riod from the late Shang Dy­nasty to the late Spring and Au­tumn Pe­riod. The ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites from this pe­riod in­clude the Fuqin Com­mu­nity, Fangchi Street, Jun­ping Street, Zhi­hui Street, Min­jiang Com­mu­nity and Jin­sha Vil­lage. These are ad­ja­cent to the Shierqiao Site and stretch more than 10 kilo­me­tres, form­ing a huge clus­ter of sites.

Since 1995, ar­chae­ol­o­gists have been ex­ca­vat­ing the Jin­sha Site. They have dis­cov­ered houses, tombs, pot­tery kilns, ash pits, ivory piles and ar­eas with jade, and un­earthed more than 1,000 pre­cious arte­facts. Cur­rently, the con­firmed area of Jin­sha Site cov­ers more than five square kilo­me­tres, in­clud­ing the foun­da­tions of large-scale build­ing ar­eas, re­li­gious and sac­ri­fi­cial ar­eas, residentia­l ar­eas and ceme­ter­ies. Those ar­eas were di­vided into dis­tricts with sep­a­rate func­tions and clear in­te­rior lay­outs. In ad­di­tion, the dis­cov­ery of large num­bers of cer­e­mo­nial ob­jects and relics re­lated to re­li­gious ac­tiv­i­ties in­di­cate that the Jin­sha Site was the cap­i­tal of the an­cient Shu State dur­ing the Shierqiao pe­riod.

The Sanx­ing­dui cul­ture pe­riod and the Shierqiao cul­ture pe­riod are two stages in the early de­vel­op­ment of the an­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion with a dis­tinct re­la­tion­ship of in­her­i­tance. This sec­tion fo­cuses on

the rep­re­sen­ta­tive arte­facts un­earthed from the Jin­sha Site, and adopts the same struc­ture as in the pre­vi­ous sec­tion re­gard­ing the Sanx­ing­dui cul­ture pe­riod, de­scrib­ing the his­tor­i­cal land­scapes of the two pe­ri­ods in terms of eth­nic groups, pow­ers, be­liefs and eti­quette.

Judg­ing from the un­earthed arte­facts, the mix­ture of eth­nic groups of the an­cient Shu peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enced dras­tic changes dur­ing the Shierqiao cul­ture pe­riod. The main eth­nic group in charge of sac­ri­fi­cial cer­e­monies in the pre­vi­ous pe­riod was re­placed by the “braided-hair group” who took charge of the re­li­gious af­fairs. This lat­ter group may have be­come the only com­po­nent of the up­per class. In the ex­hi­bi­tion, a small stand­ing fig­ure, which was dis­cov­ered at the Jin­sha Site, has a droop­ing twisted braid and flat head, and is wear­ing a so­lar disc-shaped crown. The fig­ure is ob­vi­ously a de­scen­dant of the “braid­ed­hair group” from the Sanx­ing­dui cul­ture pe­riod. The small stand­ing fig­ure, its right hand fac­ing up­wards and left hand down­wards, seems to be hold­ing an ob­ject as part of a sac­ri­fi­cial cer­e­mony. The pos­ture is ex­actly the same as that of a large hair­pin stand­ing fig­ure dis­cov­ered at the Sanx­ing­dui Site.

The ex­hi­bi­tion also fea­tures a small gold mask that matches the small bronze stand­ing fig­ure and bronze head stat­ues found at the Jin­sha Site. Un­like the di­a­mond-shaped eyes of the Sanx­ing­dui gold mask, this del­i­cately wrought mask has oval-shaped eyes, which also im­plies a change in the group in power.

Along­side the small stand­ing fig­ure and gold mask found at the Jin­sha Site is a kneel­ing stone fig­ure, with its hands be­hind its back. De­spite se­ri­ous dam­age to the stone sur­face, it is still pos­si­ble to see a long, twisted braid painted on the back of its head. This sug­gests that the stone man and small bronze stand­ing fig­ure found at the Jin­sha Site be­long to the same eth­nic group. How­ever, in con­trast with the up­per-class fig­ures, the kneel­ing stone man, used as a slave, has a mid­dle part­ing hair­style. As such, this is pre­sum­ably a por­trayal of an un­der­class per­son. In fact, such stone fig­ures with hair­styles like this were also dis­cov­ered at the Sanx­ing­dui Site in the early 20th cen­tury, in­di­cat­ing an in­her­i­tance of cer­tain hair­styles in the an­cient Shu State.

Dur­ing the Shierqiao cul­ture pe­riod, the an­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion in­her­ited the be­lief sys­tem cen­tred around wor­ship of the sun, which was com­bined with wor­ship of birds, and “birds and eyes” as a medium for com­mu­ni­cat­ing be­tween peo­ple and the sun. The sun and birds on the sun­bird gold foil un­earthed from the Jin­sha Site are por­trayed in a con­cise and highly recog­nis­able way. Com­pared with ob­jects from the pre­vi­ous pe­riod, de­spite the dif­fer­ent art form, they are sim­i­lar in artis­tic ex­pres­sion. The ex­hi­bi­tion in­cludes many bronze eye-shaped ob­jects un­earthed from the Jin­sha Site, serv­ing as proof of an in­her­ited be­lief sys­tem. These arte­facts also ev­i­dence the at­ti­tude of the an­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion to­wards out­side art forms. A closer look shows that one of the eye-shaped bronze ob­jects has pupils close to be­ing cir­cu­lar and ob­vi­ous in­ner can­thus. All of these small de­tails are taken from beast-face de­signs of the Cen­tral Plains.

As for eti­quette, the an­cient Shu dur­ing the Shierqiao pe­riod ba­si­cally in­her­ited the cat­e­gory of rit­ual ves­sels from the pre­vi­ous pe­riod, and de­vel­oped cor­re­spond­ing bronze ob­jects. In terms of ex­pres­sion of power, there was an evo­lu­tion from a crowned per­son pat­tern on the sur­face of the Sanx­ing­dui gold scep­tre to an im­age of solid bronze crowned stand­ing fig­ure at the Jin­sha Site which is ev­i­dence of a high de­gree of in­her­i­tance. Dur­ing the Shierqiao cul­ture pe­riod, a new form of power em­bod­i­ment, a gold crown belt, ap­peared. In­ter­est­ingly, the crown belt dis­played in the ex­hi­bi­tion is dec­o­rated with an im­age of an ar­row pierc­ing fish and birds. This im­age is also di­rectly in­her­ited from the or­na­men­ta­tion on the Sanx­ing­dui gold scep­tre.

Other im­por­tant dis­cov­er­ies of the Shierqiao pe­riod in­clude the two bronze hoards found on Zhuwa Street in Pengzhou dur­ing the 1950s and 80s. The bronze­ware hid­den in these two cel­lars wit­nessed the sig­nif­i­cant his­tor­i­cal event when the an­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion took part in the con­struc­tion of the Chi­nese civil­i­sa­tion dur­ing the Shang and Zhou (1046-256 BC) dy­nas­ties. This kind of in­ter­ac­tion was far greater than the spo­radic ex­changes dur­ing the Sanx­ing­dui cul­ture pe­riod.

Qingyang­gong Cul­ture

Qingyang­gong (lit. “green goat palace”) cul­ture is an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal cul­ture named af­ter the site of the Qingyang Palace in Chengdu. The Qingyang­gong cul­ture

pe­riod be­gan in the mid­dle of the 5th cen­tury BC and ended in the mid­dle of the 2nd cen­tury BC, roughly co­in­cid­ing with the time from the War­ring States Pe­riod (475–221 BC) un­til the early-han Dy­nasty (202 BC–220 AD) on the Cen­tral Plains.

Com­pared to the “early-shu cul­ture” rep­re­sented by the Sanx­ing­dui cul­ture and the Shierqiao cul­ture, the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal cul­ture in this pe­riod is known as “late-shu cul­ture.”

Cur­rently, only a few ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites have been dis­cov­ered con­tain­ing Qingyang­gong relics: the Chengdu Qingyang­gong Site and Shang­wangji­aguai Street Site. How­ever, a large num­ber of tombs from this pe­riod have been found. Among these, the most fa­mous is the large wooden outer cof­fin tomb dis­cov­ered in 1980 in Xin­du­ma­jia Vil­lage. This tomb is large in scale, and de­spite hav­ing been looted many times, pre­cious arte­facts placed in the pit at the bot­tom of the cof­fin were left in­tact. Nearly 200 pieces of bronze­ware were un­earthed from here, of which the ma­jor­ity were grouped in fives and a few were grouped in pairs— very rare com­bi­na­tions. The scale of the tombs and the un­earthed arte­facts demon­strate truly royal grandeur at the end of the an­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion and im­ply that the tomb's owner was a king of the an­cient Shu.

On the whole, the arte­facts found in tombs of this pe­riod still show the marvellous cul­tural tem­per­a­ment of the an­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion. They present a cul­tural land­scape in­dis­tin­guish­able from the Ba cul­ture in the same area of the Sichuan Basin, and that led to in­creas­ingly closer ex­changes with the Cen­tral Plains cul­ture, Qin cul­ture and Chu cul­ture out­side the basin.

Although the Qin an­nexed the states of Ba and Shu, the Shu cul­ture sur­vived the col­lapse of its state. The State of Qin sent a large num­ber of peo­ple to the Sichuan area to de­velop agri­cul­ture and en­gage in mil­i­tary projects, with the sur­vivors of the State of Shu also join­ing the con­struc­tion. It was here that the Qin and Shu cul­tures con­verged. In the ex­hi­bi­tion, a bronze spear from the War­ring States Pe­riod is shown fea­tur­ing a rep­re­sen­ta­tive tiger pat­tern in Ba-shu fig­u­ra­tive lan­guage, and is en­graved with the word “Chengdu” in Qin script. The two cul­tures are in­te­grated into one ob­ject.

The State of Qin also pro­moted the farm­ing pol­icy of “abol­ish­ing the well­field sys­tem and open­ing criss­cross paths be­tween fields” un­der the Shangyang's Po­lit­i­cal Re­form in the old Ba-shu area. The area of fields was also stan­dard­ised ac­cord­ing to the “Qin Law on Fields.” More­over, a mora­to­rium pe­riod for in­fra­struc­ture projects such as weed­ing, road re­pair, bridge con­struc­tion and wa­ter con­ser­vancy was es­tab­lished in line with the cli­mate in the Ba-shu area.

Ex­hibits on dis­play in­clude a Qingchuan in­scribed wooden tablet that is 46 cm x 2.5 cm x 0.4 cm. On its front, it reads: “In the sec­ond year of the Qin Dy­nasty (309 BC), the King Wu of Qin or­dered Gan Mao, his left prime min­is­ter ( zuo chengx­i­ang), to mod­ify the Qin Law on Fields.” On its re­verse there is a note re­lated to the per­for­mance of the law. This tablet is the ear­li­est gov­ern­ment no­tice on farm­land wa­ter con­ser­vancy in Sichuan and is also phys­i­cal ev­i­dence of the Sichuan area go­ing through large-scale de­vel­op­ments.

At the end of your visit, do not for­get to take a close look at the im­por­tant di­a­gram of an­cient Shu cul­tural relics on the screen by the en­trance to the ex­hi­bi­tion. Sim­ply tap on the name of a relic and an in­tro­duc­tion re­gard­ing that item will slowly un­fold. A map also in­cludes the modern pro­vin­cial cap­i­tals, cities and lo­ca­tions of the sites fea­tured— foot­prints of how the an­cient Shu civil­i­sa­tions con­verged. A visit to The Splen­did An­cient Shu Civil­i­sa­tion–a Glimpse of Cul­tural Relics of Sichuan Ex­hi­bi­tion is tan­ta­mount to wan­der­ing across this land for sev­eral cen­turies.

Bow-string pat­tern bronze

A bronze head with pro­trud­ing pupils, un­earthed from the No.2 Pit of the Sanx­ing­dui Site in Guang­han

Bronze coil­ing dragon col­umn

Tiger-shaped bronze or­na­ment

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