Sanxingdui: Discovery of masks and other relics that could be 5,000 years old causes upheaval in archaeological world

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Photo Credit Nishanshaman – CC BY-SA 3.0,

Chinese archaeologists had always believed that Chinese culture slowly expanded from a point along the Yellow River.  This belief was put into question when two massive sacrificial pits were discovered during a dig near the quiet Chinese village of Sanxingdui, which is situated in the Sichuan province of China. The discovery of these pits has turned the archaeological world on its head.

In 1929, a farmer digging a new well discovered a stash of jade relics, which led Chinese archaeologists to excavate the area around the village. Nothing came of these explorations until 1986, when two enormous sacrificial pits were found. Uncovered from the pits were thousands of pottery, jade, bronze, and gold artifacts that were not seen elsewhere in China before.

This exciting find led to a whole new understanding of the development of Chinese culture. The artifacts were dated as being 3,000 to 5,000 years old, and archaeologists knew they were examining a previously unknown ancient culture that had developed thousands of miles from civilizations of a similar age.

The artifacts showed evidence of having been burned or broken before they were carefully buried; however, this doesn’t detract from the magnificence of the find. The dig uncovered sculptures with animal faces, masks with dragon features, human-style heads with masks on, figurines of animals such as dragons, birds, and snakes all beautifully decorated, as well as a sacrificial altar, a bronze tree, rings, knives, and other decorative items.  The most unusual item found was an eight-foot-tall human figure made of bronze.

The archaeologists were surprised to find numerous bronze masks and human heads that have square faces, huge almond-shaped eyes, long straight noses, and exaggerated ears. These were carbon dated and found to be from the 12th to 11th century BC, and the well developed technology used to create these bronzes astounded the scientists. The ancient Chinese metallurgists knew that adding lead to an amalgam of copper and tin gave them a stronger substance that they could use to create large items such as the human and the tree. One of the masks, the largest ever found anywhere, measured an astounding 1.32 meters wide and 0.72 meters tall. The animal-like ears, protruding eyes, and ornate bodies of these masks demonstrated an artistic style unique from any other found in China.

Unfortunately, no written texts have been located at Sanxingdui to help scientists unravel the mysteries of the city.  This Bronze Age civilization, which is now known as the Sanxingdui Culture, has been associated with the ancient kingdom of Shu; the rich artifacts have been attributed to the legendary kings of Shu. There may be few reliable records that link this civilization to the kingdom of Shu, but the Chronicles of Huayang that were written in the Jin Dynasty, which existed from 265-420 AD, tell of the Shu Kingdom being founded by the Cancong. These people were described as having bulging eyes, a common feature of the artifacts found at Sanxingdui.

This amazing civilization was at its prime around 3,000 to 5,000 years ago, and the city was then completely abandoned. The question that is facing archaeologists now is – why?  A theory has been put forward that a major earthquake hit the region, causing landslides that blocked the water supply to the city, so the residents had to leave their city and move closer to the river. This theory has not been proven.[[[The unearthing of these magnificent items caused a major stir in archaeological circles and will fuel research for many years to come.[

The unearthing of these magnificent items caused a major stir in archaeological circles and will fuel research for many years to come.

[By Ian Harvey

A Brief Overview of China’s Cultural Revolution

Cultural Revolution, in full Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Chinese (Pinyin) Wuchanjieji Wenhua Dagemingor (Wade-Giles romanization) Wu-ch’an Chieh-chi Wen-hua Ta Ke-ming, upheaval launched by Chinese Communist PartyChairman Mao Zedong during his last decade in power (1966–76) to renew the spirit of the Chinese Revolution. Fearing that China would develop along the lines of the Soviet model and concerned about his own place in history, Mao threw China’s cities into turmoil in a monumental effort to reverse the historic processes underway.

 

 Background

During the early 1960s, tensions with the Soviet Unionconvinced Mao that the Russian Revolution had gone astray, which in turn made him fear that China would follow the same path. Programs carried out by his colleagues to bring China out of the economic depression caused by the Great Leap Forwardmade Mao doubt their revolutionary commitment and also resent his own diminished role. He especially feared urban social stratification in a society as traditionally elitist as China. Mao thus ultimately adopted four goals for the Cultural Revolution: to replace his designated successors with leaders more faithful to his current thinking; to rectify the Chinese Communist Party; to provide China’s youths with a revolutionary experience; and to achieve some specific policy changes so as to make the educational, health care, and cultural systems less elitist. He initially pursued these goals through a massive mobilization of the country’s urban youths. They were organized into groups called the Red Guards, and Mao ordered the party and the army not to suppress the movement.Mao also put together a coalition of associates to help him carry out the Cultural Revolution. His wife, Jiang Qing, brought in a group of radical intellectuals to rule the cultural realm. Defense Minister Lin Biao made certain that the military remained Maoist. Mao’s longtime assistant, Chen Boda, worked with security men Kang Sheng and Wang Dongxing to carry out Mao’s directives concerning ideology and security. Premier Zhou Enlai played an essential role in keeping the country running, even during periods of extraordinary chaos. Yet there were conflicts among these associates, and the history of the Cultural Revolution reflects these conflicts almost as much as it reflects Mao’s own initiatives.

The Early Period (1966–68)

Mao’s concerns about “bourgeois” infiltrators in his party and government—those not sharing his vision of communism—were outlined in a Chinese Communist Party Central Committee document issued on May 16, 1966; this is considered by many historians to be the start of the Cultural Revolution, although Mao did not formally launch the Cultural Revolution until August 1966, at the Eleventh Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee. He shut down China’s schools, and during the following months he encouraged Red Guards to attack all traditional values and “bourgeois” things and to test party officials by publicly criticizing them. Mao believed that this measure would be beneficial both for the young people and for the party cadres that they attacked.

The movement quickly escalated; many elderly people and intellectuals not only were verbally attacked but were physically abused. Many died. The Red Guards splintered into zealous rival factions, each purporting to be the true representative of Maoist thought. Mao’s own personality cult, encouraged so as to provide momentum to the movement, assumed religious proportions. The resulting anarchy, terror, and paralysis completely disrupted the urban economy. Industrial production for 1968 dipped 12 percent below that of 1966.

During the earliest part of the Red Guard phase, key Politburo leaders were removed from power—most notably President Liu Shaoqi, Mao’s designated successor until that time, and Party General Secretary Deng Xiaoping. In January 1967 the movement began to produce the actual overthrow of provincial party committees and the first attempts to construct new political bodies to replace them. In February 1967 many remaining top party leaders called for a halt to the Cultural Revolution, but Mao and his more radical partisans prevailed, and the movement escalated yet again. Indeed, by the summer of 1967, disorder was widespread; large armed clashes between factions of Red Guards were occurring throughout urban China.

During 1967 Mao called on the army under Lin Biao to step in on behalf of the Red Guards. Instead of producing unified support for the radical youths, this political-military action resulted in more divisions within the military. The tensions inherent in the situation surfaced vividly when Chen Zaidao, a military commander in the city of Wuhan during the summer of 1967, arrested two key radical party leaders.

In 1968, after the country had been subject to several cycles of radicalism alternating with relative moderation, Mao decided to rebuild the Communist Party to gain greater control. The military dispatched officers and soldiers to take over schools, factories, and government agencies. The army simultaneously forced millions of urban Red Guards to move to the rural hinterland to live, thus scattering their forces and bringing some order to the cities. This particular action reflected Mao’s disillusionment with the Red Guards because of their inability to overcome their factional differences. Mao’s efforts to end the chaos were given added impetus by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, which greatly heightened China’s sense of insecurity.

Two months later, the Twelfth Plenum of the Eighth Central Committee met to call for the convening of a party congress and the rebuilding of the party apparatus. From that point, the issue of who would inherit political power as the Cultural Revolution wound down became the central question of Chinese politics.

Rise And Fall Of Lin Biao (1969–71)

When the Ninth Party Congress convened in April 1969, Defense Minister Lin Biao was officially designated as Mao’s successor, and the military tightened its grip on the entire society. Both the Party Central Committee and the revamped Communist Party were dominated by military men. Lin took advantage of Sino-Soviet border clashes in the spring of 1969 to declare martial law and further used his position to rid himself of some potential rivals to the succession. Several leaders who had been purged during 1966–68 died under the martial law regimen of 1969, and many others suffered severely during this period.

Lin quickly encountered opposition. Mao himself was wary of a successor who seemed to want to assume power too quickly, and he began to maneuver against Lin. Premier Zhou Enlaijoined forces with Mao in this effort, as possibly did Mao’s wife Jiang Qing. Mao’s assistant Chen Boda, however, decided to support Lin’s cause. Thus, despite many measures taken in 1970–71 to return order and normalcy to Chinese society, increasingly severe strains were splitting the top ranks of leadership.

These strains first surfaced at a party plenum in the summer of 1970. Shortly thereafter Mao began a campaign to criticize Chen Boda as a warning to Lin. Chen disappeared from public view in August 1970. Matters came to a head in September 1971 when Lin himself was killed in what the Chinese asserted was an attempt to flee to the Soviet Union after an abortive assassination plot against Mao. Virtually the entire Chinese high military command was purged in the weeks following Lin’s death.

Lin’s demise had a profoundly disillusioning effect on many people who had supported Mao during the Cultural Revolution. Lin had been the high priest of the Mao cult, and millions had gone through tortuous struggles to elevate this chosen successor to power and throw out his “revisionist” challengers. They had in this quest attacked and tortured respected teachers, abused elderly citizens, humiliated old revolutionaries, and, in many cases, battled former friends in bloody confrontations. The sordid details of Lin’s purported assassination plot and subsequent flight cast all this in the light of traditional, unprincipled power struggles, and vast numbers of Chinese people began to feel that they simply had been manipulated for personal political purposes.

Final Years (1972–76)

Initially, Premier Zhou Enlai benefited the most from Lin’s death, and from late 1971 through mid-1973 Zhou tried to nudge China back toward stability. He encouraged a revival of the educational system and brought back into office a number of people who had been cast out. China began again to increase its trade and other links with the outside world, and the economy continued the forward momentum that had begun to build in 1969. Mao personally approved these general moves but remained wary lest they call into question the basic value of having launched the Cultural Revolution in the first place.

During 1972, however, Mao suffered a serious stroke, and Zhou learned that he had a fatal malignancy. These events highlighted the continued uncertainty over the succession. In early 1973 Zhou and Mao brought back to power Deng Xiaoping. Zhou hoped to groom him to be Mao’s successor. Deng, however, had been the second most important purge victim at the hands of the radicals during the Cultural Revolution. His reemergence made Jiang Qing and her followers desperate to firmly establish a more radical path.

From mid-1973 until Mao’s death in September 1976, Chinese politics shifted back and forth between Jiang Qing and those who supported her (notably Wang Hongwen, Zhang Chunqiao, and Yao Wenyuan, who with Jiang Qing were later dubbed the Gang of Four), and the Zhou-Deng group. The former favoured ideology, political mobilization, class struggle, anti-intellectualism, egalitarianism, and xenophobia, while the latter promoted economic growth, stability, educational progress, and a pragmatic foreign policy. Mao tried unsuccessfully to maintain a balance between these two forces while he struggled to find a successor who would embody his preferred combination of each.

From mid-1973 until mid-1974 the radicals were ascendant; they whipped up a campaign that used criticism of Lin Biao and of Confucius as a thinly veiled vehicle for attacking Zhou and his policies. By July 1974, however, the resulting economic decline and increasing chaos made Mao shift back toward Zhou and Deng. With Zhou hospitalized, Deng assumed increasing power from the summer of 1974 through the late fall of 1975, when the radicals finally convinced Mao that Deng’s policies would lead eventually to a repudiation of the Cultural Revolution and of Mao himself. Mao then sanctioned criticism of these policies by means of wall posters (dazibao), which had become a favoured method of propaganda for the radicals. Zhou died in January 1976, and Deng was formally purged (with Mao’s backing) in April. Only Mao’s death in September and the purge of the Gang of Four by a coalition of political, police, and military leaders in October 1976 paved the way for Deng’s subsequent reemergence in 1977.

Assessment

Although the Cultural Revolution largely bypassed the vast majority of the people who lived in rural areas, it had serious consequences for China as a whole. In the short run, of course, the political instability and the constant shifts in economic policy produced slower economic growth and a decline in the capacity of the government to deliver goods and services. Officials at all levels of the political system learned that future shifts in policy would jeopardize those who had aggressively implemented previous policy. The result was bureaucratictimidity. In addition, with the death of Mao and the end of the Cultural Revolution (the Cultural Revolution was officially ended by the Eleventh Party Congress in August 1977, but it in fact concluded with Mao’s death and the purge of the Gang of Four in the fall of 1976), nearly three million party members and countless wrongfully purged citizens awaited reinstatement. Bold measures were taken in the late 1970s to confront these immediate problems, but the Cultural Revolution left a legacy that continued to trouble China.

There existed, for example, a severe generation gap; individuals who experienced the Cultural Revolution while in their teens and early twenties were denied an education and taught to redress grievances by taking to the streets. Post-Cultural Revolution policies—which stressed education and initiativeover radical revolutionary fervour—left little room for these millions of people to have productive careers. Indeed, the fundamental damage to all aspects of the educational system itself took several decades to repair.

Another serious problem was the corruption within the party and government. Both the fears engendered by the Cultural Revolution and the scarcity of goods that accompanied it forced people to fall back on traditional personal relationships and on bribery and other forms of persuasion to accomplish their goals. Concomitantly, the Cultural Revolution brought about general disillusionment with the party leadership and the system itself as millions of urban Chinese witnessed the obvious power plays that took place under the name of political principle in the early and mid-1970s. The post-Mao repudiation of both the objectives and the consequences of the Cultural Revolution made many people turn away from politics altogether.

Among the people themselves, there remained bitter factionalism, as those who opposed each other during the Cultural Revolution often shared the same work unit and would do so for their entire careers.

Perhaps never before in human history has a political leader unleashed such massive forces against the system that he created. The resulting damage to that system was profound, and the goals that Mao sought to achieve ultimately remained elusive.

Kenneth G. Liebertha

 

Mammoth tusk haul seized by Chinese customs

Picture of mammoth tusks seized in Heilongjiang province in China on 11 April 2017Image copyrightCHINA NEWS SERVICE
Image captionThe haul of mammoth tusks, rhino horns and jade reportedly came from Russia

Chinese customs officers have seized more than a tonne of tusks from animals that have been extinct for thousands of years – mammoths.

State media are reporting that the massive haul came from Russia and was seized in north-east China in February.

The largest piece of mammoth ivory seized was more than 1.6m (5ft) long, a customs officer was quoted as saying.

There is no international ban on the trade but Chinese officials said the haul was not declared.

Millions of mammoths

The stockpile is part of a booming trade between Russia and China in ivory taken from the skeletons of mammoths found in the Siberian tundra. The effects of global warming in the Arctic has made it easier to collect tusks preserved in ice for thousands of years, researchers say.

More than 100 woolly mammoth tusks were seized at the port of Luobei in Heilongjiang province, in addition to 37 woolly rhino horn parts and more than a tonne of jade. They were hidden in concealed compartments in a truck, according to reports.

Picture of mammoth tusks seized in Heilongjiang province in China on 11 April 2017Image copyrightCHINA NEWS SERVICE
Image captionThe tusks were seized in February but were shown to media earlier this week

The truck driver is alleged to have claimed he was only carrying soybeans, and to have fled the scene when the truck was inspected.

He and another person were later arrested.

Listen: The growing and legal trade in mammoth ivory (BBC Radio 4)

DNA clues to why woolly mammoth died out

There are estimated to be around 10 million mammoths that “remain incarcerated within the permafrost of the Arctic tundra”, according to Douglas MacMillan, a professor of conservation and applied resource economics at the University of Kent.

The woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), or tundra mammothImage copyrightSCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Image captionMost of the world’s woolly mammoths had died out by about 10,500 years ago

Some mammoth experts have suggested that the trade in mammoth ivory should be banned, even though the animals are extinct. They argue that their tusks are often sold as elephant tusks, and thus encourage overall demand for ivory.

It is estimated that more than 50% of the ivory sold into China, which has has the biggest ivory market in the world, is mammoth ivory. Hong Kong is a major destination, and the ivory is used to make jewellery and other objects, including ornamental tusks.

But other experts like Prof MacMillan say that a ban would not halt the trade but rather “drive it underground and attract the attention of organised crime groups”.

Most of the world’s woolly mammoths had died out by about 10,500 years ago. Scientists believe that human hunting and environmental changes played a role in their extinction.

China has announced a ban on all elephant ivory trade and processing activities by the end of 2017.

Media captionWoolly mammoths died out because of “mutational meltdown”, Dr Rebekah Rogers tells The World Tonight

Hip-hop takes centre stage in China for the first time

Hip-hop takes centre stage in China for the first time

Poster for Rap of ChinaImage copyrightIQIYI

A hugely successful internet reality show has put hip-hop music into the national spotlight for the first time in China.

With more than 2.5 billion views on China’s largest online video hosting website, iQiyi, the Rap of China has seen dozens of Chinese rappers shoot to stardom.

Showcasing young and feisty contestants locked in rap battle in front of a panel of celebrity…

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Hip-hop takes centre stage in China for the first time

Poster for Rap of ChinaImage copyrightIQIYI

A hugely successful internet reality show has put hip-hop music into the national spotlight for the first time in China.

With more than 2.5 billion views on China’s largest online video hosting website, iQiyi, the Rap of China has seen dozens of Chinese rappers shoot to stardom.

Showcasing young and feisty contestants locked in rap battle in front of a panel of celebrity judges, the show sparked debate, memes and catchphrases across the Chinese-speaking web.

“Can you freestyle?” became a buzzword, after one of the celebrity judges, Kris Wu, used it to repeatedly grill contestants as he was questioned over his own hip hop legitimacy. Hip hop terms like “diss” – to put someone down – have crept into everyday conversation.

Tapping a gold mine

The 12-episode show, which wrapped up last weekend, was hugely successful in bringing underground rappers such as HipHopMan, Tizzy T, PG One, Jony J, or VAVA to public attention.

Media captionIs the world ready for Chinese hip hop?

“It’s like they ripped open a gap and found it full of gold,” Wang Ke, or MC Bigdog, one of the contestants featured in the show, told the BBC.

“Chinese rappers have been underestimated and neglected,” Wang said. “Our net worth has grown exponentially after the show, but it should have done so a long time ago.”

Group photo of the celebrity judgesImage copyrightIQIYI
Image captionJudge Kris Wu (centre) was challenged over his legitimacy on the panel

Rappers like MC Bigdog were around long before Rap of China.

The genre started gaining momentum in the early 2000s, influenced by American rappers like Eminem and Jay-Z.

Rappers who did well might be signed to labels, music festivals and fashion brands. Some got to perform in clubs.

The number of hip hop music venues and clubs has grown over the years, and national competitions like the China Iron Mic helped to spur on the scene in many cities.

Yet in a society that doesn’t encourage self expression, the rebel spirit of hip hop never really managed to take centre stage but stayed in its own ecosystem.

For most rappers it has remained a hobby – some would even pay out of their own pockets to record albums.

All for show?

Rap of China, therefore, was a game changer. It was said to be the most expensive reality show in history with an investment of 200 million yuan ($30m; £23.7m). Some 700 aspiring rappers auditioned.

Al Rocco mainly raps in English. He was eliminated in Rap of China in the first round because he didn’t rap in Chinese. He then wrote an expletive-laden song, The Rap of China DISS, to show his contempt for the format.

Rapper Al Rocco
Image captionAl Rocco says the show is about drama, not music

Although the show provided money for hip hop music to grow, “it’s not real hip hop that is in the show,” Al Rocco complains. He thinks the programme focuses on drama rather than the music itself so people who didn’t know about hip hop would tune in to see it.

“China is a hard market,” says Al Rocco, a Hong Kong-born rapper who lives in Shanghai. “Hip hop is so small in China even though we’ve been doing it for so many years. You need money to bring that to the world,” he says.

Adding drama was not the only criticism Rap of China faces. Many have accused it of having an unfair selection process that favoured some contestants, and others pointed out that the set-up and theme were strikingly similar to South Korean hip hop reality TV show Show Me the Money.

But the criticism that matters most to rappers and diehard underground hip hop fans in China is whether going mainstream would mean the end of what they see as “real hip hop”.

Wang Bo, or MC Webber, who many consider to be China’s hip hop authority, was one of the many underground rappers who tried to steer clear of the show.

Wang thinks even Xi Ha, the Chinese translation of “hip hop”, was created to help make a quick profit. Over-commercialising hip hop will drain the creativity of young people and reduce the songs to “fast food music”, he wrote on his microblog.

However, MC Hotdog, who now has his own hip hop business managing rappers and performances, says he’s hopeful about the new changes.

“It was hard to keep hip hop real before in China because of all the politics in China,” MC Hotdog said.

“Now that the money problem is solved, hip hop artists don’t have to worry about their livelihood. They will have more room to keep it real.”

“Real hip hop”, MC Hotdog says, is for those underdogs in society to have a voice of peace, love, independence and unity.

“We are not highly commercialised like in the US where hip hop is just about money and sex,” MC Hotdog says. “What China offers is our long history and deeply cultured literature.”

‘We will make it Chinese’

This is not the only thing that China will offer though. Rap of China also had to face China’s increasingly stringent internet censorship.

MC Sun Bayi
Image captionMC Sun Bayi says yes to hip hop – albeit in line with Socialist values

The latest restriction is for online multimedia content like mini movies, reality shows and commentary programmes to avoid producing content that is vulgar, sensational or political.

The “healthy and positive” environment the authorities require is not entirely in line with what’s considered “real hip hop”, but what we already see is hip hop living in harmony with Chinese characteristics.

“Like Chairman Mao said, borrow what’s good from the West and use it in China,” says one of the contestants MC Sun Bayi, who is known for performing in formal business attire.

“The Chinese invented gunpowder and the Westerners made firearms with it. Now they have hip hop, and we will make it Chinese.”

“I don’t like rapping about what I shouldn’t rap about anyway, especially things not in line with Socialist values,” MC Sun Bayi says, shrugging off concerns that hip hop is losing its edge.

“This is the Chinese version of hip hop,” he concludes.

Chinese web users make light of Golden Week travel woes

Chinese web users make light of Golden Week travel woes

People playing frisbee along the Chengdu-Xiamen expressway in southern ChinaImage copyrightPEAR VIDEOImage captionPear Video says that some frustrated travellers in southern China got out of their cars to play frisbee

China’s “Golden Week” national holiday is under way, and social media users are making light of travel problems that are dogging the annual getaway.

Social media are dominated by video and images of the congestion that is hampering travel to popular…

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