In the past hundred years, the Sanxingdui of the ancient Shu civilization, which has been endowed with mysterious power and fantasy by people, is not only an important part of Chinese civilization, but also provides reference for exchanges and mutual learning among world civilizations. Recently, "Dao Zhonghua" interviewed Professor Huo Wei of Sichuan University to interpret Sanxingdui for us.
Reporter: In recent years, remarks about Sanxingdui being an "alien civilization" and "foreign civilization" have set off a new wave of enthusiasm. Why such statements? How do we scientifically understand the Sanxingdui bronze civilization?
Huo Wei: The term "alien civilization" is not valid. Sanxingdui culture has a clear origin point, and a clear development sequence can be seen from its cultural accumulation: from the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Sanxingdui site abandonment, all the way to the Qin, Han, Song and Yuan periods. Therefore, Sanxingdui is indeed a cultural relic left by the ancestors of ancient Shu.
I have said that Sanxingdui rewrote the cultural map of the Chinese Bronze Age and refreshed our archaeological knowledge system. The Sanxingdui bronze culture has similar parts to the Xia Shang Zhou bronze culture, such as the use of bronze containers as ritual vessels. Sanxingdui unearthed a top kneeling figure that had never been found before, proving that Sanxingdui people were very familiar with the civilization of the Central Plains characterized by bronze ritual vessels.
Sanxingdui also unearthed a large number of unseen artifacts: tall bronze statues, strangely shaped bronze masks and heads, tall sacred trees, gold masks, golden staffs, etc. Sanxingdui is a subversive archaeological discovery, which shocks archaeologists and brings many difficult mysteries.
This is true of archaeologists, not to mention the general public. Therefore, there is a lot of speculation: is the Sanxingdui bronze civilization an "alien civilization", is it an "extraterritorial civilization"? Even some rigorous scholars from non-archaeological backgrounds speculate whether Sanxingdui is a relic left by a religious war with outside the region? I think it's good that the public is concerned, but archaeologists should guide the public to read Sanxingdui.
I have suggested that there are three important dimensions to understanding Sanxingdui culture. The first is the dimension of the ancient Shu civilization, which is a cultural series developed from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age in an orderly manner, in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. The second dimension is to discover the relationship between Sanxingdui culture and the Yinshang culture of the Central Plains from archaeology and literature. Sanxingdui bronzes, pottery such as pottery, jade such as jade zhang, jade wall, jade qi, basically consistent with the use of Zhongyuan jade as ritual jade, with the function of worshiping gods and sacrificing ancestors. The third important dimension is to recognize which cultures Sanxingdui has received influences, and even not rule out the possibility of long-distance cultural exchanges with other regions, such as South Asia, Central Asia, and even more distant West Asia. The evidence is not yet sufficient, but this observation horizon should be preserved. The most important thing is that we must make it clear to the public that Sanxingdui is an alien civilization and lacks scientific basis.
▲Bronze kneeling figure (Shang Dynasty) Sanxingdui Museum collection. (Image source: Sanxingdui Museum official website)
▲Bronze human figure plaque (Shang Dynasty) Sanxingdui Museum collection. (Image source: Sanxingdui Museum official website)
Reporter: Sanxingdui's inheritance from the early Stone Age to the heyday Bronze Age, and then to the Sanxingdui culture we see later in Jinsha, seems to reflect its positive interaction with surrounding cultures no matter what stage. Does this reflect some of the characteristics of cultural exchanges in this special region of Bashu, which while independently developing regional culture, is also openly and inclusively absorbing surrounding cultures? Huo Wei: The history of civilization is a long and complex process of development. It is necessary to clearly see what role each regional culture has played in the evolution of the pattern of diversity and integration of Chinese civilization, and it is necessary to carefully sort out and observe the characteristics of Chinese civilization.
We were so shocked by the appearance of Sanxingdui because we did not expect that in addition to the Central Plains, so many strange, unheard of, and unseen artifacts would be found in a remote place in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. This also proves once again that Chinese civilization is vast and profound, and we really don't know how many new archaeological discoveries will be made in this land!
From the beginning, Sanxingdui has not been a source of water and a tree without roots. Since the Stone Age, the Bashu region has been influenced by the Majiayao culture from the northwest, such as the use of faience pottery and the cultivation of millet. Today, millet is not grown in Sichuan, but early archaeological discoveries found that millet was grown in this area, and only later rice. In the Bronze Age, similar bronze plaques were found at the sites of Erlitou and Sanxingdui, but there is less evidence of where the Erlitou culture spread to the Chengdu Plain. When it came to Yin Shang, there was more evidence, and it was clear that there were two routes: one route, like the route taken by Qin Shu, crossed the Qinling Mountains from the north, or entered the Chengdu Plain through the Bailongjiang, which was an official road formed for a long time in the later Central Plains into Shu; The second is the way of Yin Shang culture into Shu, and the main route is to enter Sichuan through Hubei in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River.
Recently, Professor Cui Jianfeng of Peking University analyzed the alloy composition in the bronzes unearthed in Sanxingdui and found that there was a highly radioactive lead in the bronzes of Sanxingdui, referred to as "high-release lead". Gaofang lead is not ordinary lead, not everywhere, now it seems that it was first mastered by Yin Wu, then spread to Shaanxi, then to Hubei, Hunan, and then to the Bashu area, which is a very important achievement of scientific and technological archaeology.
Therefore, Sanxingdui bronze culture was an open system from the beginning. It is a cultural center in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, and there are many such regional cultural centers in China, constantly gathering to the cultural center of the Central Plains, providing new cultural factors, and forming a rich and diversified Chinese civilization.
From prehistory to the Bronze Age is the most important period for the formation of nations and civilizations. We often talk about 5000,<> years of Chinese civilization, but now we have to look further. Further to when? Archaeologists have proposed to observe the formation of our Chinese civilization from the late Paleolithic period.
▲Yuqian (Shang) Sanxingdui Museum collection. (Image source: Sanxingdui Museum official website)
▲Yuzhang (Shang Dynasty) Sanxingdui Museum Collection. (Image source: Sanxingdui Museum official website)
Reporter: You mentioned that there are three important dimensions of understanding Sanxingdui: the relationship between Sanxingdui and ancient Shu culture, the relationship with the Yinshang culture of the Central Plains, and its observation in the world civilization system. Could you please tell us about the possibility or fact that Sanxingdui culture provided in the early exchanges and mutual learning between Chinese and Western civilizations? Huo Wei: Sanxingdui has the possibility of communication with surrounding cultures, and even some distant cultures.
Sanxingdui found silk, silk is a very representative civilization symbol of the Chinese nation, is it possible that silk was sold outside the region during the Sanxingdui period, and at the same time accepted the influence of extraterritorial cultural factors in the trade process? This requires the search for further evidence.
Under the generally same cultural level, ecological environment and degree of social development, different civilizations will independently produce certain similar cultural phenomena. For example, the divine tree is considered to be the sun tree, the cosmic tree, the tree of life, etc. in different civilizations in the world. For example, the worship of the eyes, which first appeared in West Asia, also appeared during the Hongshan culture period in China, and the eyes of the clay statues unearthed from the Kazuo Goddess Temple in Liaoning Province were made of obsidian, indicating that the eyes were also worshipped as extraordinary and mysterious objects. Therefore, these phenomena should be scientifically compared. The ivory found in Sanxingdui is very likely because there were ancient elephants in ancient Shu at that time, but a larger number of ancient elephant groups should mainly come from places such as Yunnan and Guangxi, is it possible that the ivory also comes from farther regions?
In fact, no artifacts completely similar to Sanxingdui have been found outside the region. If it is said that it came from the west and from outside the region, then from which place it came from and through what route, it is not yet possible to prove, and more archaeological evidence and scientific research are needed.
▲Bronze longitudinal mask (Shang Dynasty) Sanxingdui Museum collection. (Image source: Sanxingdui Museum)
▲Golden Cane (Shang Dynasty) Sanxingdui Museum Collection. (Image source: Sanxingdui Museum)
▲Gold mask (Shang Dynasty) Sanxingdui Museum collection. (Image source: Sanxingdui Museum)
Reporter: At present, the Sanxingdui site and the Jinsha site are jointly applying for world cultural heritage. Do you have any suggestions for the protection of Sanxingdui and the spread of Sanxingdui culture? Huo Wei: We need to use the international discourse system to explain Sanxingdui culture well. This interpretation should not be led by some Western theories, nor should it be confused by non-professional remarks, but should uphold the fine tradition of Chinese scholarship.
Our thousands of years of civilization have their own written records, their own documentary traditions, and more importantly, we have our own understanding of the characteristics of the formation of Chinese civilization, so there should be unique knowledge creation and theoretical innovation in interpretation, which truly reflects the scientific and characteristic interpretation of Sanxingdui research by Chinese scholars.
Of course, the process of interpretation and dissemination also requires multidisciplinary collaborative research. The research of Sanxingdui bronze civilization involves archaeology, history, anthropology, mythology and other disciplines, and the research on Sanxingdui should form a new situation of multidisciplinary intersection and comprehensive research. Explain and publicize Sanxingdui well, so that it will not only become the source of our cultural self-confidence, but also become an important force for Chinese civilization to go global.
Currently, Sanxingdui is building a new museum. We want to make Sanxingdui culture to the public, and provide the public with a scientific, professional, and cordial and lovely Sanxingdui narrative. For example, those gods with big eyes and big ears are not clairvoyants and tailwind ears, and they should have full dialogue and scientific guidance with the public.
I think it is also necessary to comprehensively display the history of Sanxingdui archaeological research, the overall appearance of Sanxingdui culture, its relationship with the Central Plains culture, Baodun culture, Jinsha culture, the relationship between Sanxingdui ancient city and ruins, and the relationship between Sanxingdui rituals and general life scenes, so that the public and international friends can systematically understand Sanxingdui culture, and then understand the broad and profound Chinese civilization.
Huo Wei is a professor and director of the Institute of Chinese Tibetology, Sichuan University.