Discoveries change views on ancient China

By Clayton Norlen

As part of Chinese Culture Week at the U, Li Xianto, deputy director of the Sichuan University Museum, exhibited renditions of archeologists’ discoveries about the ancient culture of the Sanxingdui people.

Xianto observed that the Sanxingdui, an ancient Chinese civilization, uniquely used bronze as a medium to express beauty through art at the beginning of the Bronze Age.

“The bronze making was very technical and advanced,” Xianto said. “It took a lot of skill to make and master these pieces.”

Two farmers in the Sichuan province, a western part of the country that borders Tibet, stumbled upon jade coins and pendants in 1929 that later led researchers to begin a thorough excavation of the area in 1932.

Since the first coins were found, archeologists have unearthed bronze masks, statues and pottery pieces. Among the most intriguing aspects of researchers’ discoveries, Xianto said, was a bronze statue, which he presumes depicts the emperor at the time. This was the first ancient bronze piece from the Sichuan province that archeologists had seen where the human figure was expressed.

The style is more typical of Western societies such as Greece and Egypt, Xianto said.

This shows that some type of communication existed between a broader and more diverse number of cultures than originally believed, Xianto said.

“This is a work of art to show beauty to the Chinese people then,” he said.

Since these discoveries, others have been made in the area. In 1987 a wall was found and established the perimeter of the ancient Sanxingdui city. The area of the city totaled more than 12 square kilometers and is possibly more than 35,000 years old.

“These discoveries reinforce that there were ancient civilizations in China and they may have arisen in multiple places, not just central Asia like people originally thought,” said Stanley Serafin, a doctoral student in anthropology at Tulane University.

The cultural layers of the city range from the Neolithic age to the early Western Zhou Dynasty that began in 1200 B.C., Xianto said.

“I’ve never seen anything like these works, they’re fascinating,” said Jenny Woods, an employee at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. “There are symbols in the way the faces are shown, and a way a culture shows itself, (that) is in some ways telling of who they were.”

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Tyler Cobb

Li Xianto, an assioate professor at Sichuan University, visited the U to lecture about the ancient Sanxingdui people of China, and the recent discovery of their ancient city.