Treasures of Chengdu
Source from China Daily
The Jinsha Site Museum reminds visitors of fantastic lanterns and snacks from different parts of the world. Huang Zhiling reports.
If you mention Jinsha Site Museum in Chengdu, the capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province, local people may think of fantastic lanterns and snacks from different parts of the world.
But for travelers from outside the city, the museum is more about mysterious, unique ancient artifacts.
For Liu Jiaran, a teenager who has attended the annual lantern show at the museum since 2010, Jinsha means lanterns featuring creatures from Chinese mythology and warriors from ancient Rome as well as snacks from Sichuan such as Three Cannon Shots (sandapao).
The Spring Festival holiday typically runs for seven days, but it is usually celebrated for 15 days till the Lantern Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar.
To mark the Lantern Festival, the Chengdu authorities launched an annual lantern show in Jinsha in 2009, two years after the museum opened.
Speaking about the lantern festival, Liu says: "Visitors are fascinated with the lanterns based on Chinese and foreign mythology. Besides, they can satisfy their food cravings as the lantern show is coupled with a food festival at the 30-hectare museum."
The festival features food from different parts of the world, but visitors rush for the time-honored Three Cannon Shots.
First-time visitors to the food festival are usually surprised when they find out that Three Cannon Shots is the name of a centuries-old Sichuan snack.
The snack is so called because of the way it is prepared. To make it, three glutinous rice balls are bounced on a table so that they drop into a bamboo container filled with soy flour, creating noises that sound like cannon shots. Then, the balls are mixed with soy flour and a warm brown syrup is poured on them.
"The snack is very tasty," says Dennis Palumbo, a visitor, who is a neurosurgeon from Little Rock, Arkansas, in the United States.
The lantern show and the food festival were initially targeted at the locals, but now people from all parts of the country flock to Jinsha.
According to Zhu Zhangyi, the deputy curator of the museum, the lantern show and the food festival drew more than 700,000 visitors from across the country during this year's Spring Festival.
For first-time visitors to Chengdu like Palumbo, Jinsha's popular ancient artifacts - including the sunbird gold foil and the "smiling" gold mask - could have been created by extraterrestrials.
The artifacts are so popular that a circular golden emblem showing four flying birds around the sun is found in many parts of the city. It is even seen on the engine hoods of taxis, the overpass en route to the airport and on the local television channel.
The emblem is a replica of the sunbird gold foil which was found in the Jinsha Ruins in the western part of Chengdu in February 2001. It is on display at the Jinsha Site Museum, which was built on the ruins.
Jinsha, which literally means Gold Sand in Chinese, lives up to its name.
On Feb 8, 2001, workers at a real estate construction site in Jinsha village in the Qingyang district of Chengdu found ivory and jade artifacts in the debris.
Archaeologists were then called in and since then have excavated some 10,000 relics including gold, jade, bronze and stone artifacts besides tens of thousands of pottery and ceramic pieces.
The excavation of the Jinsha Ruins was hailed as one of the top 10 archaeological finds that year by the Archaeological Society of China and China Cultural Relics News.
The ruins, covering an area of 4 square kilometers, include a sacrificial site, a palace, houses and a graveyard.
The ruins may be the remains of the capital of the ancient state of Shu, dating back from the late Shang (c. 16th century-11th century BC) to the early Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), says Wang Yi, the curator of the Chengdu Museum. Shu was the name for Sichuan in ancient times.
The sunbird gold foil and the "smiling" gold mask are on display on the second floor of the museum.
Both the artifacts are believed to be about 3,000 years old.
Measuring 12.5 cm in diameter and weighing 20 grams, the sunbird gold leaf is a mere 0.02 cm thick. It has four birds cut out of it. The gold leaf is seen as an illustration of an ancient Chinese myth recorded in the classic Shan Hai Jing, or the Classic of Mountains and Seas, written some 2,500 years ago.
According to the book, the ancients believed the sun was carried up to the sky in the morning and pulled down at dusk by four birds.
The State Administration of Cultural Heritage adopted the sunbird gold foil as China's symbol of cultural heritage in 2005. Explaining its choice, the administration cited "its exquisite craftsmanship and representation of the worship of the sun".
The "smiling" gold mask, which is about 3.7 cm tall and 4.9 cm wide is very thin and has brows like a crescent moon and eyes like almonds. Its half-open mouth gives it a smiling effect.
The mask is unique, for gold masks like it have never been found before, says deputy curator Zhu Zhangyi, who was one of the archaeologists working on the excavation of the Jinsha Ruins.
The "smiling" gold mask was not worn by any living person. Instead, it was affixed to a bronze human head or a wooden human head, he says.
Some scholars say the bronze head represents the soul of a dead ancestor, while others hold that it is the image of a necromancer and the bronze head is probably that of a high-ranking shaman.
Despite these views, the certainty is that bronze heads were worshipped by people who believed that they were channels to higher beings.
Meanwhile, Hu Xiaorong, a senior guide, says the artifacts unearthed from the Jinsha Ruins and on display in the museum were used for sacrificial purposes.
About 3,000 years ago, the ancient state of Shu held sacrificial ceremonies on important occasions.
And gold, jade, and ivory were offered to the deities, she says.
During the lantern show, actors simulate an ancient sacrificial ceremony.
Separately, visitors can go to the sites where archaeologists found the artifacts.
The spots are marked with the photos of the unearthed artifacts.
Boar and deer bones can also be seen at the site.
To let visitors feel what the site was like, the museum authorities have built a deer park in the area .
For Yu Hong, a 78-year-old pensioner who lives near the museum, the facility with its bamboo and trees is a fascinating place.
"There are peaches and plums in spring, while in summer the museum is lush and verdant because of its bamboo, trees and grass.
And, in autumn, it has yellow gingko leaves, while in winter the fragrance of plum blossoms is ubiquitous," says Yu.