A Review of Three Cultural Sites of Shu Kingdoms in Chengdu
The rise of Chengdu as a top tourist city in China, and one of the main cultural founts in China, has echoes in the city's distant history when it was known as the Shu Kingdom – a national entity that thrived on the Chengdu Plain before it was eventually brought into the national body around 2,000 years ago. Now the modern Chengdu, like the Shu of old, is once again developing its distinct voices and styles – in cuisine, artistic expression, way of life – and cultural self-assuredness (the feistiness that Sichuan people are now so famous for) and gathering wealth (it's one of the fastest-growing cities in China). But the culture of Shu are not only present as a shadow: three of the city's eminent tourist attractions hold relics of the Shu epoch, and a visit to these sights serves up plenty of insight about the city's early beginnings and the rich origins that indirectly nourish Chendu's present rise to eminence.
Below is a review of Chengdu's three Shu-related attractions:
Jinsha Site Museum
The Jinsha site was a cultural, political and economic center for thousands of years – the remains unearthed range in age from 1200–650 BC (from the late period of the Shang dynasty to the early Spring and Autumn period). Now it's a sprawling tourist sight that consists of a large museum with several halls and the archeological site itself with its maze of trenches. The pre-eminent and most fantastic relic at the museum is the Sun Bird, a flat disk of gold that depicts a revolving sun surrounded by four birds in flight, symbolizing the belief among the Shu that birds carried the sun across the sky throughout the course of the day. It is graceful and fluid and enigmatic, a potent symbol of the worship of the sun by the Shu, and now it has been adopted as the insignia of Chengdu city and emblem of China's Cultural Heritage. Another highlight in the museum is a gold mask that has an aura of somber mystery – slit mouth, bulging eyebrows, protruding ears, and elongated eyes coming to a fine point – it is thought to be a worship object.
But there are also plenty of other absorbing artifacts in the museum. This includes an extensive collection of jade ware – bracelets, daggers, chisels, "cong" (a kind of worship object that represented the connection between earth and heaven), "bi" (round disks with an inner hole that represented the roundness of the sky overhead), beads, and so on – and artifacts fashioned from gold leaf. And among the numerous Bronze exhibits – daggers, bronze birds and heads of bulls, dragon heads, tigers and so on – most striking is a small bronze robe-dressed figure (probably male) with hands outstretched to hold something aloft and sporting the sunhat (a sun with oblique rays as if revolving at speed).
Other halls illustrate the dwellings and craft-making techniques of the Shu. There is much intact pottery, mostly kitchenware, unearthed from several Shu settlement sites in the Chengdu Plain. And the overall feeling after a visit – it takes a few hours to peruse all the exhibits – is of a civilization that was impressively sophisticated for its time.