There were few records about the history of the ancient Shu State on Chengdu plain at the upper reaches of Yangtze River in ancient literature. The legend says “the successive rulers of the ancient Shu State – Cang Cong, Bo Guan and Yu Fu all reigned over this region for hundreds of years.”… Li Bai, the great poet of Tang Dynasty, wrote down these sentences in his famous works HARD ROADS IN SHU: “The two rulers (Cang Cong and Yu Fu) of this region, Pushed their way through in the misty ages …”, which made the history of the ancient Shu State more mysterious.
Until 1986, two sacrifice pits were discovered in Sanxingdui, which astonished the world and made us see the brilliance of the ancient Shu culture thousands of years ago. Those mythical cultural relics showed the ancient sacred symbols before us one by one…
The Myth of Shen Long·Bronze Column with a Coild Dragon on Top
The legend goes that there were no sun and moon at the birth of the earth. Then Zhu Long (Pan Gu) was born. He had a human face and a snake-like body that was a thousand long. When he opened his eyes, it was the day; while he closed his eyes, it was the night. When he breathed out, it was summer; while he breathed in, it was winter. Meanwhile, he could summon wind and rain. Mountain and Sea Classics also recorded many gods combining with several shapes of different creatures, for example, some had a bird-like body but a dragon-like head, some had human face but a dragon-like body etc.
The Bronze Column with a Coild Dragon on Top unearthed at No. 1 in Sanxingdui had a dragon-like head with goat’s horns but a silkworm-like body. This fancy shape reflected the unique cognition of ancient Shu-region people for this totem image.
The Myth of Communicating with the Heaven
In a long period after Pan Gu separated the sky from the earth, human lived together with gods.Afterward, the earth plunged into disorder, so the emperor of heaven stopped the contact between the heaven and the earth and appointed his son Xuan Yuan (Huang Di) to be the emperor of the earth. From then on, only koradji could go up to the heaven, so people dedicated their sacrifices to the gods with the help of koradji, praying for blessings and fortunes.
A standing bronze figure, 2.62 meters in height and over 180 kilograms in weight, was unearthed in Sanxingdui. He was mainly in charge of the communication between the heaven and the earth, conveying the wishes from the emperor of heaven, the gods and the ghosts. This figure, with a history of more than three thousand years, was very high. It was beautifully cast with bronze. This kind bronze figure has never found so far in the cultural relics of Shang and Zhou Dynasties unearthed in China. Even the countries with an ancient civilization in the world, such as the ancient Egypt or the ancient Greece at the same period didn’t have this kind of huge bronze statue, either.
The Myth of Fu Sang·Bronze Holy Tree
The successor of Huang Di was Di Jun. The wife of Di Jun - Xi He, gave birth to ten sunbirds. They lived on a holy tree named Fu Sang at the end of East Sea. “Nine of the suns lived on the lower branches of the holy tree, and one on the upper branch.”Thus Zhu Long needn’t bring luminosity to the heaven and earth with his eyes. Every morning, the sun went up from the holy tree – Fu Sang in the east and it went down on the holy tree named Ruo Mu in the west…On Chengdu plain, there was a holy tree named Jian Mu that could reach up to the heaven. It was said that Fu Xi - the earliest ancestor of human beings had been to the heaven from here and then returned to the earth.
A bronze holy tree with a residual height of 3.95 meters was unearthed in Sanxingdui. On this holy tree whose top had been cracked inhabited nine sunbirds, which apparently reflected the myth of “nine suns living on lower branches”. A holy dragon flying down from the heaven was cast along the surface of the trunk, miraculously displaying the scene that the ancient people went up to the heaven and return to the earth through the holy tree – Jian Mu. Among the major archaeological discoveries in the world, the bronze holy tree in Sanxingdui can be called the unique entity of “Cosmic Tree”. It is also one of the largest bronzes in the world.
The Myth of the Sun·Bronze Sunbirds·Bronze Sun Gears
It was said that the ten sunbirds took turns to be on duty, so they had one opportunity to go out every ten days. They really felt boring on the Fu Sang tree every day, and they sneaked out to run wild while their mother – Xi He was ill. As a result, all the trees and grasses on the earth were dried to death. This was the origin of another myth of “Hou Yi Shooting the Suns”.
Many magical bronze birds were unearthed in Sanxingdui. In the ancient Shu State, they not only represented the sun and golden crow, but also was the symbol of their tribe and worship. The figure with human face and bird-like body unearthed at No. 2 pit has a double circle pattern on its chest that extremely resembles the shape of the sun. Such bizarre shape had never been found in the history of archaeology. It can be famed as an admirable creation of the ancient Shu-region people. The golden stick unearthed in Sanxingdui has the pattern of feather arrows through the neck of birds. It may also reflect the myth of shooting the suns.
From the rock paintings left from the ancient times in the world, we can see a lot of images of the sun. but only in Sanixngdui were unearthed several pieces of bronzes that represent the sun the most vivid – Bronze Sun Gear, so they are very invaluable.
The Legend of Shu History·Bronze Protruding-eye Mask· Golden Stick
It was said that Huang Di had two sons, one of whom – Changyi married a girl of Shu-shan clan. This was said to be the origin of Cang Cong, the first king of the ancient Shu State, who taught the people how to plant mulberry and raise silkworms.The Annals of Huangyang State recorded that the first ancestor of Shu-region people – Cang Cong had protruding eyes. The bronze protruding-eye mask unearthed in Sanxingdui was just the objective proof about the record of “protruding eyes”. It should be the imagination of the ancient people for the image of their ancestor.
The second king of Shu State – Bo Guan should come from the tribe named after the bird called Bo Guan.
The third king of Shu State should come from the tribe named after the bird called Yu Fu. The Imperial Biography of the King of Shu recorded that the king, Yu Fu became immortal when he was hunting in Jianshan Mountain. Many Shu-region people also followed their king, so few Shu-region people were left. The golden stick unearthed at No. 1 sacrifice pit in Sanxingdui was carved with the pattern that arrows first flew through the body of birds and then shot the fish in the head. Whether it told the story that the tribe of Yu Fu failed and declined, or it was the sign of Yu Fu tribe was a great mystery among all the mysteries in Sanxingdui.
The fourth king of Shu State was named Du Yu or Wang Di.The legend goes that Du Yu taught the people how to farm, so he was highly praised and respected by the people. Afterward, a person from Kai Ming tribe led the people to control the floods, and he took the place of Du Yu, becoming the new king of the ancient Shu State. Du Yu was forced to retire and transformed into a cuckoo. It cried all the time and finally it had no tears but blood. This was the myth of “The Cuckoo Crying Blood”.
The Shu State reigned by Kai Ming Tribe experienced 12 kings and it was conquered by Qin in 316 B.C.
The Myth of Religion
The ancient people believed that the souls of their late ancestors were the best medium with which they could communicate with the gods in the heaven, so they wished to win the favor from gods in the way of sacrificing and beg the protection of gods in the way of praying.
Many cultural relics unearthed in Sanxingdui were used to sacrifice in ancient times. The ancient Shu-region people adopted bronze heads and masks to represent the souls of their ancestors, animal masks and animal faces to symbolized the natural gods, standing bronze figures and kneeling figures to stand for the worshipers, bronze wine vessels and bronze wine utensils to be sacrificial offerings, jade and stone products to be ritual supplies and golden sticks to be ritual tools. They also sacrificed ivories and seashell to the gods. The dragons and birds on the holy trees were usually the emissaries connecting the heaven and the earth. Therefore, we can see the advanced and complete religious ritual system established by the ancient Shu-region people.
The ancient Shu-region people believed that the souls of their late ancestors were the best medium with which they could communicate with the gods in the heaven, so they wished to win the favor from gods in the way of sacrificing and beg the protection of gods in the way of praying.
Travel to Sanxingdui
Sanxingdui civilization had a history of 5,000 years so far. It has been listed in the major archaeological discoveries in 20th century. The site occupied an area of 12 square kilometers.Sanxingdui Museum has an exhibition area of 12,000 square meters and completely displays thousands of precious cultural relics unearthed in Sanxingdui, including chinaware, jades, gold, bronzes etc.
Sanxingdui is only 30-minute driving away from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province of China. It will take no more than 1 hour from Sanxingdui to Shuangliu International Airport by driving. It is very convenient in traffic for tourists.