Hangzhou home to ancient cultural heritage
By Zheng Lifei
Updated: 2007-08-08 07:24

HANGZHOU: This capital city of East China's Zhejiang Province, long regarded as the nation's paradise city, is often associated with spots of natural beauty such as the resplendent West Lake and its leisurely lifestyle.

A city that has been the capital of many ancient Chinese dynasties, and given rise to many renowned literary and artistic personalities both throughout history and at present, Hangzhou is also home to sites containing relics of some of the earliest Chinese civilizations, such as the famous Liangzhu Culture and the more recently discovered Kuahuqiao Culture.

Chinese historians generally regard the Liangzhu Culture as the first peak of Hangzhou's development, while the history of civilization in the city dates back 8,000 years, starting with Kuahuqiao Culture of the Neolithic Age in its suburb Xiaoshan district.

Remarkable jade artifacts

Named after the place where it was first discovered in 1936, Liangzhu Culture is a late Neolithic (or Chalcolithic) culture dating back to 3310 - 2250 BC.

The Neolithic Age was a period when humans first learned to tend plants and animals and eventually domesticate crops and animals.

The Liangzhu Culture, and the making of black-based and black-burnished pottery, represent the earliest Chalcolithic Culture in southeast China.

Well known for its large number of marvelous jade artifacts, Liangzhu Culture succeeded the Majiabang Culture and later became part of the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th Century BC).

The most remarkable feature of Liangzhu Culture is the large number and high quality of green jade artifacts, and their religious importance.

Left : An Liangzhu Culture expert (center) exchanges research findings in Sweden.
Right: A discovery site of some relics in 1986

Many other cultures contemporary to the Liangzhu Culture also created jade items, but none could compare to those of the Liangzhu.

Unlike the later dynastic periods, the Neolithic jades are easily distinguishable by style, quality, and the technique used to make them. The Liangzhu jades are set far apart from those of other cultures.

Two types of jades, called "bi" and "cong" respectively, were prominent for their ritual use in Liangzhu culture.

The jade called bi is a circular ring used to worship heaven, and the cong is an elongated square tube used to worship earth.

Over 5,000 jades have been discovered in the Liangzhu ruins to date. These jades, especially the congs, also have the earliest taotie mask designs as a part of their inscriptions.

The taotie mask is an image formed when the elaborate carvings on a jade are arranged in such a way that the image of a face can be seen in the macro image. These taotie designs were later used and stylized by the Shang and Zhou cultures.

Exhibition, museum

An exhibition themed on Liangzhu Culture began in Sweden on July 1, in which more than 100 pieces of jade and pottery replicas have been put on display.

The exhibition, which will last more than one month, will also showcase silk, hand-made artifacts and other local specialty products from Hangzhou.

Located in Liangzhu Township in suburban Hangzhou, The Liangzhu Culture Museum, which is a must-visit for history and jade and antique-lovers, is only about 10 km from the city downtown.

The museum, covering 8,590 sq m, is divided into three main exhibition halls, where over 400 cultural relics are on display.

Before the three exhibition halls, the prelude hall summarizes the tenets of the Liangzhu Culture such as its significance and the role it played in its time.

The No 1 Hall mainly displays different cultural relics left behind in different stages of the Liangzhu Culture which, displayed against the backdrop of the pristine settings, reproduce a vivid picture of the Liangzhu Culture evidenced by the advanced pottery, textile and jade-making craftsmanship.

The second exhibition room displays jade artifacts and pottery. The jade artifacts, for which Liangzhu Culture is well known, represent the mysterious and exotic culture and the pottery shows the creativity and colorful life of the Liangzhu people.

The third exhibition room shows a replica of a large tomb found in Yaoshan Ruins and a number of small-sized tombs. The striking differences between them reveal the huge wealth disparity at that time.

Unique style

Some unearthed jadeware of the Liangzhu Culture

In addition to the more widely known Liangzhu Culture, Hangzhou is also the place of origin of the much earlier Kuahuqiao Culture - a Neolithic Age culture that once thrived in its suburban Xiaoshan district.

Although it is lesser known than Liangzhu, Kuahuqiao Culture is no less and probably even more significant than the former.

The discovery of the Kuahuqiao relic site actually pushes the history of civilization in Hangzhou to 8,000 years ago, much earlier than the Liangzhu Culture.

Located in Xianghu Village in Xiaoshan District in the outskirts of Hangzhou, the Kuahuqiao relic site was first formally discovered in 1990, which led to the unearthing of large quantities of cultural relics such as sophisticated painted pottery, unglazed pottery, stoneware and jade artifacts.

A second excavation was carried out in 2001, with more relics discovered.

Kuahuqiao Culture, which was regarded as one of the top 10 most important archeological discoveries in China in 2001, is also an unresolved mystery that still enthralls and puzzles archeologists.

While there were many wooden, stone and pottery utensils unearthed from the site, there were no tripods and stones with drilling holes, indicating that hunting may have been the main lifeline of the Kuahuqiao people.

"This means the site has got the characteristics of a very early age," said Yan Wenming, a Peking University professor and researcher at the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

"The culture of Kuahuqiao is very unique," said Yan. "It can hardly be compared to any other ancient cultures discovered in the province, and we found it difficult to put it into the cultural chronology within our knowledge," he added.

Jerrod Roalstad contributed to the story

(Business Weekly 08/08/2007 page18)