Long history of China's financial capital

Updated: 2014-06-22 07:01

By Wu Yiyao in Shanghai (China Daily)

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 Long history of China's financial capital

More than 500 artifacts from different periods are on display at the Shanghai Museum. Provided to China Daily

Shanghai, a metropolis of more than 23 million people, started its modern history about 100 years ago, when the sleepy fishing village transformed into a hub for traders.

Archaeologists, however, believe that it was probably 6,000 years ago that the history of human settlement on the land of today's Shanghai was recorded.

An exhibition by Shanghai Museum, Tracing History: Archaeological Discoveries in Shanghai, introduces visitors to the lives of ancestors on the same land, where trade during ancient times flourished as much as today, when bankers stare at indexes all day and party through the night.

This exhibition revolves around tracing an ancient civilization and the emergence of an urban society, says Chen Xiejun, director of the Shanghai Museum. More than 500 artifacts from different periods are dots that connect the city's story of evolution.

The exhibition, being held across three galleries, is designed to probe into the origins, celebrate urbanization and unveil the cultural essence of the land, Chen says.

Visitors may meet "Shanghai's first man", a human skull restored from head bones that had belonged to a young male who settled in Shanghai thousands of years ago. The man is hardly hand-some by today's standards but he must have lived through hardships when he and his peers had to fight tigers, bears and elephants, and cultivate rice amid clearings in the wilderness.

"If you look at the objects created by people who lived around the time of Shanghai's first man, you would figure out that they were smart and detail-oriented," says Chen Jie, curator of the exhibition and an archaeologist.

Tong Shuyun, a 12-year-old visitor, is impressed by a clay pot that was made some 6,000 years ago. The globular jar with a star-shaped lid was a hollow ball at first.

Prehistoric settlers in Shanghai carved the star-shaped part as a lid, dried the two parts separately, then put them together - a jar with a lid was completed and the two parts matches perfectly.

"I just wonder how they came up with the idea of making a jar with lid in this way? The first man or woman who made it must had been an inventor, and the jar is so beautiful," Tong says.

The ivory scepter with mythical patterns and animal masks is another highlight of the exhibition.

Long history of China's financial capital

Considering the lack of sharp tools to carve out details on the ivory, it took the early man great effort and time to complete exquisite designs on the 97-centimeter object, says Song Jian, an archaeologist and researcher at the Shanghai Museum.

People would think that people who lived that long ago must have spent all their time hunting for food or cultivating, he says.

"In fact, our ancestors spent significant time and effort to create objects reflecting their spiritual world. They had great minds for beauty and intelligence," Song says, pointing out to objects that filled in spaces at a time when text wasn't in use.

wuyiyao@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 06/22/2014 page9)