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                Rediscovering China's Early Civilization

                Source:China Daily Published:2018-07-12 16:44
                The Yinxu Museum in Anyang, Henan province, exhibits not only a huge oracle-bone collection but also such items as an impressive array of bronze ware and jade artifacts. [Photo by Will Wain-Williams/China Daily]

                Driving through Anyang's wide, dusty boulevards, you'd wonder why anybody would visit.

                Indeed, it seems like a backwater, a place of zero interest at first glance.

                After passing some large, official-looking buildings, the town in Henan province becomes crumbly and dilapidated.

                But this unassuming settlement is, in fact, home for the earliest-known Chinese civilization with systematic written characters-that is, the last capital of the Shang Dynasty (c. 16th century-11th century BC), the ancient city of Yin.

                Henan is slap-bang in the center of China, in the country's Central Plains.

                The Yinxu Museum in Anyang, Henan province, exhibits not only a huge oracle-bone collection but also such items as an impressive array of bronze ware and jade artifacts. [Photo by Will Wain-Williams/China Daily]

                Throughout Chinese history, control of this area meant control of the nation.

                It was the Shang Dynasty, however, that left the first records, the earliest-known Chinese writing, the oracle bones.

                They were discovered in the late 19th century when an antiques collector in Beijing received some "dragon bones" from a traditional pharmacist to cure an ailment he had.

                The collector, upon seeing the odd characters on the bones, suspected they may be an early form of writing rather than pieces of dragon skeleton.

                He was right.

                Archaeologists ended up digging up hundreds of them in Anyang, consequently discovering the Shang emperors' tombs.

                The Yinxu Museum in Anyang, Henan province, exhibits not only a huge oracle-bone collection but also such items as an impressive array of bronze ware and jade artifacts. [Photo by Will Wain-Williams/China Daily]

                The oracle-bone script consists of about 3,000 characters, only two-thirds of which have been deciphered.

                Most are pictographs. It seems they were initially used solely for the purposes of divination. The same script was later carved into bronze ware to record historical events.

                The people of the Shang were somewhat shamanic before what's now considered Chinese culture developed.

                They believed in a supreme deity, known as Shang Di, and the power of nature and their ancestors to protect or curse them.

                The oracle bones were often used to predict weather or the outcomes of such events as hunts or battles.

                The pictographs were etched on bones and turtle shells that were then burned. The cracks that appeared were interpreted as either ji (fortuitous) or xiong (ominous).

                The Yinxu Museum in Anyang, Henan province, exhibits not only a huge oracle-bone collection but also such items as an impressive array of bronze ware and jade artifacts. [Photo by Will Wain-Williams/China Daily]

                A museum displacing much of what has been unearthed from the tombs is attached to Yinxu, or the Ruins of Yin.

                It exhibits not only a huge oracle-bone collection but also an impressive array of bronze ware from around the country.

                Bronze work was already incredibly developed by the Shang Dynasty.

                The museum displays such items as ordinary cookware and large ceremonial urns with three legs sometimes used in rituals to venerate ancestors.

                They're not only big but also show a quality of craftsmanship and detail that suggests they were created by an advanced culture.

                Visitors can enter some Shang tombs. Of note is the final resting place of queen and general Fu Hao, the only discovered grave from the dynasty that hasn't fallen prey to theft.

                Archeologists discovered hundreds of jade and bronze artifacts, and the skeletons of several animal and human sacrifices inside.

                The bones of other human and animal offerings can be seen in a hall that shows several of the earliest chariots found in the country, interred with horses and drivers.

                Visiting Anyang, and particularly the Ruins of Yin, offers a fascinating look into the early stage of Chinese culture.

                The Shang Dynasty was the time when the basics of the Chinese civilization that has continued until today were forged-writing, philosophy, ancestor worship and fortunetelling.

                It offers a view into the country's past that helps visitors understand its present.


                Editor:赵汉青

                            
                            

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