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The Adunqiaolu relic site and tombs in Wenquan County, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Experts believe the site dates from 1,900-1,700bce and belongs to the Bronze Age
Image credit China Daily
Liu Xiangrui, writing in the China Daily, reports that –
Chinese cultural heritage authorities announced the 10 most important archaeological discoveries in 2012 on Tuesday, with the earliest dating back to the Paleolithic era. At the news conference, Yan Wenming, an archaeologist from Peking University, highlighted the Shimao Ruins in Shaanxi province, which is rich in relics.
Archaeologists discovered ruins of a three-layered knoll town, which consists of an elevated core, and inner and outer city walls. The 2.5-meter-wide, 5,700-meter-long inner wall, built mostly on hill ridges, is relatively well preserved. The city covers an area of more than 4 million square meters. Yan said the relic site is the largest town site known in China from the Longshan Period (2350-1950 BC) to Xia Dynasty (c.21st century-16th century BC). Jade pieces, pottery and painted patterns have been found at the site, with some colored patterns remaining on the city wall.

Clay head discovered in the Xishanpo Buddhist temple ruins of the Liao Dynasty’s Imperial City. The city was the capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region from 916-1125ce

Image credit China Daily

Full article here.

Cultural heritage site in China’s Henan Province destroyed
The Shanghai Daily reports on the 24 October that –
A developer in central China’s Henan Province is facing severe punishment after destroying a 4,000-year-old cultural heritage site for a construction project, ignoring warnings from local authorities, officials said yesterday.
1 meter deep ground level of the Longshan Cultural site of Shang and Zhou dynasties (c. 16th century-256 BC) in Zhengzhou City was damaged by bulldozers, said Xin Yingjun, director of the excavation department of the city’s cultural heritage bureau. Debris of ancient pottery jars, bowls and goblets have been found in the earth dug out by bulldozers and experts were evaluating the age of the cultural relics, Xin said.
…before construction was due to start, experts and officials with the bureau found a 93-meter-long, 26-meter-wide and 2.3-meter-deep cultural heritage site full of cultural relics and asked the developer to postpone the construction in September. “The developer agreed to wait until the end of the excavation work, but launched the digging during the National Day holiday early this month,” he added.
Zhengzhou is one of the eight Great Ancient Capitals of China. It was home to the capital of the Shang Dynasty (c. 16th century-11th century BC) and is full of cultural relics in the earth, officials said.
Full article here.
A guest feature by Littlestone.
Reporting in The Guardian on the 15 August last year, Mike Pitts writes that, “With its crumbling pillars and fading frescoes, the British Museum isn’t the first place you’d associate with Japanese graphic novels. So it’s a slight surprise to learn that the museum will soon publish its own manga-based book.”
It’s uncertain which crumbling pillars and fading frescoes Mike’s referring to as the structure of the Museum itself is sound and any light-sensitive objects are kept and exhibited in controlled environments. That aside, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the British Museum is associated with Japanese graphic novels (in this case with the publication of Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure). Japanese graphic novels (manga) have been around for nearly 140 years, but their origins (outlined in Part I of this series) stretch back some two millennia in the form of handscrolls and, since the beginning of the 17th century, in the form of woodblock prints of the Ukiyo-e tradition. The British Museum’s collection of Japanese prints is world famous, but perhaps less famous is its collection of Chinese prints – ranging from early Buddhist texts to Communist revolutionary posters, and later still of prints by modern Chinese artists. With this in mind it’s again to the Chinese pictorial tradition that we look for more recent links to the phenomena of manga, cartoons and graphic novels.
Walk into any craft or artist materials shop today and you’ll be confronted with at least half a dozen ‘How to Draw Manga’ books. Before how to draw manga there were books on how to draw cartoons, but long before either of those there was the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (Jieziyuan Huazhuan  芥子園畫傳). The manual was first published in Jinling between 1679-1701 and became a well-known teaching aid for painters throughout the Far East
How to draw figures from the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting. Author’s collection
Chinese calligraphy and ink painting are very closely linked; the same brushes, ink and paper (or silk) are used, and the same surety of execution is required for both. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a good calligrapher will also be a good painter (though not necessarily a good artist) as they are working within the same graphic tradition. The ink painting below is an outstanding example of an ancient graphic art tradition brought to fruition in the hands of a consummate artist, and it’s that same tradition that gave birth to the art of manga in Japan.
Woman with a saké cup. Attributed to Hokusai. Private collection
Hokusai was only five years old when William Stukeley died in 1765. Many readers here will be familiar with Stukeley’s accurate illustrations of Avebury and its surrounding area, so what to make of his 1759 sketch below – surely slightly tongue-in-cheek but if not definitely winning first prize in the oldest megalithic cartoon category!
The Druid Sacrifice of Yule-Tide by William Stukeley (inset). Note Avebury and Silbury in the background
Putting aside the strict definition of the word cartoon (ie a draft for a painting) and focusing on Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, we have in the cartoon, “…a piece of art, usually humorous in intent. This usage dates from 1843 when Punch magazine applied the term to satirical drawings in its pages, particularly sketches by John Leech. The first of these parodied the preparatory cartoons for grand historical frescoes in the then-new Palace of Westminster. The original title for these drawings was Mr Punch’s face is the letter Q and the new title “cartoon” was intended to be ironic, a reference to the self-aggrandizing posturing of Westminster politicians.”*
In Part I of this series we featured an 1879 cartoon from Punch of Stonehenge by Edward Tennyson Reed. Japan’s first manga magazine, the Eshinbun Nipponchi, appeared in 1874. The Eshinbun Nipponchi was heavily influenced by Japan Punch, founded in 1862 by the British cartoonist Charles Wirgman. In other words, it seems there might have been a cross fertilization of Japanese/Far Eastern graphic art traditions and Western satirical cartoons at play during this period, leading eventually to the Western cartoon and Japanese manga traditions we’re familiar with today. That cross fertilization is still at play. The British Archaeology magazine usually has a cartoon in each of its editions and, bringing the megalithic cartoon phenomenon up-to-date, this brilliant cartoon by Bill Brown in a Guardian Money supplement illustrates the on-going creativity of the manga tradition and the role that megaliths continue to play in it.
Illustration by Bill Brown
Links and further reading.
The Tao of Painting – A study of the ritual disposition of Chinese painting by Mai-mai Sze. This is an English translation of the Jieziyuan Huazhuan (Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting). Bollingen Foundation, Series XLIX. Princeton University Press, New York, 1956.
Conservators at work in the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang, north-west China
Katie Hunt writing for CNN reports that –
The Mogao Grottoes complex in remote Gansu province in northwestern China may see visitor numbers limited next year as tourism takes its toll on the 1,000-year-old Buddhist frescos. The challenge for the local authorities in Kaiping, and at China’s other heritage sites, is how to manage tourists visits so that they bring maximum economic benefit without harming the heritage sites and those who live nearby.
One radical solution is to limit visitor numbers. For example, from next year the Mogao Grottoes in remote Northwestern China plans to allow 6,000 visitors per day, down from up to 11,000 at present, says Agnew at the Getty Conservation Institute.
More here.
The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China
The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge is hosting an exhibition entitled The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China from the 5 May to the 11 November 2012.
Featuring over 350 treasures in jade, gold, silver, bronze and earthenware, The Search for Immortality takes you into the 2000 year-old tombs of Han Dynasty China, revealing an epic story of lust for power both in life and death.
The Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 220) founded unified rule in China but to maintain their vast territory they endured constant struggles for supremacy, both within the empire and from without. In a world first, see the tomb finds of two rival power factions: the Han royal family and the Kingdom of Nanyue in southern China.
Both seeking control of the southern lands, their rivalry continued to the afterlife in tomb palaces of incredible wealth.  See the treasures that proclaimed their power and discover how they aspired to eternal life.
A part of the London 2012 Festival, this is one of the most important exhibitions of ancient royal treasures ever to travel outside China.
More here.

The Beijing Palace-City Scroll (北京宫城图). National Museum of China, Beijing. Ming Dynasty (circa 15th century) depicting figures including the City’s chief architects. Source Wikipedia

Loughborough University, England, reports that –

Loughborough University designers will be using the latest 3D digital technologies to help restore ancient artefacts from the Palace Museum in Beijing. The museum, also known as the Forbidden City, is currently undertaking major renovation work funded by the Chinese Government. This is a huge project that involves thousands of individual historic relics. Using conventional methods, the objects need to be measured, photographed and repaired using manual techniques – an extremely time-consuming and expensive task. However recent research at Loughborough Design School aims to speed up the project, saving time and money.

More here.

A guest feature by Littlestone.
The Six Persimmons by Mu Ch’i. Chinese, 13th century
I was struck by The Sarsen Slumberer’s words below when he/she reminds us that –
The material remains of our past are finite and sacrosanct; by denying them the respect they deserve we at once relegate them to whatever is fashionable at the moment whilst denying future generations their cultural heritage.
Though perhaps somewhat outside The Heritage Trust’s remit, I was reminded this morning of the selfless act of a  Buddhist monk who allegedly gave up his life to save a precious Chinese painting – an act that stands in stark contrast to those who would destroy our heritage for fleeting fame or ideology
Browsing through some of my old art books this morning I pulled out one of my favourites – Chinese Painting by Peter C. Swann. I picked up the book in Oxford during the early 60s while still an art student at Swindon School of Arts and Crafts. The book, and particularly the cover painting, had a profound effect on me as a young man – life-changing you might even say. The book’s cover shows a painting (above) by Mu Ch’i, an early 13th century artist and Ch’an (Zen) practitioner. Measuring only 38cm x 36cm, the painting depicts six persimmons, simply but masterfully executed in ink on paper. The painting (in hanging scroll format) is now housed in Ryoko-in, one of the sub-temples of the Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto.
I was so struck by this painting, and with a growing interest in Zen Buddhism, that I decided to go to Japan to see the scroll for myself (the faith and innocence of the young!). It took me some two and a half years to raise the money for the trip, get a place at Kyoto University of Fine Arts and organise a visa. But in the end I did find myself knocking on the gate of the Ryoko-in temple one autumn morning in 1966 and asking if I could see the painting – only to be told by an incredulous looking monk to go away as the painting was hardly ever put on display and never shown to passing strangers.
After waiting so long and coming so far I was naturally disappointed – muttering to myself that a painting as famous as Mu Ch’i’s Six Persimmons should be on permanent display somewhere. Only later did I learn that displaying Far Eastern works of pictorial art on a permanent basis is not a very good idea from a conservation point of view.* More importantly, the Six Persimmons painting is revered so highly that having it on permanent display would in some way devalue its importance. There’s even a story that the Ryoko-in temple once burned down and the painting was only saved from the flames by the dedication of a monk who cut open his belly and thrust the scroll inside for safekeeping – the stains in the right half of the painting are said to come from his act of selfless devotion – a far cry from the pottery-smashing antics of Ai WeiWei, the religious bigotry of the Taliban or of any group or individual that wantonly destroys our common heritage for their own narrow and self-serving agendas.
Amitāyus (Buddha of Eternal Life). Chinese, Honan Province
This delicate Buddha statuette (approximately 11cm high x 7cm wide and 2.5cm thick) is moulded from loess and painted with gold, azurite, malachite and other mineral pigments. Possibly once formed part of a travelling shrine.
Sir Aurel Stein
An  extraordinary individual who advanced human knowledge on many fronts, Sir Aurel Stein (1862-1943) pursued dramatic adventures with scientific purpose. Trained as an orientalists, Stein exerted a decisive influence on a wide spectrum of scholarly disciplines. His investigations touched on the neolithic to medieval periods and spanned the area from the Persian Gulf to the pacific watershed.

Sir Aurel Stein was one of a small, scholarly band of pioneers who expanded knowledge to include the European landmass and the interactions between each of its four high civilizations: the Mediterranean West, the Indian, the Iranian and the Chinese. Central Asia, the region with which Stein’s name is most notably associated, was a crossroads between East and West for commerce, and culture, religion, arts and peoples. Stein rediscovered the ancient Silk Route between China and the West and unearthed dozens of sites long buried in the sands of Central Asia. His recovery of the library at Tung-Huang (the Cave of the Thousand Buddhas) [see The International Dunhuang Project below] is comparable to that of the Dead Sea scrolls: and his excavations in Turfan, Nija, Miran, and other places provided important materials for the studies of Buddhism, for linguistics, for Han and T’ang history, law and administration, popular literature, painting, sculpture, and many other disciplines.
Source: Jacket introduction to Jeannette Mirsky’s Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Jacket cover to Jeannette Mirsky’s Sir Aurel Stein
Two passports used by Sir Aurel Stein and the banner given his caravan to identify and safeguard it on its way from Turfan to Kashgar in 1915
Image credit James Ballard

The Diamond Sutra from The International Dunhuang Project Newsletter Issue 38

The International Dunhuang Project (IDP) The Silk Road Online, is a ground-breaking international collaboration to make information and images of all manuscripts, paintings, textiles and artefacts from Dunhuang (敦煌) and archaeological sites of the Eastern Silk Road freely available on the Internet and to encourage their use through educational and research programmes.

Boddhisattva, Guide of Souls. Tang Dynasty, late 9th century
The British Museum


Little was known of the remarkable heritage of the Silk Road until explorers and archaeologists of the early twentieth century uncovered the ruins of ancient cities in the desert sands, revealing astonishing sculptures, murals and manuscripts. One of the most notable discoveries was the Buddhist cave library near the oasis town of Dunhuang on the edge of the Gobi desert in western China. The cave had been sealed and hidden at the end of the first millennium AD and only re-discovered in 1900. Forty thousand manuscripts, paintings and printed documents on paper and silk were found in the cave itself. Tens of thousands more items were excavated from other Silk Road archaeological sites. These unique items have fascinating stories to tell of life on this great trade route from 100 BC to AD 1400. Yet most were dispersed to institutions worldwide in the early 1900s, making access difficult.



Suggested reading:

Inoue, Jasushi, Tun-huang: A Novel. Tokyo, New York and San Francisco: Kodansha International Ltd, 1978.
Mirsky, Jeannette, Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Whitfield, Roderick, The Art of Central Asia: The Stein Collection in the British Museum. Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd, 1982-5.


The Colchester and Ipswich Museums website reports that it will –
…showcase seventy of the treasures in Nanjing Museum (南京博物院) the second largest museum in China. It will explore the rise of Imperial China from the earliest Stone Age tombs to the time of the last Emperor and take us on a journey across 8000 years of Chinese history. Stunning objects include a 2000 year old, life size jade suit from the tombs of the Han Dynasty rulers, an exquisite gold cicada sitting on a jade leaf worn by a Ming Princess nearly 600 years ago and the luxury items and ornaments that adorned the palace of the last of the Imperial families as the tumult of the twentieth century changed China for ever. Alongside this rich history will be a celebration of Chinese crafts and the enduring appeal of animals in Chinese culture. A delicate jade mouse will join an 8000 year old pottery pig and three wise monkeys immortalised on a lacquer plate amongst a host of other creatures who will delight and fascinate family audiences.
Venue: Colchester Castle Museum from 30 June 2012 – 7 January 2013. More here.


September 2021
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