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Calligraphy of Tang Master Yan Zhenqing Unearthed in Ancient Tomb

Calligraphy of Tang Master Yan Zhenqing Unearthed in Ancient Tomb


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Following the Sui dynasty, the Tang dynasty, or Tang Empire, was an imperial dynasty that ruled China from 618 to 907 AD, and was followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. Now, archeologists in China have announced the rare discovery of works from an “iconic calligraphy master of the Tang Dynasty” in a hitherto unexplored tomb unearthed in the Xixian New Area.

According to an article in China Daily , the calligraphy was written by Yan Zhenqing, a military general, politician and the chief calligrapher and a loyal governor of the Tang Dynasty. This was all derived from the ancient inscriptions that were discovered on a stone stele in the shadows of the time world death chamber. Measuring 35.8 meters (117.45 ft.) long by 9.5 meters (31.16 ft.) deep, over 100 other relics were discovered in the tombs including coins, jars and figurines, but the ancient calligraphy shadowed all other finds.

The iconic calligraphy by Yan Zhenqing was found on a tombstone within the ancient tomb of Yuan Daqian and his wife Luo Wanshun in China’s Shaanxi Province. ( Xinhua)

The Noble Woman with a Private Calligrapher

The epitaph inscribed with Yan's calligraphy belongs to a noble woman named Luo Wanshun who died in 746 AD, according to the epitaph. She was the wife of Yuan Daqian, a 7th-generation grandson of a prince of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) and a military commander. A report for Archeology News Network quotes Xu Weihong, a researcher with the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology , as saying that since June “over 100 tombs” have been discovered from both the Han (202 BC to 220 AD) and Tang dynasties . All of these discoveries have been made in an area reserved for the upcoming construction of government buildings.

  • The Tang Dynasty: The Arts Flourished, Family Ties Broke, and a Concubine Became Empress
  • World’s oldest times table found on ancient Chinese bamboo strips
  • The Legendary Origins of the Chinese Language

The epitaph written in the distinctive calligraphy of Yan Zhenqing, a famous Tang master calligrapher, has been discovered in an ancient tomb in China. Source: Li Yangbo / Wenhui

According to Xu Weihong, the ancient writing is consistent with the timeline of Yan's life as it has been recorded in historic archives. The discovery of these priceless artifacts, dating from the dawn of creative writing in the east, means researchers will now gain a much more intimate understanding of this calligraphy master and his work. Putting the calligraphy into historical context, Xu refers to historical recordings that demonstrate how Yan became a local official of ancient Xi’an and was put in charge of public security in 746 AD. The researcher goes on to explain that the fact Yan was invited to decorate the tomb with the carved epitaph demonstrates the woman's high social status.

These are the tombstones which have been excavated from the ancient tomb and which bear the calligraphy of Yan Zhenqing. ( Xinhua)

A Talented, “Loyal and Brave” Ancient Calligrapher

Historians know Yan was a dynamic politician and skilled military general renowned for his unflagging loyalty and bravery during the social upheaval of the Shi Rebellion, which took place from 755 to 763 AD.

Yan inspired people to fight against the rebels and he later became a minister-level official, but was killed soon after receiving this accolade during another rebellion after refusing to surrender. It was in the aftermath of these turbulent times that the mighty Tang Dynasty would lose its widespread power and ultimately collapse.

Chen Genyuan, a researcher with the Xi'an Beilin Museum, has said that as far as Chinese calligraphy is concerned, Yan was “the top master following Wang Xizhi,” referring to the 4th-century artistic genius of which no works are known. What’s more, Xu concluded that the discovery of the calligraphy also “enriches our knowledge of nobles' graves around Chang'an and provides new information on the Tang royals' literary work.” An example of this is that the epitaphs show Yuan's family had close connections with royals, and that one family member was an in-law of Li Longji-Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty.

Genyuan added that Yan's newly unearthed works depict an “elegance that will provide a crucial reference to see his evolving calligraphic styles.” Researchers will now be able to figure out “how” his arts reached their peak during the later years of his life, when it became famed for its “grand aura and strength.”


Russian Divers Discover Ancient Roman Sea Fortress at Tartus

Dmitry Tatarkov, director of the Institute of Social Sciences and International Relations, recently told Almasdar News that Russian scientists from Sevastopol State University have made a series of remarkable discoveries off the coast of the Syrian coast at Tartus. Not only have they found three ancient naval structures, but a full blown ancient port and a Roman sea fortress that were previously “unknown to science.”

Ṭarṭūs, or Tartus, is a city located in the County of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast of Syria representing the country’s second largest city port city after Latakia. The port currently holds a small Russian naval facility and it has a long history of military usage. According to UNESCO, Tartus, which was called Tortosa by the crusaders, is regarded as an exceptional and representative model of the Syrian-Palestinian medieval town occupied by crusaders over two centuries.

Underwater divers have discovered naval structures, an ancient port and a Roman sea fortress off the coast of Syria at Tartus. ( Sevastopol State University )


A variety of treasures

TV show, with celebrities, drama and comedy, highlights significant relics from China's rich history, Wang Kaihao reports.

Variety and reality shows have captured increasing audience numbers recently, and the appeal of cultural heritage program is growing among those watching either on TV or through online streaming media platforms.

A long list of celebrities, not previously known for their views on culture, have participated in these shows, ushering audiences to take a closer look at the breathtaking beauty of highlighted relics or the exquisite details found in ancient architecture.

The rise of this new genre of Chinese TV may be largely credited to The Nation's Greatest Treasures, a China Central Television variety show that premiered in 2017. Before its first season, many people-not only academics and museum administrators, but also its own producers-harbored doubts about its success.

Hardly surprising considering that when plans for the program were initially drafted the response from some museum directors when contacted by phone by the show's production team was barely masked incredulity. Those that took up the offer were often met with quizzical interrogation from their peers along the lines of: "Is this true? You really want to go on the show?"

With no previous reference against which to measure its appeal, or lack thereof, it was natural for experts to worry that history would be distorted again by an entertainment program.

However, the trial broadcast turned out to be hugely successful. On popular film and TV review platform Douban, that first season garnered a score of 9.1 points out of 10.The second season, in 2018, was even more popular-it posted 9.2 points.

Now, a new, third season is airing. After its premiere in December, it achieved a 9.5-point score on Douban, making it one of the highest-rated Chinese variety shows on the website.

"We were facing pressure from audiences to make the third season," Yu Lei, chief director of the program, says. "We were wondering whether to keep going with the existing format, or try to create something new."

The existing format was a tried and tested formula that proved successful. It was simple. Three key collections from one museum were highlighted in each episode. One focused on the Palace Museum in Beijing and the others on eight provincial-level museums. Each piece of cultural treasure was introduced by celebrities through short historical stage dramas or comedies, after which its background information was supplied by experts or those currently studying or safeguarding it.

But, the extraordinary events of 2020 has helped Yu obtain a wider perspective for the current season.

She thought the show could embody both the glory and the hardship that has been faced by the country and humanity. She explains: "When we look back at our history, we are actually thinking about where we are headed in the future. That also reminds us what we need to cherish in terms of our heritage."

Therefore, the team decided to expand the horizon of the program, she says.

A new start

In the third season, the Palace Museum, the former Chinese imperial palace often described as the Forbidden City, which celebrated its 600th anniversary last year, remains as a focus, but its "treasures" turn out to be larger. The Meridian Gate, for example, at the southern entrance to the imperial city, was chosen as one of the three treasures to show off its architectural splendor.

Moreover, the other eight sites in the third season, like the Forbidden City, are not just museums, but have all witnessed key events in the development of Chinese civilization.

They are the 3,300-year-old Yinxu Ruins in Henan province, where the earliest-known Chinese written characters were excavated the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu province, a group of Buddhist grottoes ranging from the fourth to 14th centuries the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the Tibet autonomous region the Classical Gardens of Suzhou, Jiangsu province the 2,500-year-old Temple and Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion in Qufu, Shandong province as well as the Sanxingdui Site in Guanghan, Sichuan province, which is testament to bronze-age civilization dating back to 3,200 years ago.

Also appearing in the show are the home of the Terracotta Warriors-the 2,200-year-old mausoleum of Emperor Qinshihuang, the first emperor of China-and Xi'an Beilin Museum, where over 10,000 precious stone carvings are housed, including steles, epigraphs and other engraved calligraphy, both in Xi'an, Shaanxi province.

"People love Dunhuang, and they love the Terracotta Warriors," Yu says. "But speaking of their deeper cultural meaning, the general public's understanding may be less informed, and our show explains the bigger picture by presenting the details in an approachable way."

Some lesser-known pieces have been introduced to the public by familiar faces. For example, a bronze crane, covered by verdigris, from Qinshihuang's mausoleum may not be that famous compared with the world-renowned terracotta figures. However, in a stage drama produced and performed for the program, actor Fu Dalong vividly unveils a ruler's romantic and ambitious expectation for his empire through stories decoded by archaeologists and historians that are linked to the bronze crane. The actor found wide popularity in a TV drama in 2017, titled The Qin Empire, starring as one of Qinshihuang's predecessors.

Meanwhile, archaeologist Zhang Weixing, a "modern guardian" of the artifact, also shows how it is scrutinized and studied in a lab using state-of-the-art technology.

Even what might be considered mundane has the power to fascinate. A millennium-old drinks bill from Dunhuang, Gansu province, has been returned after an elaborate journey. Initially taken abroad from Dunhuang around 1900, it came back to China via a Japanese collector. Its tale is presented by actress Ning Chang with an insight that is absorbing.

The static relics can unroll a dynamic and grandiose picture of Chinese history, Yu says. For example, the bronze ritual items residing in Confucius' hometown represent Chinese people's connection with ceremonies throughout history.

A portrait of Princess Wencheng hanging in Potala Palace shows how harmonious relationships between different ethnic groups were cherished.

Yu says that the team carries out extensive research. "When we make a show about one cultural relic, it's like writing for a master's degree," she says.

Cultural dialogue

The production team realizes that, to visualize a historical scene, accuracy is paramount. Clothing, articles of daily use and stage settings have to comply with the period represented. According to Chen Shiyu, the show's costume consultant, each piece of clothing has to be confirmed in triplicate: ancient documents, paintings and cultural relics.

"In design," Chen says, "we cannot take anything for granted." The audience, Chen adds, rightly demands authenticity.

For such a show, purely academic accuracy is insufficient for the viewer to get emotionally involved. Such a reaction depends on stories.

Compared with ancient tales behind the relics, which are often connected with famous historical figures, director Yu says it is more challenging to find modern heroes with destinies that are inseparable from these artifacts. But once found, their stories will inspire.

Some such heroes have left their mark and the program shows just what they have done. Take fresco restorer Li Yunhe, for example. For over half a century, he, along with his son and grandson, like a relay team, have passed the cultural baton to each new generation to continue the restoration of Dunhuang's precious heritage.

Another such exemplar is Zhao Zhen, a photographer that focuses on the Terracotta Warriors, who could barely conceal his excitement when recalling his discovery of a fingerprint left by an artisan on the body of one of the warriors about 2,000 years ago. Zhao said he had "a dialogue" with the ancient sculptor that spanned the expanse of time.

And some unexpected dialogue between the show and new archaeological findings brings even more surprises.

While a stele in the Xi'an Beilin Museum is chosen to showcase Tang Dynasty (618-907) calligraphy master Yan Zhenqing's patriotism, a woman's epigraphy, which is a rare example of Yan's early-stage works, was unearthed in Xi'an in November.

"The coincidence provides more attention for our museum," says Zhang Yun, deputy director of Xi'an Beilin Museum. "We used to promote our stone relics in traditional ways because we thought it was a serious topic. However, the creative thinking brought by the show's film crew has reminded us that more diverse cultural expression is needed."

"For museums, participating in such programs means extra work, but it's worthwhile if we want to have greater influence," she adds.

For the show's production team, expanding the influence of "Chinese treasures" is an ongoing journey. According to Yu, the previous two seasons of the show have been, or are in the process of being, translated into eight languages to be broadcast both at home and abroad. Cooperating with the BBC, the show was also adapted into a six-episode derivative documentary China's Greatest Treasures in 2019.

In spite of the achievement, Yu humbly says that the original goal of the show was only to make museums popular and encourage more people to visit them.

"We are not afraid that similar shows may come, and it's great to see them help spread our fine traditional culture," she says. "We just need to keep our own skills honed and constantly evolve."

Contact the writer at [email protected]

Three generations of fresco restorers within one family-Li Yunhe (second from left), his son (second from right), and his grandson (first from left)-who are devoted to prolonging the life of the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu province, attend the new season of the variety show, The Nation's Greatest Treasures. CHINA DAILY

From top: The new season of The Nation's Greatest Treasures features 27 key relics, including the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu province the Meridian Gate of the Forbidden City in Beijing and a bronze crane unearthed from Qinshihuang's mausoleum in Shaanxi province. Actor Xu Huanshan (right) plays Tang Dynasty (618-907) calligraphy guru Yan Zhenqing in a short stage drama on the show. CHINA DAILY


.

The new season of The Nation's Greatest Treasures features 27 key relics, including the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu province. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Variety and reality shows have captured increasing audience numbers recently, and the appeal of cultural heritage program is growing among those watching either on TV or through online streaming media platforms.

A long list of celebrities, not previously known for their views on culture, have participated in these shows, ushering audiences to take a closer look at the breathtaking beauty of highlighted relics or the exquisite details found in ancient architecture.

We used to promote our stone relics in traditional ways. However, the creative thinking brought by the show’s film crew has reminded us that more diverse cultural expression is needed

Zhang Yun , deputy director of Xi’an Beilin Museum

The rise of this new genre of Chinese TV may be largely credited to The Nation's Greatest Treasures, a China Central Television variety show that premiered in 2017. Before its first season, many people-not only academics and museum administrators, but also its own producers-harbored doubts about its success.

Hardly surprising considering that when plans for the program were initially drafted the response from some museum directors when contacted by phone by the show's production team was barely masked incredulity. Those that took up the offer were often met with quizzical interrogation from their peers along the lines of: "Is this true? You really want to go on the show?"

With no previous reference against which to measure its appeal, or lack thereof, it was natural for experts to worry that history would be distorted again by an entertainment program.

However, the trial broadcast turned out to be hugely successful. On popular film and TV review platform Douban, that first season garnered a score of 9.1 points out of 10.The second season, in 2018, was even more popular-it posted 9.2 points.

Now, a new, third season is airing. After its premiere in December, it achieved a 9.5-point score on Douban, making it one of the highest-rated Chinese variety shows on the website.

Three generations of fresco restorers within one family-Li Yunhe (second from left), his son (second from right), and his grandson (first from left)-who are devoted to prolonging the life of the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu province, attend the new season of the variety show, The Nation's Greatest Treasures. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

"We were facing pressure from audiences to make the third season," Yu Lei, chief director of the program, says. "We were wondering whether to keep going with the existing format, or try to create something new."

The existing format was a tried and tested formula that proved successful. It was simple. Three key collections from one museum were highlighted in each episode. One focused on the Palace Museum in Beijing and the others on eight provincial-level museums. Each piece of cultural treasure was introduced by celebrities through short historical stage dramas or comedies, after which its background information was supplied by experts or those currently studying or safeguarding it.

But, the extraordinary events of 2020 has helped Yu obtain a wider perspective for the current season.

She thought the show could embody both the glory and the hardship that has been faced by the country and humanity. She explains: "When we look back at our history, we are actually thinking about where we are headed in the future. That also reminds us what we need to cherish in terms of our heritage."

Therefore, the team decided to expand the horizon of the program, she says.

The new season of The Nation's Greatest Treasures features 27 key relics, including a bronze crane unearthed from Qinshihuang's mausoleum in Shaanxi province. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

A new start

In the third season, the Palace Museum, the former Chinese imperial palace often described as the Forbidden City, which celebrated its 600th anniversary last year, remains as a focus, but its "treasures" turn out to be larger. The Meridian Gate, for example, at the southern entrance to the imperial city, was chosen as one of the three treasures to show off its architectural splendor.

Moreover, the other eight sites in the third season, like the Forbidden City, are not just museums, but have all witnessed key events in the development of Chinese civilization.

They are the 3,300-year-old Yinxu Ruins in Henan province, where the earliest-known Chinese written characters were excavated the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu province, a group of Buddhist grottoes ranging from the fourth to 14th centuries the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the Tibet autonomous region the Classical Gardens of Suzhou, Jiangsu province the 2,500-year-old Temple and Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion in Qufu, Shandong province as well as the Sanxingdui Site in Guanghan, Sichuan province, which is testament to bronze-age civilization dating back to 3,200 years ago.

Also appearing in the show are the home of the Terracotta Warriors-the 2,200-year-old mausoleum of Emperor Qinshihuang, the first emperor of China-and Xi'an Beilin Museum, where over 10,000 precious stone carvings are housed, including steles, epigraphs and other engraved calligraphy, both in Xi'an, Shaanxi province.

"People love Dunhuang, and they love the Terracotta Warriors," Yu says. "But speaking of their deeper cultural meaning, the general public's understanding may be less informed, and our show explains the bigger picture by presenting the details in an approachable way."

Actor Xu Huanshan (right) plays Tang Dynasty (618-907) calligraphy guru Yan Zhenqing in a short stage drama on the show. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Some lesser-known pieces have been introduced to the public by familiar faces. For example, a bronze crane, covered by verdigris, from Qinshihuang's mausoleum may not be that famous compared with the world-renowned terracotta figures. However, in a stage drama produced and performed for the program, actor Fu Dalong vividly unveils a ruler's romantic and ambitious expectation for his empire through stories decoded by archaeologists and historians that are linked to the bronze crane. The actor found wide popularity in a TV drama in 2017, titled The Qin Empire, starring as one of Qinshihuang's predecessors.

Meanwhile, archaeologist Zhang Weixing, a "modern guardian" of the artifact, also shows how it is scrutinized and studied in a lab using state-of-the-art technology.

Even what might be considered mundane has the power to fascinate. A millennium-old drinks bill from Dunhuang, Gansu province, has been returned after an elaborate journey. Initially taken abroad from Dunhuang around 1900, it came back to China via a Japanese collector. Its tale is presented by actress Ning Chang with an insight that is absorbing.

The static relics can unroll a dynamic and grandiose picture of Chinese history, Yu says. For example, the bronze ritual items residing in Confucius' hometown represent Chinese people's connection with ceremonies throughout history.

A portrait of Princess Wencheng hanging in Potala Palace shows how harmonious relationships between different ethnic groups were cherished.

Yu says that the team carries out extensive research. "When we make a show about one cultural relic, it's like writing for a master's degree," she says.

The new season of The Nation's Greatest Treasures features 27 key relics, including the Meridian Gate of the Forbidden City in Beijing. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Cultural dialogue

The production team realizes that, to visualize a historical scene, accuracy is paramount. Clothing, articles of daily use and stage settings have to comply with the period represented. According to Chen Shiyu, the show's costume consultant, each piece of clothing has to be confirmed in triplicate: ancient documents, paintings and cultural relics.

"In design," Chen says, "we cannot take anything for granted." The audience, Chen adds, rightly demands authenticity.

For such a show, purely academic accuracy is insufficient for the viewer to get emotionally involved. Such a reaction depends on stories.

Compared with ancient tales behind the relics, which are often connected with famous historical figures, director Yu says it is more challenging to find modern heroes with destinies that are inseparable from these artifacts. But once found, their stories will inspire.

Some such heroes have left their mark and the program shows just what they have done. Take fresco restorer Li Yunhe, for example. For over half a century, he, along with his son and grandson, like a relay team, have passed the cultural baton to each new generation to continue the restoration of Dunhuang's precious heritage.

Another such exemplar is Zhao Zhen, a photographer that focuses on the Terracotta Warriors, who could barely conceal his excitement when recalling his discovery of a fingerprint left by an artisan on the body of one of the warriors about 2,000 years ago. Zhao said he had "a dialogue" with the ancient sculptor that spanned the expanse of time.

And some unexpected dialogue between the show and new archaeological findings brings even more surprises.

While a stele in the Xi'an Beilin Museum is chosen to showcase Tang Dynasty (618-907) calligraphy master Yan Zhenqing's patriotism, a woman's epigraphy, which is a rare example of Yan's early-stage works, was unearthed in Xi'an in November.

"The coincidence provides more attention for our museum," says Zhang Yun, deputy director of Xi'an Beilin Museum. "We used to promote our stone relics in traditional ways because we thought it was a serious topic. However, the creative thinking brought by the show's film crew has reminded us that more diverse cultural expression is needed."

"For museums, participating in such programs means extra work, but it's worthwhile if we want to have greater influence," she adds.

For the show's production team, expanding the influence of "Chinese treasures" is an ongoing journey. According to Yu, the previous two seasons of the show have been, or are in the process of being, translated into eight languages to be broadcast both at home and abroad. Cooperating with the BBC, the show was also adapted into a six-episode derivative documentary China's Greatest Treasures in 2019.

In spite of the achievement, Yu humbly says that the original goal of the show was only to make museums popular and encourage more people to visit them.

"We are not afraid that similar shows may come, and it's great to see them help spread our fine traditional culture," she says. "We just need to keep our own skills honed and constantly evolve."


Itching to stop mosquitoes?

From improvements to insecticides to understanding mosquito senses and even releasing genetically modified populations to cause the collapse of wild populations, the quest to conquer mosquitoes is a never-ending fight.

These efforts are all in the name of reducing the dangerous diseases mosquitoes transmit – including dengue, Zika virus and malaria.

Earlier this year, we introduced you to Mozzie Monitors, a citizen science project that aims to increase the public awareness and knowledge of mosquitoes while also increasing mosquito surveillance in Australia.

Since then, project participation levels have grown rapidly, producing some interesting results from reports throughout South Australia and northern Western Australia.

“So far we’ve collected more than 15 different species of mosquitoes in our program – a similar diversity to that collected by ‘professional’ surveillance programs,” says project lead Craig Williams, from the University of South Australia. “We’ve also found that mosquitoes are active right through winter.”

Using the data, the project has identified that for females, the most common mosquito species in South Australia is Aedes notoscriptus, which is known to transmit Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses.

The project is still using two different approaches: trap-based and app-based.

Craig Williams with a mosquito trap.
Credit: The University of South Australia.

Trap-based sees participants capture mosquitoes in a plastic trap at home. Every couple of weeks tip the trapped mosquitoes out onto a card specifically designed by UniSA to make imaging the insect easier. Then, after taking a photo of the insects, participants are asked to email the images to researchers. From there, one of the entomologists counts and identifies the collected species.

The app-based route sees participants simply log any images of mosquitoes they see online at the iNaturalist website.

This data can tell the researchers about the abundance of disease-vector mozzies in urban areas and also help manage risk and guide control efforts.

“Mosquitoes really are of great public health importance,” Williams stresses. “Not only do they threaten the backyard BBQ with their nuisance biting, but they transmit disease.”

According to Williams, in Australia those diseases are mainly Ross River virus and Barmah Forest Virus, with cases of dengue fever in Queensland. However, with the information collected researchers can also potentially detect exotic invasive species.

“Some of the exotic mosquito species we’re aiming to better track are capable of spreading diseases such as dengue and Zika,” says Williams.

The added benefit, of course, is that the mosquitoes are attracted to the trap which means hopefully a few less mozzie bites while you’re enjoying your summer BBQ!

Next, Mozzie Monitors is looking at expanding through the launch early next year of a program called Mozzie Month. The program extends Mozzie Monitors’ reach to Brisbane, the Torres Strait islands, Sydney and Darwin.

“This will run for six weeks in February and March,” Williams explains. “We are trialling a short program with the hope that we might run something like this each year as a ‘snapshot’ of Australian mosquitoes.”

To register interest in Mozzie Month, or to check out how you can get involved, head to the Mozzie Monitors website.


Contents

It is not known when the game of Liubo originated, although according to legend it was invented by Wu Cao (烏曹, called Wu Zhou 烏胄 in the early 2nd century CE Shuowen Jiezi dictionary), a minister to King Jie, the last king of the Xia dynasty, who according to traditional chronology reigned 1728–1675 BCE. [1] While there is no archeological or reliable documentary evidence to support the view that Liubo dates back to the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BCE), early Chinese records do indicate that Liubo was already a popular game by the Warring States period (476–221 BCE). For example, the Records of the Grand Historian records a speech made during the reign of King Xuan of Qi (reigned 319–301 BCE) that claims that the capital city of Linzi was so wealthy that its citizens were all able to indulge in activities such as playing musical instruments, cockfighting, dog racing, playing Liubo and playing kick ball. [2]

The game of Liubo is also described in the mid 3rd century BCE poem "Summons of the Soul" ("Zhao Hun" 招魂) in the Songs of Chu:

Then with bamboo dice and ivory pieces the game of Liu Bo is begun
Sides are taken they advance together keenly they threaten each other.
Pieces are kinged and the scoring doubled. Shouts of ‘five white!’ arise. [3]

The earliest Liubo boards to have been discovered are a pair of ornately decorated stone boards from a 4th-century BCE tomb in the royal tomb complex of the State of Zhongshan at Pingshan in Hebei. [4]

The game reached its greatest popularity during the Han dynasty, as is evidenced by the discovery of many examples of Liubo boards or sets of Liubo game pieces as grave goods in high status tombs dating to the Han dynasty. Pottery or wooden figurines of players with model Liubo boards have also been discovered in some Han tombs. [5] [6] Engraved picture stones (畫像石) and moulded picture bricks (畫像磚) that were widely used to decorate tombs and temples during the Eastern Han period (25–220 CE) also frequently depict people playing Liubo, sometimes as a small part of a complex scene depicting many different activities, but sometimes as the focal point of the scene, with the players attended by servants and playing in the cool of a pavilion. Some picture stones and engravings on stone coffins, especially those from the area of modern Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, show two winged immortals playing Liubo on a mountain, usually as part of a larger scene depicting the Queen Mother of the West and various mythical animals.

After the end of the Han dynasty the game seems to have lost its popularity, and there are no known examples of Liubo funerary ware or depictions of Liubo playing later than the Jin Dynasty (266–420). Although the game is still occasionally referred to in some historical sources and in poetry as late as the Tang Dynasty (618–907), it seems that Liubo had been largely displaced by the game of Go. By the time of the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) all knowledge of the game of Liubo had been lost, and it is only with the archeological discoveries of recent years that the game has become better known.

There is some evidence that the game of Liubo spread to beyond the confines of China. The Old Book of Tang mentions that Tibetans enjoyed playing both the game of Go and Liubo, [7] but although ancient Tibetan Go boards have been discovered, no examples of Tibetan Liubo boards are known. [8] The Chinese version of the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra also mentions the playing of several games, including Liubo, which some have taken as evidence that Liubo was transmitted to India. However, to date no examples of Liubo boards have been found outside of China.

Liubo boards and game equipment are often found as grave goods in tombs from the Han Dynasty. Various types and sizes of Liubo board have been unearthed, made from a variety of materials, including wood, lacquered wood, pottery, stone and bronze. Some of the boards are simple square slabs of stone or wood, but others are supported by knobs at the four corners, and some are built as tables with long legs. Regardless of their size or shape, the common feature of all Liubo boards is the distinctive pattern that is carved or painted on their surface:

All excavated boards have the angular V-shaped marks at the corners and L-shaped marks at the center of the edges, as well as the central square and T-shaped protrusions, and most boards also have four marks (usually circular but sometimes a decorative pattern) between the corner mark and the central square. However, on some boards each circular mark is replaced by a straight line joining the corner mark to the corner of the inner square, and in a few cases there is no mark between the corner and the square at all.

In many tombs only the Liubo board has survived (especially if made of stone or bronze), and it can be assumed that any associated game pieces have decayed, whereas in other cases the game pieces (which are often made of ivory) have survived but the Liubo board (which is often made of wood or lacquer) has rotted away. However, in 1973 a unique, complete set of Liubo equipment in a lacquer box was discovered in a 2nd-century BCE tomb at Mawangdui (believed to be that of the son of the Marquis of Dai). This Liubo set comprises the following items (the Chinese description of the items in the inventory of grave goods that was found in the tomb are given in brackets): [9]

  • 1 lacquered wooden game box (45.0 × 45.0 × 17.0 cm.) [博一具]
  • 1 lacquered wooden game board (45.0 × 45.0 × 1.2 cm.) [博局一]
  • 12 cuboid ivory game pieces (4,2 × 2.2 × 2.3 cm.), six black and six white [象其十二]
  • 20 ivory game pieces (2.9 × 1.7 × 1.0 cm.) [象直食其廿]
  • 30 rod-shaped ivory counting chips (16.4 cm. long) [象筭三十枚]
  • 12 ivory throwing rods (22.7 cm. long) [象□□□□ (last four characters obliterated)]
  • 1 ivory knife (22.0 cm. long) [象割刀一]
  • 1 ivory scraper (17.2 cm. long) [象削一]
  • 1 eighteen-sided die with the numbers "1" through "16" and characters meaning "win" and "lose" [not listed in the inventory]

The six black and six white game pieces are the main game pieces to be moved around the board, and similar sets of cubic or cuboid game pieces made from ivory, jadeite or rock crystal have been found in several other tombs. In at least one case the game pieces are not distinguished by colour, but by having an engraving of a tiger on the pieces of one set and an engraving of a dragon on the pieces of the other set. [10]

The twelve long rods are two sets of the six throwing sticks that the players use to determine their moves, and which the game is named after (Liubo="six sticks"). Most Han stone pictures of Liubo show the players throwing sticks onto a mat between themselves (with the Liubo board to the side of the mat), and ceramic model Liubo sets such as the one excavated in 1972 from Lingbao in Henan province show six sticks lined up neatly between the two players. [11]

Sets of thirty rod-shaped counting chips have also been found in association with Liubo sets from other tombs. [12]

However, the twenty ivory game pieces and the eighteen-sided die in the Mawangdui set are not typically associated with Liubo boards in other tombs, and it is possible that they were not used for playing Liubo, but were equipment for a different game. A similar eighteen-sided die with numbers "1" through "16", "win" and "take a drink" was found in association with two sets of twenty copper, coin-shaped tokens (one set inscribed "Number 1" through "Number 20", and the other set inscribed with three-character lines of poetry) in a Han tomb at Mancheng County in Hebei. No Liubo board or Liubo game pieces were found in the tomb, and because of the inscription "take a drink" (酒來) on one face of the die, the die and sets of tokens are supposed to have been used for a drinking game. [13]

The exact rules of the game of Liubo are not known, and some of the surviving descriptions of the game are conflicting, which suggests that the game may have been played according to different rules at different times or in different places. The most complete description of the rules of Liubo occurs in a quotation from the lost Book of Ancient Bo (古博經) in a commentary by Zhang Zhan (張湛) to the Book of Liezi that was written during the Jin Dynasty (266–420):

Method of play: Two people sit facing each other over a board, and the board is divided into twelve paths, with two ends, and an area called the "water" in the middle. Twelve game pieces are used, which according to the ancient rules are six white and six black. There are also two "fish" pieces, which are placed in the water. The throwing of the dice is done with a jade. The two players take turns to throw the dice and move their pieces. When a piece has been moved to a certain place it is stood up on end, and called an "owl (梟or驍) ". Thereupon it can enter the water and eat a fish, which is also called "pulling a fish". Every time a player pulls a fish he gets two tokens, and if he pulls two fish in a row he gets three tokens [for the second fish]. If a player has already pulled two fish but does not win it is called double-pulling a pair of fish. When one player wins six tokens the game is won.

Another, somewhat later source, The Family Instructions of Master Yan by Yan Zhitui (531–591) states that there were two variants of Liubo, "Greater Bo" (大博) which was played with six throwing sticks, and "Lesser Bo" (小博) which was played with two dice: [14]

The ancient Greater Bo used six sticks, whereas Lesser Bo used two dice. Nowadays there is no-one who knows how to play, but in those days when it was played it used one die and twelve game pieces. It had very little skill, and was not worth playing.

Most game historians think that Liubo was a race game, and that players moved their six games pieces around the marks on the board. However, others consider Liubo to have been a battle game played with dice or throwing sticks.

There have been several attempts to reconstruct the rules of the game, most notably by Lien-sheng Yang, who discusses the game as it was possibly played on TLV mirrors. [15] Yang theorizes that a player’s piece would start on an L-shaped mark and try to move to a V-shaped corner mark depending on the throw of the sticks. Certain throws would allow a player's piece to move into the center and ‘kill’ the opponent’s piece if it was already there. Once in the center, a piece could begin to block the enemy’s pieces from taking a square. For each block one would gain two points. One could also attempt to recover one’s pieces after they are blocked, and would gain three points for doing this. If one failed to win after having blocked two men, then the opponent would gain six points and win the game. The first player to six points would win the game. Jean-Louis Cazaux has reconstructed similar rules for playing Liubo. [16] An implementation of these reconstructed rules as a playable computer game has also been attempted. [17]

In 2019, more than 1000 bamboo slips containing the rules for Liubo have been discovered in the tomb of the Marquis of Haihun. [18] [19]

A variant of Liubo in which dice were used to make the moves was called Chupu (樗蒲) or Wumu (五木). [20] In Korea the traditional game of jeopo 저포 (hanja: 樗蒲 ) is still played, on a board that is not similar to a Liubo board. [21]

There have been attempts to relate Liubo to other board games, and in particular some Chinese scholars believe that Xiangqi (Chinese chess) was based on Liubo. [22] Some Chinese game historians believe that Xiangqi is not related to Persian chess, but was based on Liubo, whereas others have suggested that Liubo was transmitted from China to India during the Eastern Jin (317–420), where it developed into Chaturanga, which was the ancestor to both Persian chess and Chinese chess. [23] Although many Persian game historians reject the claim that Xiangqi or other chess variants derive from Liubo, [24] Jean-Louis Cazaux argues that Liubo could have been transformed from a race game to a battle game, and it could then have become Chinese chess. [25]

Liubo mirrors Edit

The pattern found on the surface of Liubo boards is also found on the most common type of Han Dynasty bronze mirror, known from their distinctive markings as TLV mirrors. There is some debate over whether the Liubo pattern on these mirrors was simply decorative, or whether it had a ritual significance, or whether perhaps the mirrors doubled as portable Liubo game boards. Zhou Zheng has pointed out that one TLV mirror dating to the reign of Wang Mang (9–23) has an inscription that includes the words "Carved with a Liubo board pattern to dispel misfortune" (刻具博局去[祛]不羊[祥]), which suggests that the main purpose of the Liubo pattern on mirrors was ritual, and that the pattern had a special significance beyond game-playing. [26]

Liubo coins Edit

The Liubo pattern is also sometimes found on the reverse of Wu Zhu coins. Such coins were not used as currency but were probably lucky charms. [27]

Sundials Edit

In 1897 a Han Dynasty stone sundial was discovered in Inner Mongolia which had been overcarved with a Liubo board pattern. [28] The only other complete Han dynasty sundial, in the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum, also has a Liubo pattern carved on it. It may be that the sundials were repurposed as Liubo boards by carving the Liubo pattern over the original sundial markings, or it may be that the Liubo markings were added for some unknown ritual purpose.

Divination boards Edit

In 1993, a wooden board with turtle divination diagrams and prognostications on one side and a Liubo diagram and forty-five prognostications on five topics on the other side was excavated from a late Western Han tomb at Yinwan in Donghai County, Jiangsu. [29] The Liubo diagram is too small to have been used for playing Liubo, and is covered with the sixty terms of the sexagenary cycle which are written all along the lines of the Liubo diagram, in a similar way that the turtle diagram on the other side of the board is filled with the sixty terms. The prognostications under the Liubo diagram are headed with one of nine terms that correspond to the words of an enigmatic, mnemonic rhyme about Liubo written by Xu Bochang (許博昌) during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han (141–87 BCE) Lillian Tseng (Zeng Lanying) argues that these are the names for particular points on the board (the two lines of the "V" mark, the two lines of the "L" mark, the two lines of the "T" mark, the circle or line between the corner and the central square, the outside edge of the central square, and the inside of the central square). [30]

Li Xueqin has suggested that the board was used for divination by matching the day to be divined to the corresponding sexagenary term on the Liubo diagram, and then reading off the corresponding prognostication according to the position of the sexagenary term on the Liubo diagram. [31] However, Lillian Tseng points out that the divination could also be done the other way round, by looking for the desired prognostication (for example an auspicious marriage day), and then all the days on the Liubo board that were written on the position corresponding to the term heading the prognostication would match the desired prognostication.

It has been theorized that the placement of the sixty sexagenary terms on the points of the Liubo divination diagram indicate the possible positions for placing pieces when playing Liubo, and that the sequence of the terms across the divination diagram reflects the path to be followed around the board when playing the game (starting at the north-east corner and ending at the north side of the central square). [32]

The following is a list of famous people who are recorded to have played Liubo:

    (reigned 977–922 BCE), who according to the apocryphal Travels of King Mu once played a game of Liubo with a hermit that lasted three days. [33]
  • Duke Min of Song (宋湣公), who in 682 BCE got into an argument with Nangong Wan 南宮萬 whilst playing Liubo with him, and was killed by Nangong Wan when he hit the duke with the Liubo board. [34]
  • King Anxi of Wei 魏安釐王 (reigned 277–243 BCE) and his half-brother Lord Xinling of Wei 信陵君 (died 243 BCE). Once when the two of them were playing Liubo a message came that the beacons on the northern border had been lit King Anxi wanted to stop the game and discuss the situation with his ministers, but his brother told him not to worry as it was only the king of Zhao on a hunting trip, and so they continued playing. The king was worried and could not concentrate on the game, but after the game was over news came that it was indeed the king of Zhao out hunting. [35] (died 227 BCE), the failed assassin of Qin Shi Huang, once had an argument with Lu Goujian (魯句踐) over a game of Liubo, and had to flee for his life. [36] (reigned 156–141 BCE), who when he was crown prince became angry during a game of Liubo with the Prince of Wu, and threw the Liubo board at the prince, killing him (cf. Rebellion of the Seven States). [37] (died 159), who according to his biography was fond of playing Liubo. (761–826), a Uyghur general who was presented with a girl who was trained in the arts of "song, dance, music and Liubo". [38] (895–954), a Shatuo Turk and founder of the Northern Han kingdom, liked to play Liubo and gambling games when he was young. [39]

Confucius famously did not approve of Liubo. In the Analects he grudgingly allows that playing Liubo and Go is better than being idle, [40] and according to the Kongzi Jiayu (Family Sayings of Confucius) he stated that he would not play the game as it promoted bad habits. [41]


History recorded on bamboo

The discovery of the Yinqueshan Han Slips in 1972 shocked the world. In 2015, led by the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage and Shandong Museum, a group of academic institutions restarted a research program examining them.

Discovery of the Yinqueshan Han Slips
The Yinqueshan Han slips were discovered in two ancient tombs dated to the early Western Han Dynasty (202 BCE&ndash8 CE), located southeast of Linyi in Shandong Province. A large number of bamboo slips and their fragments were excavated from the tombs, together with some fragments of lacquer, pottery, bronzeware and coins. &ldquoAfter cleaning and sorting, there were over 7,500 bamboo slips that have been unearthed from the Han tombs,&rdquo said Peng Mei, deputy director of the Yinqueshan Han Tombs Bamboo Slips Museum.


The slips discovered in Tomb No. 1 include 13 chapters and five undetermined chapters from the Sunzi Bingfa (also known as The Art of War by Sun Tzu, one of the best-known ancient military treatises in the world), 16 chapters from the Sunbin Bingfa (also known as The Art of War by Sun Bin, an essential text of Chinese military philosophy and of strategy in general), five chapters from the Wei Liaozi (one of the Seven Military Classics of ancient China written during the Warring States Period), 16 chapters from the Yanzi Chunqiu (or the Annals of Master Yan, a text dating to the Warring States Period that contains a collection of stories and speeches attributed to Yan Ying, a famous official from the State of Qi), seven original and seven undetermined chapters from the Liu Tao (or the Six Secret Teachings, a treatise on civil and military strategy traditionally attributed to Lü Shang, a top general of the Zhou Dynasty), 13 chapters represented by the Shou Fa (uphold the law) and Shou Ling (keep order), 50 chapters about discourses on politics and wars and some writings of Yin Yang and divination. 32 slips unearthed from Tomb No. 2 have been identified as the Qinian Shiri, representing sections of a calendar for the year 134 BCE, which is the oldest calendar ever found in China.


Wu Jiulong, a research fellow from the Institute of Chinese Cultural Relics of the National Cultural Heritage Administration, took part in the first archaeological excavation and research expedition. He recalled details of these bamboo slips when they were excavated. &ldquoBecause they were immersed in mud and squeezed by other funeral objects for a long time, the thread that sewed the bamboo slips together has rotted, leaving dark brown slips scattered everywhere. However, most of the handwritings on these slips were clear to see. Each slip recorded various amounts of ancient Chinese characters, with some including as many as 40 characters.&rdquo


&ldquoImmersion in groundwater and the airtight tombs provide good preservation conditions for these bamboo slips, helping them survive more than 2,000 years,&rdquo said Wei Songtao, a staff member of Shandong Museum. However, there is little cellulose left. These bamboo slips are as soft as noodles or rotten straw, almost unable to withstand any treatment. A large proportion of the existing slips are fragments.

Cataloguing and restoration of slips
After the discovery of the Yinqueshan slips, the National Cultural Heritage Administration conducted the preservation and research work on these relics. Wei Songtao stated that, considering the limited technology of cultural relics preservation at that time, archaeologists chose a safe way to preserve these slips&mdashdehydrating a few slips for trial and storing most of them in distilled water.


The restoration and sorting of these bamboo slips was a big challenge. A lot of parts were missing and many characters became unintelligible from prolonged immersion. In 1974, a special team was organized to undertake restoration work. The team consisted of many famous experts from fields of archaeology, history, bibliography and the study of ancient Chinese writing.


Pian Yuqian, a senior editor at the Editorial Department of Zhonghua Book Company, participated in the cataloguing and restoration of those bamboo sheets when he was a student at Peking University. He recalled that the first step was to catalogue the 4,000 slips according to their types, putting the slips with similar types in one group. The next step was to classify slips within the same group according to their calligraphy and styles. Finally, slips of similar calligraphy and styles were grouped by their contents. The process of grouping the slips together by their forms, calligraphy and content was challenging and required great patience.


After the aforementioned process, the experts studied the content of the slips within the same group, identifying which text they belonged to and arranging them in sequence. After that, the whole procedure of the classification of bamboo slips was followed by archeologists and other research staff.


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1 The earliest use of the term dougong has been found in a Buddhist text of 616. See Xiaoqing , Zhong 钟晓青, ‘ Dougong, puzuo, yu puzuo ceng ’ 斗拱, 铺作, 与铺作层 [‘Dougong, Puzuo, and Puzuo Layers’], Zhongguo jianzhu shilun huikan 中国建筑史论汇刊 [Collected Writings on Chinese Architectural History], 1 ( 2008 ), pp. 3 – 26 Google Scholar (p. 4). All Chinese terms have been rendered in the standard hanyu pinyin system of romanisation and have been italicised in accordance with scholarly convention. I have used simplified Chinese characters and followed Chinese surname order, unless they are habitually rendered otherwise in previous publications. Longer image credits are indicated in notes rather than in captions.

2 The scholarly literature on dougong is vast. For a comprehensive account, see Dehua , Pan 潘德华, Dougong 斗拱, 2 vols ( Nanjing , 2011 )Google Scholar .

3 Han tomb reliefs, in particular, have been widely dispersed, and it is often difficult to specify their original location and purpose. This article has benefited greatly from the examples compiled in Guoxin , Li 李国新 and Wenjing , Yang 杨蕴菁, , eds , Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu 中国汉画造型艺术图典-建筑 [The Illustrated Compendium of Visual Arts in Chinese Han Reliefs: Architecture] ( Zhengzhou , 2014 )Google Scholar .

4 Sicheng , Liang 梁思成 and Zhiping , Liu 刘致平, ‘ Dougong jianshuo ’ 斗拱简说 [‘An Introduction to Bracket Sets’], in Liang Sicheng quanji 梁思成全集 [The Complete Works of Liang Sicheng], 9 vols ( Beijing , 2001 ), VI, pp. 291 – 324 Google Scholar (p. 291).

5 Nancy S. Steinhardt, Chinese Architecture in an Age of Turmoil, 200–600 (Honolulu, 2014), p. 83.

6 Jiren Feng, Chinese Architecture and Metaphor: Song Culture in the Yingzao Fashi Building Manual (Honolulu, 2012), pp. 138–80.

7 Zhongshu , Dong 董仲舒, Chunqiu fanlu 春秋繁露 [Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn Annals] ( Zhengzhou , 2010 )Google Scholar .

8 Pankenier , David , Astrology and Cosmology in Early China: Conforming Earth to Heaven ( New York , 2013 ), p. 300CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

9 Ban Gu 班固 [32–92], Hanshu 汉书 [Book of Han] (Nanjing, 2011) and Fan Ye 范晔 [389–445], Hou Hanshu 后汉书 [Book of the Later Han] (Xi'an, 2006).

10 Sima Qian 司马迁, ‘Tianguan shu’ 天官书 [‘Treatise on the Celestial Offices’], in Shiji 史记 [The Grand Scribe's Records], 4 vols (Wuhan, 2017), I, pp. 477–520.

11 Aihe Wang, Cosmology and Political Culture in Early China (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 129–72.

12 See Pankenier, Astrology and Cosmology in Early China, pp. 329–39, and Paul Wheatley, The Origins and Character of the Ancient Chinese City, 2 vols (Somerset, NJ, 2008).

13 See Lillian Lan-ying Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China (Cambridge, MA, 2011), pp. 37–88.

14 Jia Yi 贾谊, Xinshu 新书 [New Writings] (Beijing, 2012), pp. 200–01.

15 Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China.

16 Sima Qian, Shiji, I, chapter 12, pp. 331–61.

17 See, for example, Hanwu di bieguo dongming ji 汉武帝别国洞冥记 [Anecdotes About Emperor Wu of Han] by Guo Xian 郭宪, and Hanwu di neizhuan 汉武帝内传 [Intimate Life of Emperor Wu of Han] and Hanwu gushi 汉武故事 [Stories of Emperor Wu of Han] by anonymous Han writers. These myths are all collected in a single volume: Xijing zaji (wai wu zhong) 西京杂记 (外五种) [Miscellanea of the Western Capital (And Five Other Essays)], ed. Wang Genlin 王根林 (Shanghai, 2012).

18 Lü Simian 吕思勉, ‘Pangu kao’ 盘古考 [‘Research on Pangu’], in Zhongguo shenhua xue bainian wenlun xuan 中国神话学百年文论选 [Collected Essays Celebrating the Centenary of Chinese Mythology Studies], 2 vols (Xi'an, 2013), I, pp. 252–55.

19 Lü Simian 吕思勉, ‘Nüwa yu Gonggong’ 女娲与共工 [‘Nüwa and Gonggong’], in Zhongguo shenhua xue bainian wenlun xuan, pp. 246–51.

20 Wu Qingzhou 吴庆洲, Jianzhu zheli, yijiang yu wenhua 建筑哲理, 意匠与文化 [Architectural Philosophy, Artistic Conception and Culture] (Beijing, 2005), pp. 26–27. For the examples redrawn in Figure 2, see Institute of Cultural Relics Management of Santai County 三台县文物管理所, ‘Sichuan Santai Qijiang yamu qun 2000 niandu qingli jianbao’ 四川三台郪江崖墓群2000年度清理简报 [‘Report on the Clearing of Some Cliff Tombs on the Qi River at Santai, Sichuan’], Kaogu 考古 [Archaeology], 1 (2002), figs 23, 27, 29 and 45.

21 Henan Bowuyuan 河南博物院 [Henan Museum], ed., Henan chutu Handai jianzhu mingqi 河南出土汉代建筑明器 [Han Dynasty Architectural Funerary Objects Unearthed in Henan] (Zhengzhou, 2002), pp. 63–64, figs 42 and 43.

22 Dongfang Shuo 东方朔, Shenyi jing 神异经 [Classic of Spirits and Oddities], in Xijing zaji (wai wu zhong), p. 98.

23 Wang Shilun 王士伦, ed., Zhejiang chutu tongjing xuanji 浙江出土铜镜选集 [Collections of Bronze Mirrors Unearthed in Zhejiang] (Beijing, 1958), p. 27, fig. 27.

24 Hanwu gushi, in Xijing zaji (wai wu zhong), pp. 97–98.

25 Yan Dan zi 燕丹子 [Prince Dan of Yan], in Xijing zaji (wai wu zhong), p. 84.

26 Jiang Sheng 姜生, ‘Handai liexian tukao’ 汉代列仙图考 [‘A Study of the Portraits of Immortals in the Han Dynasty’], Wenshe zhe 文史哲 [Journal of Chinese Humanities], 2 (2015), pp. 17–33 (p. 24).

27 See Zhu Xilu 朱锡禄, ed., Wushi ci Han huaxiang shi 武氏祠汉画像石 [Han Relief Sculptures in the Wu Family Shrine] (Jinan, 1986), p. 51, fig. 49.

28 Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China, p. 205.

29 Henan Sheng Wenhuaju Gongzuo Dui 河南省文化局工作队 [The Archaeological Team from Bureau of Culture in Henan Province], ‘Luoyang Xihan bihuamu fajue baogao’ 洛阳西汉壁画墓发掘报告 [‘Report on the Excavation of a Western Han Tomb with Wall Paintings at Luoyang’], Kaogu xuebao 考古学报 [Acta Archeologica Sinica], 2 (1964), p. 110, figs 2 and 3.

30 Nanjing Bowuyuan, Shandong Sheng Wenwu Guanlichu 南京博物院, 山东省文物管理处 [Nanjing Museum, and Cultural Relics Management Office of Shandong Province], Yi'nan guhuaxiang shimu fajue baogao 沂南古画像石墓发掘报告 [Report on the Excavation of a Tomb with Ancient Relief Sculptures in Yi'nan] (Beijing, 1956), p. 4, fig. 3.

31 Steinhardt, Chinese Architecture in an Age of Turmoil, p. 93.

32 Shandong Bowuyuan 山东博物馆 [Shandong Museum], ed., Yi'nan beizhai Hanmu huaxiang 沂南北寨汉墓画像 [Reliefs of the Beizhai Han Tomb in Yi'nan] (Beijing, 2015), p. 83, fig. 55.

33 Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China, p. 261.

34 Yi'nan guhuaxiang shimu fajue baogao, plate 75.

35 Yi'nan guhuaxiang shimu fajue baogao, plate 103, fig. 1.

36 Han Baode 汉宝德, Ming-Qing Jianzhu er'lun/Dougong de qiyuan yu fazhan 明清建筑二论/斗栱的起源与发展 [Two Theories on Ming-Qing Architecture/The Origin and Development of Dougong] (Beijing, 2014), p. 117.

37 Yi'nan beizhai Hanmu huaxiang, p. 24, fig. 11.

38 Yang Hongxun 杨鸿勋, ‘Dougong qiyuan kaocha’ 斗拱起源考察 [‘Research on the Origins of Dougong’], in Jianzhu kaoguxue lunwenji 建筑考古学论文集 [Collected Essays on Architectural Archaeology] (Beijing, 1987), pp. 260–61.

39 Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 235, fig 1.

40 Chen Mingda 陈明达, Zhongguo gudai mujiegou jianzhu jishu: Zhanguo-Beisong 中国古代木结构建筑技术: 战国-北宋 [The Architectural Technology of Wooden Structures in Ancient China: From the Warring States to the Northern Song] (Beijing, 1990), p. 31.

41 Song Yanping 宋艳萍, ‘Cong “que” dao “tianmen” – Han que de shenmihua licheng’ 从 ‘阙’到 ‘天门’ – 汉阙的神秘化历程 [‘From “Que” to the “Gate of Heaven”: The Mystification Process of the Han Que’], Sichuan wenwu 四川文物 [Sichuan Cultural Relics], 5 (2016), pp. 60–68.

42 Song Yanping, ‘Cong “que” dao “tianmen”’.

43 Dongfang Shuo, Shenyi jing, in Xijing zaji (wai wu zhong), p. 97.

44 See Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 260, fig. 1, and p. 270, fig. 2.

45 Wang Yanshou 王延寿, ‘Lu Lingguang dian fu’ 鲁灵光殿赋 [‘Rhapsody on the Hall of Numinous Brilliance in Lu’] in Zhaoming Wen Xuan 昭明文选 [Selections of Refined Literature], ed. Xiao Tong 萧统 [501–531] (Beijing, 2000), pp. 324–35. The English translation is by David Knechtges in Wen Xuan or Selections of Refined Literature, Volume II: Rhapsodies on Sacrifices, Hunting, Travel, Sightseeing, Palaces and Halls, Rivers and Seas (Princeton, NJ, 1983), p. 263.

46 For a detailed discussion of the conceptualisation of architecture in imperial China, see Jing Xie, ‘Transcending the Limitations of Physical Form: A Case Study of Cang Lang Pavilion’, Journal of Architecture, 21.5 (2016), pp. 691–718.

47 Knechtges, Wen Xuan or Selections of Refined Literature, Volume II, p. 269.

48 He Yan 何晏, ‘Jingfu dian fu’ 景福殿赋 [‘Rhapsody on the Hall of Great Blessings’], in Zhaoming Wen Xuan, pp. 336–53. The English translation is by Knechtges in Wen Xuan or Selections of Refined Literature, Volume II, pp. 285 and 287.

49 Hu Qiguang 胡奇光 and Fang Huanhai 方环海, eds, Erya yizhu 尔雅译注 [The Annotated Near Correctness] (Shanghai, 2012), p. 210.

50 Some royal palaces from the Zhou dynasty had one main hall containing several chambers for private living. See Du Jinpeng 杜金鹏, ‘Zhouyuan gongdian jianzhu leixing ji xiangguan wenti tantao’ 周原宫殿建筑类型及相关问题探讨 [‘A Typological Study of the Palace Buildings at Zhouyuan and Related Questions’], Kaogu xuebao 考古学报 [Acta Archeologica Sinica], 4 (2009), pp. 435–68.

51 Cited and translated in Tracy Miller, The Divine Nature of Power: Chinese Ritual Architecture at the Sacred Site of Jinci (Cambridge, MA, 2007), p. 68. I have slightly modified Miller's translation.

52 See Han Dian 汉典 [Chinese Dictionary], zdic.net/z/1b/zy/6597.htm (accessed 21 April 2017). See the similar remarks in Pankenier, Astrology and Cosmology in Early China, p. 104.

53 Liu Xujie 刘叙杰, ‘Handai dougong de leixing yu yanbian chutan’ 汉代斗拱的类型与演变初探 [‘A Preliminary Investigation of the Types and Evolution of Han Bracket Sets’], Wenwu ziliao congkan 文物资料丛刊 [Cultural Relic Information Series], 2 (1978), pp. 222–28.

54 Sima Qian, Shiji, I, ‘Tianguan shu’, p. 478.

55 Wushi ci Han huaxiang shi, p. 40, fig. 35.

56 Liu Xi 刘熙 [Han dynasty], Shiming 释名 [Explanation of Names] (Beijing, 2016), p. 80.

57 Lunyu 论语 [Analects] (Beijing, 2015), p. 64.

58 Hainei shizhou ji 海内十洲记 [Record of Ten Continents Within the Seas], in Bowu zhi (wai qi zhong) 博物志 (外七种) [Records of Diverse Matters (And Seven Other Essays)] (Shanghai, 2012), pp. 101–12 (p. 109).

59 Hainei shizhou ji, pp. 109–10.

60 Hainei shizhou ji, pp. 109–10.

61 Wu Hung, ‘Xiwangmu, the Queen Mother of the West’, Orientations, 18.4 (April 1987), pp. 24–33.

62 Yi'nan guhuaxiang shimu fajue baogao, plate 26.

63 Liu An 刘安 [179–122 bce ] et al., Huainan zi 淮南子 [Book of the King of Huainan] (Beijing, 2014), p. 100.

64 Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 272, figs 1 and 2 p. 274, figs 2 and 3.

65 Wang Jia 王嘉 [?–390], Shiyi ji 拾遗记 [Record of Gleanings], ed. Xiao Qi 萧绮 (Beijing, 1988), p. 221.

66 Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 53, fig. 2.

67 Shanhai jing yizhu 山海经译注 [The Annotated Classic of Mountains and Seas] (Shanghai, 2014) Dongfang Shuo, Shenyi jing, in Xijing zaji (wai wu zhong). For the relief, see Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 86, fig. 2.

68 For details, see Tseng, Picturing Heaven in Early China, pp. 101–05.

69 Liu An, Huainan zi, p. 100.

70 Wang Jia, Shiyi ji, p. 73.

71 Wang Jia, Shiyi ji, pp. 73–74.

72 Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 92, fig. 1.

73 Chen Mingda, Zhongguo gudai mujiegou jianzhu jishu, p. 22.

74 Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 144, fig. 2.

75 Bowu zhi 博物志 [Records of Diverse Matters], in Bowu zhi (wai qi zhong), p. 28.

76 Dai De 戴德, ed., Da Dai Liji jinzhu jinyi 大戴礼记今注今译 [The Modern Annotated Records of Ritual Matters by Dai the Elder], trans. Gao Ming 高明 (Tianjin, 1975), p. 293.

77 From Han Dian, zdic.net/z/22/zy/84BF.htm (accessed 21 January 2018).

78 From Shanxi Sheng Wenwu Guanli Weihui 山西省文物管理委会 [Shanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Management Committee], ‘Shanxi Changzhishi Fenshuiling gumu de qingli’ 山西长治市分水岭古墓的清理 [‘The Clearing of an Ancient Tomb in Fengshuiling, Changzhi Municipality, Shanxi’], Kaogu 考古 [Archaeology], 1 (1957), p. 109, fig. 2.

79 From Zhongguo Shehui Kexue Yuan Kaogu Yanjiusuo 中国社会科学院考古研究所 [Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences], Huixian fajue baogao 辉县发掘报告 [Hui County Excavation Report] (Beijing, 1956), p. 116, fig. 138. See Charles D. Weber, ‘Chinese Pictorial Bronze Vessels of the Late Chou Period, Part II’, Artibus Asiae, 28.4 (1966), pp. 271–311 (pp. 275–77). The iconography of temples includes the depiction of wine vessels located centrally on a table or the floor, sometimes with ladles, and officiants performing rites in different postures. It should be noted that religious buildings and palaces in early China shared the same architecture. As Mark Edward Lewis confirms, elite households and temples were spatially organised according to the same principles: Mark Edward Lewis, The Construction of Space in Early China (Albany, NY, 2006), pp. 116–17.

80 Zhongguo Hanhua zaoxing yishu tudian-jianzhu, p. 206, fig. 2 p. 223, fig. 1.


Nightfall - Chapter 179: Chang'an City Is an Array

The master and apprentice had made their way out of the crowd at this time, walking along the Vermilion Bird Avenue towards the south. Listening to the words of Master Yan Se, Ning Que asked in surprise as he could not help turning around to take a look at the Vermilion Bird that was already out of his sight due to the crowds.

Master Yan Se ignored him and kept going forward. "What kind of existence can be surely regarded as being alive, or animate?"

Ning Que turned around to chase him up, thinking that most of the time he was sleeping while Sixth Brother asked this sort of questions.

"Of course, this&aposs a relatively difficult question, and it hasn&apost much to do with why I take you here to see the Vermilion Bird today." Master Yen Se continued, "I bring you here for I want to tell you that the portrait on the Vermilion Bird Avenue has nothing to do with an art sculpture. Instead, it&aposs a Divine Talisman of Chang&aposan City."

Ning Que was slightly stunned. He really did not relate the Vermilion Bird with Talisman Taoism, because somewhere he could feel that the Vermilion Bird had a sense of terrifying power, an awful atmosphere from ancient times, which seemed different from the talisman, a magic with a subtle existence.

"You said before, that we Talisman Masters regard all the cultivation methods in the world as talismans… this is a very narcissistic mentality, but I can tell you with certainty that the Vermilion Bird is a talisman, a Divine Talisman left by ancestral Sages."

Ning Que tightly wrinkled his brows when words as Sage and Divine Talisman appeared in his mind. He then asked after a long silence, "Master, according to you, only when Divine Talisman Masters take the step over, can they move the world with talismans. Had the ancestral Sage who left the Vermilion Bird portrait taken the step forward?"

"Thousands of years ago, the Empire&aposs capital was in Chang&aposan, expanding its realm to the basis of the original cities, but the Divine Talisman of Vermilion Bird was already there. The Sage who painted the Vermilion Bird had inevitably exceeded the Knowing Destiny State, but was just not sure of the Tianqi or No Rules. But last time I told you about moving the world, I guess… it needs a bit more profound."

"Did he become an immortal? Is there such a great Grand Cultivator in the world?"

"The last state of cultivation on Haotian Taoism is to ascend to heaven and become immortal after going beyond Tianqi, which means immortality. Although I haven&apost personally seen it before, the number of predecessors who can ascend to heaven and become immortal in Taoist Classics isn&apost too small."

"Myths are just myths, after all."

Master Yan Se raised his brows and asked, "If an ordinary mortal meets a Divine Talisman Master like me, do you think he may regard me as an immortal?"

Ning Que said with uncertainty, "…Maybe."

"Therefore, to ascend to heaven and become immortal in Taoist cultivation is not that difficult as what people imagine. However, I guess these immortals, different from those in mythical novels, should be Grand Cultivators who have really detached themselves."

"Master, I&aposm still very curious about mortal life stories. I believe the Divine Talisman of Vermilion Bird must be particularly scary in might, but the problem lies in that Talisman Taoism is always calm and collected by nature. In this case, who can motivate this Divine Talisman?"

Master Yan Se casually added, "The Vermilion Bird has been lying quietly on the stone avenue since the founding of the Tang Empire, and it has never been touched. However, once it&aposs activated, judging from the observation of someone from the Academy and the last Master of Nation, its power will be probably equivalent to a full-blown attack from a Grand Cultivator who is at the top level of the Knowing Destiny State, or even more formidable in some aspects. "

"Only the top level of the Knowing Destiny State, ah."

"Only? What sort of attitude is this?"

"Master, you are at the peak of the Knowing Destiny State, so is Liu Bai. I guess Master of Nation and the eldest Brother are also in the same state but I dare not guess the state of the Headmaster of Academy. Now I know many Grand Cultivators in Knowing Destiny State, such as Second Brother and Chao Xiaoshu. Even my foolish friend is a genius entering the Knowing Destiny State. Is the Knowing Destiny State… really rare?"

Master Yan Se shook his head as he looked at him, and said, "You&aposre very lucky, or should I say you&aposre unlucky."

Ning Que confusedly asked, "Master, what do you mean by that?"

"It&aposs the West-Hill Divine Palace and the Academy that own the largest number of Grand Cultivators in the world. You&aposre a student from the Second floor of the Academy and my apprentice, a Great Divine Priest of this Divine Hall, so you can come into contact with many powerful people of the Knowing Destiny State, while ordinary cultivators may be unable to meet such strong men in their lives. Hence, I say you&aposre very lucky. However, you&aposve already been in contact with so many powerful men though you&aposre weak in might. I really worry that you&aposll lose the courage to climb and transcend the mountain in front of which you&aposre standing in awe."

"Don&apost worry, master. In fact, I&aposm also a very narcissistic person."

Unconsciously, Master Yan Se and Ning Que had crossed the whole Southern City along the Vermilion Bird Avenue, arriving near the gate of Southern City in Chang&aposan City. The towering and majestic city walls shed a shadow which covered a large area of the street nearby.

Master Yan Se and Ning Que were walking up towards the city wall. It was strange that none of the disciplined city guards came to stop them or to check their identities as if the master and apprentice were totally invisible.

Ning Que was surprised and did not know why the master brought him to ascend the city wall, but he was too lazy to ask, staring at the lower hem of the dirty robe swinging up. With regard to the matter about the power of the Vermilion Bird, he was still confused and could not help asking, "Master, how powerful is the Knowing Destiny State? I invited someone to make a performance once, but I&aposve never seen cultivators of the Knowing Destiny State fighting together."

Master Yan Se frowned and asked, "Which Grand Cultivator was so silly as to show you his performance?"

Ning Que implied that the Grand Cultivator was Chen Pipi, who was an idiot in living knowledge, but a good guy nonetheless.

Master Yan Se growled, "As for the fight between people belonging to the Knowing Destiny State, do you want me to have a fight with Liu Bai again?

Ning Que explained with a bitter face, "Don&apost get me wrong, I&aposm just curious."

They two climbed the tall city walls, while the wind blowing from the plains rose up along the ancient but still solid city walls with a few shrill cries from eagles, which made their robes to fly.

Master Yan Se, standing on the edge of the gate tower with his hands brushing the bricks, watched the clearly visible mountain in the south, and suddenly said, "Your Second Brother in the Academy just needs to glance at you, and you would be dead. This is the Knowing Destiny State."

Ning Que, standing next to him, stared at the mountain where he had spent more than a month living and studying, and silently thought.

Ning Que carefully considered these words and feeling rather awed, he replied honestly after a moment of silence, "… Master, I understand. I&aposll be certainly more respectful to you and Second Brother from now on."

Master Yan Se took him to another side of the gate tower where Chang&aposan City could be seen.

Chang&aposan City, composed of innumerable squares and buildings, had turned into a puzzle at the foot of the tower. The Imperial Palace at North City did not seem so tall as before. If the Vermilion Bird Avenue right below was like a sharp and straight sword, then the Imperial City was the hilt.

In the last few days, Master Yan Se had taken Ning Que to tour around Chang&aposan City, visiting a lot of monuments, and Ning Que was asked questions in every place they visited. Ning Que understood that his master was trying to speed up his perception on Talisman Taoism. In fact, be it the eave of Spring Breeze Pavilion or those statues of animal-carvings on eave, they could really make his own comprehension of Talisman Taoism deepen. However…

Standing on the gate tower and viewing the city, they could see the entire Chang&aposan City in front, which had cast off the lively coat and only left the quietness and sense of separation after drawing back the light. Ordinary people were screaming in excitement to locate their homes. In terms of art and literature, one could probably be aware of the vicissitudes of history endowed by thousands of years, but as for Talisman Taoism, what could be seen out of that?

"Chang&aposan City, in fact, is a big array."

Ning Que was shocked speechless by Master Yan Se&aposs answer.

"The magnificent city that collects the wisdom of numerous precedent cultivators and takes the Tang Empire Thirty years to expand and complete its construction will be surely taken for granted as the world&aposs most powerful array tactical, named god-stunning Array."

Ning Que opened his eyes to watch the Chang&aposan City underneath, trying hard to make out the approximate appearance of the array tactical, but he found nothing at all.

Master Yan Se looked at him and could not help smiling, and then said, "Chang&aposan City, a god-stunning Array, naturally can&apost be observed with the naked eye, since most of its parts are buried in the ground. What I can tell you is that the array center is at the bottom of the Imperial Palace, while the array root is the Vermilion Bird Avenue."

The old Taoist pointed to the direction of the palace, and then his fingertips slowly moved down along the Vermilion Bird Avenue, and continued: "The array root extending beneath our feet, is Vermilion Bird South Gate. However, it diverges through the city walls and then returns from all the city wall archways of the inner and outer city. "

"You can also see Chang&aposan City, the big array, as a vast and extremely complicated Talisman incantation that consists of countless Divine Talismans. If only the array eye opens, this great Talisman incantation will be motivated to protect this grand City and its residents."

Ning Que looked at the dense buildings in Chang&aposan City and the crowds who were as busy as ants, but still joyful. Listening to Master Yan Se&aposs words, he could not help feeling uneasy, becoming speechless due to the sense of awe and reverence.

"The Vermilion Bird we saw just now is the most powerful Divine Talisman in this great Talisman incantation."

It was a long time before Ning Que could suppress the surprise in his heart. He murmured, looking at the grand city, "What would the city look like if this big array opened, darkening the sky or rolling the black clouds, or trembling the earth while the city remains where it is…"

"No one knows how the scene would look like, not the designer nor those precedent cultivators who were responsible for building the array. And certainly they don&apost want to know, neither do I ."

Master Yan Se looked at him and seriously said, "The launch of the frightened mind array indicates Chang&aposan City is about to be conquered. If it that day really comes, it only means that the Great Tang Empire has got to the brink of destruction."

Ning Que suddenly thought of a key question, and then seriously said, looking at Master Yan Se,"Master, you shouldn&apost have told me such things, especially of the array center and array root. It&aposs not good."

Master Yan Se calmly said, "Do you know who is responsible for Chang&aposan City, this big god-stunning Array?"

Master Yan Se smiled and looked at him, saying, "You are my only successor, who will be in charge of the god-stunning Array after I leave this world, so it&aposs perfectly justified for me to let you in on some related information in advance."

Ning Que did not say anything, but turned around to gaze at Chang&aposan City under the city tower with his pale face. He shook his head and made some strange voices in his mouth as if he was scolding someone or breathing cold air, but more like he was unconsciously talking to himself.

He glanced back at Master Yan Se, and said with resentment, "Master, don&apost scare me like that."


A Brief Introduction to Changshu

A Brief Introduction to Changshu

In 1911 Yu Mengying settled down in her new home. Changshu is an ancient
Yangts delta town nestled at the foothill of the Yushan in a land of lakes and
canals. It has a long history. To start with, I will take you on a tour to Beimen
Dajie to see two pieces of antique – tomb passageways, but first, a few lines on
the story of Zhongyong who was buried there.

The historians have now identified the year of 1046 BCE as the date when the
Martial King of Zhou led a rebellion against his overlord, the last King of Shang,
and marched from the Zhou territory near today’s Xi’an to Shang’s capital in
today’s Henan province. At the decisive battle, the slave soldiers in the Shang
army turned their bronze dagger-axes against their own commanders, and the
King fled back to his palace. He got himself drunk, set a great fire, and perished in
it.

The tradition has it that the Martial King ’s father had two elder brothers named
Taibo and Zhongyong. They knew that their father favored his younger son for
succession. To please their father, the two brothers decided to leave the Zhou
homeland. The youngest brother became King. He was repressed by the Shang
and was imprisoned for many years. His son the Martial King finally rebelled and
overthrew the Shang and started the glorious Zhou Dynasty.

Taibo and Zhongyong headed east and then south ,eventually settled in the
Yangtse River delta region, then still a wild and backward land of forests , lakes ,
and swamps. They and their descendents established the Kingdom of Wu. When
Zhongyong died, he was buried on Yushan Hill. His tomb is still there, at Beimen
Dajie, now the bustling center of the Changshu town.

Five hundred years later, in 504BCE, the prime minister of the Kingdom of Wu
decided to build a new capital city for his warrior king at a location which
corresponds to the present day Old City of Suzhou. The dramatic stories of wars
and intrigues, of King Fuchai and his beautiful consort Xisi, and of King Goujian of

Yue, and his humiliation and revenge, were all played out on a stage which is a
mere short march south of Yushan Hill.

Shortly after the great new capital city was built, a young man left his home
at Yushan Hill for his studies in the north. He was Yan Yan, the only southerner
among the disciples of Confucius. In the old quarter of Changshu today, there is
still a “Master Yan Ally”, and his direct descendents of an unbroken lineage still
live in the city.

The passageway to Master Yan ’s tomb is side-by-side with that of Zhongyong. It
is a solemn and imposing structure. On the memorial gateway are inscribed the
words “Dao Qi Dong Nan” , honoring Yan Yan as the one who first spread the
Sage’s teachings in this part of China.

The old folks climb up the long passageways for their morning exercises. Young
children run up and down the open lawns of the fenceless public park to fly their
kites. Zhongyong and Yan Yan are like two old much-loved members of the family,
and an inseparable part of the residents’ daily life. In the evenings, people may be
watching TV series based on stories of the legendary beauty Xisi, in their high-rise
apartments in the new suburbs.

For a few hundred years after the fall of the Han Dynasty, incessant wars forced
waves of migrants to the Yangtse delta. Forests and swamps around the Yushan
Hill receded as cultivated area rolled out. By the year 540 CE, this territory finally
acquired a name of its own—Changshu, Always Good Harvest, the wish of every
agricultural community.

Here, in the land between the Lake Taihu and the broad Yangtse , conditions
favor agriculture. Over the centuries, the local governments had been dredging
canals and reinforcing embankments. The canal Yuanhetang between Suzhou and
Changshu was dredged in the Tang Dynasty times, and has seen busy boat traffic
ever since.

The famous minister and writer Fan Zhongyan of the Northen Sung Dynasty 900
hunred years ago was responsible for dredging another canal which runs from

Changshu town to the Yangtse. Even today this waterway channels flood water
from Lake Taihu to the Yangtse and the sea. By 1272, the nine-level Square
Pagoda rose high in the town center. But by then the pace of change had slowed
down , as the whole of China matured as an agricultural society. For some
reasons which are still debated endlessly by scholars, the advances in agriculture,
in education, in commerce and in overseas trade, did not lift the country over the
threshold to move along the tracks towards a different kind of society, as what
happened in Europe.

The educated elite in Changshu devoted themselves to the study of Confucian
classics in order to pass the imperial examinations. From Tang to Qing, Changshu,
a mere county, produced 438 Jinshi (Advanced Schollars), including 8 Zuangyuan
(first ranking advanced scholar), 3 Bangyan (second ranking) and 4 Tanhua
(third ranking). This class of people had focused on entering the civil service
after passing different levels of exams. Their other interests were the traditional
scholarship, literature, calligraphy, and other arts. For six hundred years, from
Yuan to Qing, a huge pool of successful gentry-scholars emerged in Changshu,
including many ministers and high officials, scholars of classics, painters,
calligraphers, book publishers and editors, and families who built up great private
libraries over generations. Absent were great explorers, scientists, great traders,
and others who could propel the society over to a new level.

In 753ce , the Buddhist monk Jianzhen made his sixth attempt to sail to Japan.
He was 65, and had completely lost his eye sight. He boarded a boat at a port in
Changshu and made the sea crossing successfully. He spread Buddhism to Japan,
together with the high culture of the great Tang. This kind of spirit of adventure
had become remote and a distant memory for the Changshu elite one thousand
years later.

In 1840-42, China, the closed pre-modern society, lost the Opium War to Great
Britain, an industrial power. But what really woke up the Chinese elite from their
long slumber was China’s disastrous defeat fifty years later in her war against
Japan of 1894-95. What happened in the county-seat town of Changshu in those
years and after? How did the Zhang Family react to these events and how the life

of Yu Mengying was impacted by the changes. In the next chapter, we will look
at the chronicle of great events (1856-1936) and try to discern some clues to the
answers.