CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 12, December 2007



On 30 November 2007, archaeologists announced the discovery of a well preserved tomb of the Chu culture in Guanju village, Jingzhou, Hubei province. The tomb, believed to be more than two thousand years old, has come to be dubbed Xiejia Yihao Mu (Xie Family No.1 Tomb), taking its name from a nearby bridge. The tomb contained a coffin measuring 2.46 metres in length that was decorated with elaborate timber carving and wrapped in four layers of embroidered silk that surprisingly remained intact, despite the long period of interment. Some two hundred artefacts, including items made of bronze, lacquer, timber and pottery, were found in the four chambers of the coffin that surrounded the skeleton.

A week after the initial remarkable discoveries, archaeologists made the further announcement on 7 December that a silk bag containing more than 200 inscribed slips fashioned from bamboo had been discovered in the tomb. The slips revealed that the tomb owner was an aristocratic woman whose clan name was Hui and that she was the mother of four officials on whom ranks of nobility had been conferred. She had been buried in 183 BCE.

Archaeologists anticipate that they will complete the cleaning and treatment procedures on the coffin by the beginning of February 2008.

Jingzhou has been a focus of archaeological news since the discovery in Xiongjiazhong village in August 2006 of a 2,400 year old tomb and an adjacent chamber that contains more than 30 horse and chariot pits arranged in a row. The sites had been identified in a survey conducted in 1979, but their significance had never been imagined. This is now believed to be the largest find of a horse and chariot pit from the Warring States period. The tomb and burial pit cover a total area of 60,000 square metres, and archaeologists suspect that the tomb might belong to one of the kings of the Chu state, possibly King Zhao of Chu, named Xiong Zhen. The full excavation of the complex was to begin in February 2008, but will probably now be delayed because of the discoveries in Guanju village.


On 29 November 2007, archaeologists from the Zhejiang Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute announced that their survey of the site of a walled city of the Liangzhu culture at Mojiaoshan in Zhejiang, conducted since last year had revealed the discovery of the largest prehistoric walled city uncovered in China to date. The city measures between 1.5 and 1.7 kilometres from east to west and between 1.8 and 1.9 kilometres from north to south. It covers an area of 2.9 million square metres, the size of the Garden of Perfect Brightness outside Beijing. The walls have a course of stone at the base and are up to 60 metres in thickness at the base, more than three times the thickness of the Ming dynasty city walls in Xi'an which are the thickest extant city walls known in China.

Archaeologists continue to digest the full implications of the discovery which will result in a substantial rewriting of the history of urban development in prehistoric China. It is not merely the size of the site that has staggered archaeologists. The unearthed graves vary in structure and the tomb chambers reveal different levels of sophistication. This reveals that the Liangzhu culture was a fully fledged civilisation and that this city might have been located at its centre. The Liangzhu culture flourished between 5000 and 4000 BCE, and its influences extended as far as Shanxi in the north and Guangdong in the south. Professor Yan Wenming of Peking University has described this as the greatest archaeological discovery in China since the unearthing of the Shang dynasty capital Yinxu, and one that might reveal the origins of Chinese civilisation that clearly still remains a subject of debate.


In 1999, the Chinese government introduced three one-week vacation periods called Golden Week holidays as a way of boosting domestic travel and consumption. These three holidays incorporated Chinese Lunar New Year, May Day and October National Day. During the National Day holiday in 2006, 146 million Chinese undertook domestic travel, generating RMB 64.2 billion in tourism revenue. However, the National Day holiday, like the other Golden Weeks, also placed great pressure on infrastructure.

On 9 November 2007, the government announced a draft proposal to reform the three week-long holidays. The National Development and Reform Commission has suggested shortening the May 1 Golden Week from three statutory days (plus one weekend) to one statutory day. To compensate, three traditional festivals—Qingming (Grave Sweeping Day), Chongyang Festival (also called Duanwu Festival or the Dragon Boat Festival) and Mid-autumn Festival—would become statutory festivals. This would increase the number of statutory holidays by one day.

Although many older people have argued the case for respecting tradition and observing the more traditional holidays, most members of the public favour the introduction of a flexible system of paid holidays not necessarily tied to particular celebrations. The government will announce its final decision at the end of this year, after taking opinion polls into consideration. It is planned to introduce the new system for Lunar New Year in 2008, which will fall on 7 February.


The Zhongshan suit (Zhongshan zhuang), named for the Mandarin rendering of Dr Sun Yat-sen's name (Sun Zhongshan, the father of the Republic of China), was once synonymous with Chinese patriotic modernity, but today wearing the jacket connotes a fondness for 'Chinese traditional [socialist] values'. The jacket which features four pockets in the front and a turned down collar was worn by most Chinese Communist leaders from the 1950s to the 1980s (although it was first called the Lenin suit, Liening fu), but it is rarely seen today. In December 2007, Dr Sun Yat-sen's hometown, Zhongshan in Guangdong province, the name of which he adopted as his sobriquet, opened China's first cultural centre devoted to the Zhongshan suit. The authorities in Zhongshan are also planning to apply to have the Zhongshan suit listed as an item of China's intangible cultural heritage. It is not clear whether the complex German, Japanese and Soviet origins of the Zhongshan jacket will be recognized. Chen Wenzhu, manager of the Zhongshan Chinese Costume Co Ltd, which has been making the suits for eight decades, is hoping that the suit will be selected as a uniform for some of the Chinese male teams at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and his company has already produced Olympic uniform prototypes.


In 2004, UNESCO inscribed Koguryo tombs and walled cities in China and North Korea on its list of world heritage sites. On 11 November 2007, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported that North Korea is constructing a centre for preserving Koguryo tomb murals in Pyongyang through close cooperation with UNESCO. The report came after Yonhap News Agency and Japan's Kyodo News co-hosted a photographic exhibition of Koguryo relics in Pyongyang between 11 October and 10 November.


Shan Jixiang, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, took the opportunity presented by the National Archaeology Conference in Beijing on 12 November 2007 to announce that the government is committed to providing extra funds for the preservation of one hundred of China's best-known historical sites, including key sites along the Xinjiang section of the Silk Road, the Great Wall and the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal.

The presence of Shan Jixiang at this archaeological conference was unusual. He subtly suggested that cultural heritage officials and archaeologists coordinate efforts in the face of urban development, but chided archaeologists for often failing to make their work accessible to the general public. He pointed out that archaeologists were often slow to publish the results of their work, adding that reports on the recent excavation of 270 sites had never been tabled or published.


On 1 November 2007, Pit 2 at the Terracotta Warrior Museum in Lintong, Shaanxi province, was closed to the public because the massive roof has developed a number of leaks and the structure is in need of urgent repairs. With a total area of 8,000 square metres, Pit 2 first opened to the public in 1994. The major overhaul of the hanger will continue until May next year and all 2,000 figures and objects in the pit will be removed for safekeeping in the interim.


Hong Kong's Secretary for Home Affairs, Tsang Tak-sing, told lawmakers at the University of Science and Technology on 7 November 2007 that the government has conducted a pilot study on Hong Kong's intangible cultural heritage, and is considering commissioning an agency to conduct a survey and compile a comprehensive inventory of this heritage. The pilot study showed that 34 out of the 78 intangible cultural heritage items listed for Guangdong province are shared with Hong Kong. Libraries and museums in Hong Kong will be engaged in the project, and a web-based platform for the survey should be ready by 2010.


On 8 November 2007, Changsha Inscribed Wooden Slips Museum opened to the public. The museum houses an archive of more than 140,000 inscribed wooden slips that were part of the government archive of the state of Wu during the Three Kingdoms period (Wu, 222-280). The slips were discovered by archaeologists in an ancient well at the Zoumalou site in Changsha city, Hunan province, in October 1996. The new museum has more than 5,000 square metres of exhibition space, and more than 1,000 artefacts are on display. The exhibits include a display of ancient Chinese inscribed slips, highlighting the Zoumalou discoveries, and a display of cultural relics unearthed in Changsha, which was one of the ancient centres of Chu culture.


Double Ninth Festival fell this year on 19 October and across nine counties ceremonies were held to honour Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor. Official media reports took pains to stress that this was a 'non-governmental' observance commemorating 'the legendary ancestors of the Chinese nationality', according to Xinhua News Agency's English service. This year's ceremony, staged in Huangling county in Shaanxi province, is very low-key and represents a break with previous ceremonies which appealed to overseas Chinese visitors and which stressed ethnic Han origins. The nine counties in which the related ceremonies are being held are in ethnic minority areas in Tibet, Yunnan, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei and Gansu. Prior to the event Xinhua reported that, 'at the ceremony, representatives from the nine counties will carry out memorial activities with the characteristics of different ethnic groups, and they will plant memorial trees together with representatives from overseas'.

This year's ceremony was co-sponsored by the Association for Folk Literature and Art, the Office of the Learning of Historical and Cultural Data Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the Huangling county government.


Construction engineers will scan the ruins of the Garden of Perfect Brightness (Yuanming Yuan) in north-western Beijing with three-dimensional laser technology in order to reconstruct some of the original buildings, according to a report in the 19 October 2007 of China Daily, that quoted Professor Zang Chunyu of Tsinghua University's Urban Planning and Design Institute. Plans to reconstruct even some of the buildings are widely opposed by many conservationists, and so it is interesting that reconstruction plans were again mooted at a seminar at the university marking the three-hundredth anniversary of the commencement of construction of the imperial garden palace complex in Beijing's north-west.


In October 2007, an academic conference bringing together Chinese archaeologists, philologists and historians was told that some of China's earliest household registers, dating to the Qin dynasty (221-206 BCE), had been deciphered. The conference was held in Liye, Hunan province, where in 2002 some 37,000 Qin dynasty bamboo slips were unearthed together with other burial accessories. Of the large trove of documents, 24 slips have been identified as household registers. These are the oldest household registers ever found in China, and they shed light on the social system of the time. The registers include such information as the address, class, birth place, official position and name of the master of the house, followed by details of male members of the family, female family members and children, close relatives living with the family, concubines, private slaves and maids. It is clear from the slips that even slaves and maids were registered as household members in the Qin period. The registers were compiled by the township level government, according to Professor Yun Chae Sok of Korea's Kyungpook National University.

The report on the Liye archaeological excavation was published in January 2007, and a preliminary inventory of the slips titled Liye Qin jian zhengli baogao (Report on the cataloguing of the Qin slips from Liye) will be published at the end of this year.


On the eve of the publication of a new and unexpurgated version of the autobiography of China's last emperor Puyi titled The First Half of My Life: From Emperor to Citizen, Beijing-based Qunzhong (Masses) Publishing House filed a suit in September 2007 in the People's Court of Beijing's Xicheng District applying for intestate status on the copyright of the autobiography. The move is intended, ostensibly, to resolve a longstanding dispute regarding ownership of the copyright. The court acknowledged the application and issued the following statement on 25 September 2007: 'The copyright will transfer to the state if no one claims ownership within a year, and profits from the book sales will be nationalised according to the law'.

The publishing house's move seems to be self-defeating, but is possibly intended to thwart the claims of Aisin-Gioro Puyi's younger brother, 89-year-old Jin Youzhi or Puren, to the copyright. In December 2006, Jin lost a legal battle claiming ownership of the copyright on Puyi's image after the Palace Museum staged an exhibition on Puyi's life. The Beijing No.2 Intermediate People's Court ruled that Puyi was 'a public and historical figure', and that reproductions of his image did not infringe on the family's rights.

In 1957 (some sources say 1950), Puyi commenced work on his autobiography, ghost written by Li Wenda, reportedly with the involvement of the famed progressive Manchu novelist Lao She. The completed three-volume work was first published in 1964 in Hong Kong after extensive editing by many historians and experts. Nearly two million copies in 21 editions of the book have been sold subsequently on the mainland. Abridged English translations have also appeared, the best known being that by W.J.F. Jenner. The autobiography formed the major source for Bernardo Bertolucci's film The Last Emperor (1987).

Puyi died in 1967, but his widow Li Shuxian held the copyright of the autobiography until her death in 1997. The couple died intestate and had no offspring to inherit copyright ownership. However, Puren was not the biological brother of Puyi, having been adopted as a stepson by the Guangxu Emperor in 1908. The publishing company is perhaps hoping that in the absence of an inheritor of the copyright the court will award them the copyright, given that they were the autobiography's first publisher.


On 26 October 2007, Chengdu Daily News reported the discovery by archaeologists, at an ancient graveyard in Dayi county, outside Chengdu in Sichuan province, of an iron cauldron lined with a pottery vessel. The iron cauldron measuring 28 centimetres in height with the pottery lining is believed to have functioned like a thermos flask that could keep liquids warm. The vessel is tentatively dated to the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE).


According to Tian Qing, director of the Intangible Cultural Research Centre of China, many endangered Chinese folk arts will disappear within the next decade if steps to protect them are not adopted immediately. In an article in the 11 October 2007 issue of Beijing Review, Tian Jiqing attributes this situation to modernisation and globalisation, and he is quoted there as saying that 'everyone is now caught up in the virtual world and young people in many countries have similar modern interests'. Following its listing of intangible cultural heritage properties and the drafting of a national law on intangible cultural protection, many provinces have also promulgated local regulations to protect folk arts, cultural traditions and customs at the local level. On 9 June 2007, 266 representative folk artisans were included in the list of the first batch of heritage artists issued by the Chinese Ministry of Culture, but much more needs to be done because many of these artisans are elderly and the government must ensure that their skills are recorded and passed on.


On 18 October 2007, the Jingdezhen Official Kiln site was opened to the public. Since 2002, archaeologists have unearthed the site of the official ceramics kiln at Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, which was operational during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. More than 20 varieties of glaze and 100 types of vessel have been unearthed at the site. The official school was established in 1278 by Kublai Khan and it was initially known as the Fuliang Porcelain Office.


The Landscape Design Institute of Peking University made public the results of its long-term survey of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal at the end of September 2007. Head of the institute, Yu Kongjian revealed that this massive ancient engineering marvel is today suffering unprecedented destruction. Professor Yu suggested that the Grand Canal might have no remaining heritage value 'within three years', dashing the hopes of those optimists who want to see UNESCO list the Grand Canal as a world heritage site. Professor Yu's survey group concluded that 'many historical remains have been damaged or lost because of poor conservation measures and sections of the canal that have been without water for many years have even disappeared', while some cities have turned the Grand Canal into a garbage tip and a refuse channel. More seriously, some cities have carried out improvements along the Grand Canal and built new scenic spots that have eliminated all traces of the original canal's features. Professor Yu has been studying the ecology of the Grand Canal since returning to Peking University from Harvard in 1997, and the recently completed survey in which 28 research students participated was commissioned by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage in 2003, to provide preparatory material for the eventual application for listing the Grand Canal as a World Cultural Heritage site. The Peking University team pointed out that much of the damage was perpetrated by local governments in their enthusiasm for eventually making a heritage listing application, which saw local authorities building new embankments and 'beautifying' stretches of canal under their jurisdiction. The report by Yu Kongjian's team will provide little cheer for the office set up in Yangzhou on 26 September this year to prepare a comprehensive draft heritage listing application for the Grand Canal (see China Heritage Quarterly, Issue 9, March 2007).


In recent years Shaolin Temple has lobbied intensively to have its martial arts recognised by UNESCO as a world intangible heritage property, but the temple in Henan province has not been unsuccessful, even though it employed a London-based PR company to further its claims. It was reported in early October 2007 that a further blow to the temple's pursuit of international celebrity status came when the Beijing Olympic Committee were informed that the Shaolin Temple monks would not be participating in 'martial arts' (wushu) events being showcased at the 2008 Beijing games. China is hoping that wushu will eventually become an Olympic sport. Xinhua reported that the monks would not perform because the Shaolin martial arts are not a 'quantifiable' sport and the 'art belongs to a sacred tradition'. The monks have announced, however, that they are prepared to march and take part in the opening ceremonies, if invited.


It was long believed that the peanut was introduced to China six centuries ago from Latin America during the Ming dynasty, at roughly the same time as tobacco, tomatoes, chilli plants and maize. However, Chinese archaeologists recently discovered twenty peanuts among the material recovered during the excavation of the Han dynasty Yangling mausoleum that would push back the history of the peanut in China a further 1500 years. The Yangling imperial mausoleum contained a large quantity of sacrificial food items, mostly grains that had already been carbonised. The grains in the Yangling tomb first came to the attention of an American archaeologist from Oregon State University shortly after the unearthed material was published in 1990, but he identified them as maize in an article that appeared in National Geographic in 1991.

The 'maize' was only recently examined by Chinese archaeological laboratories, which reported that they could affirm that the 'maize' was in fact 'peanuts', an equally startling discovery. These early Chinese peanuts remain an isolated discovery, and Sun Zhenjiang, director of the Yangling Mausoleum Museum outside Xi'an, points out that scientists do not yet know whether the peanuts are a wild or domesticated variety, or whether they were imported or grown locally.


Reports surfaced in September and October 2007 that the original occupant of a large tomb discovered four years ago in the vicinity of the mausoleum of China's first emperor, Qin Shihuang (259-210 BCE, r.221-210), at Lintong outside Xi'an in Shaanxi province, was none other than the son of the last Qin ruler, Ziying. Ziying succeeded Huhai, the second emperor of Qin, but only ruled for forty-six days in 206 BCE before surrendering to the Han rebel armies led by Liu Bang.

The tomb, first discovered by the Qin Shihuang Mausoleum Archaeological Team in 2003, features two entrances and measures 109 metres from north to south and 26 metres from east to west. The tomb is 15.5 metres deep. It is the largest tomb discovered in the mausoleum area to date, with the exception of the tomb of Qin Shihuang himself. Traces of lacquered hide, rusted bronze and textiles were found in association with the tomb. There is no tangible evidence that Ziying was in fact the occupant of the tomb, but Yuan Zhongyi, the leading archaeologist in charge of the excavations at the site of Qin Shihuang's mausoleum since 1974, concluded that the tomb belongs to Ziying on the basis of its location and size.

However, some archaeologists and historians doubt whether the rebel armies that conquered Qin would have buried Ziying with full honours.


A group of spectacular Zhou dynasty tombs unearthed in Liangdaicun village in Hancheng, Shaanxi province, was listed as one of the Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries of 2005. But, despite strong security at the excavation site, the tombs were plundered in August 2006. A police investigation identified a gang of twelve tomb robbers comprising local farmers and led by professional tomb robbers based in Xiaxian county, Shanxi province. This province has a reputation for producing China's most enterprising tomb robbers.

Although three of the tomb robbers remain at large, nine were arrested and sentenced in a Hancheng court at the end of September 2007 and given harsh penalties ranging from nine to eleven years imprisonment. The Xinhua news report on the sentencing did not provide any information regarding what 'cultural relics' the robbers succeeded in removing from the tombs, but fines of RMB 35,000 and 30,000 further imposed on the two ringleaders presumably relate to the value of their booty. On 26 September 2007, the day the nine sentences were announced, a further sixty-five persons were taken into custody in Hancheng for offences related to tomb robbing.

A genre of Chinese fiction called 'tomb robbing novels' (daomu xiaoshuo) has been popular since last year among young male readers. These works blend details of tomb robberies and the supernatural, and the best known of its type is titled Gui chui deng (The ghost-blown lamp). There are said to be more than twenty titles in this genre on the market. The novels have yet been criticised for encouraging public sympathy for tomb robbers.


The 27 September 2007 issue of the British journal Nature carried an abstract of an article by scientists from East China Normal University, the University of Durham and Fudan University arguing that the Kuahuqiao site in the Lower Yangtze river valley has provided archaeologists with information about paddy rice cultivation in China dating back 7,700 years. The archaeologists who excavated the site demonstrated that the settlers at Kuahuqiao selected lowland swamps for cultivating paddy rice and they used fire to clear wetland scrub and prepare paddy conditions, by regular flooding under controlled conditions with slightly brackish water. The coastal wetlands of eastern China were highly fertile and conducive to the development of productive agriculture. According to Chinese archaeologists, the Kuahuqiao site is not the oldest site in China, and they maintain that a number of other sites are more than two millennia earlier, but the Kuahuqiao site has enabled archaeologists to study the process of preparing an environment for paddy rice cultivation with fire.