Report of the Public Archaeology Programme of Events “Step Into Erlitou and Experience Ancient China”
In the lead-up to the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, The Institute of Archaeology CASS, the Luoyang Municipal Bureau of Cultural Heritage and the People's Government of Yanshi organized a series of archaeological events for the public entitled “Step into Erlitou and Experience Ancient China”. The purpose of these events was to publicize and educate the public of the important role of the Erlitou capital city within the history of Chinese civilization. The organizers aimed to bring the unique charms of early China to life by organizing field investigations, demonstrations, lectures and discussions for members of the public.
Zhang Yong, Deputy Mayor of the People's Government of Yanshi, presided over the event's opening ceremony, which was held in Yanshi, Henan Province, on the morning of August 29, 2009. After the government authorities had finished delivering their speeches, Professor Xu Hong took the stage and presented the Yanshi People's Government and Party Committee with a copy of his book “The Earliest China” before going on to address the audience. Professor Xu Hong is the Director of the Department of Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology (CASS) and is the current team leader of the Institute's Erlitou Fieldwork Team.
One of the key events of the “Step Into Erlitou and Experience Ancient China” public archaeology programme took place at the Erlitou archaeological site on the afternoon of August 29, 2009. The tour was led by Xu Hong and Research Fellow Liu Guoxiang and the participants were invited to visit the work station where the Institute of Archaeology (CASS) Erlitou Fieldwork Team is based.
Xu Hong, the current team leader of the Erlitou Fieldwork Team, went on to give an enthusiastic account of the site's key features. He gave the participants a brief introduction to the history of the research conducted on the Erlitou site, the layout of the site's features, the site's topography, and climatic evolution. He then went on to talk about the types of ruins which can be seen at the Erlitou site, including the ruins of the imperial palace, roadways, sacrificial sites, burial grounds, and handicraft workshops. Xu Hong also took the opportunity to talk about the excavations which had been conducted at Erlitou in recent years and went on to explain the team's research objectives, the conservation measures used, and the long-term plans for the preservation of the Erlitou ruins. He then accompanied the participants on a visit to the Erlitou Fieldwork Team's work station, where he introduced them to the other members of the team and gave them an overview of their responsibilities and tasks.
The participants were then taken to the Erlitou Fieldwork Team's exhibition room, where Xu Hong briefed them on some of the basic concepts, terminology, theories and methods used in archaeology. He went on to talk about a range of topics related to the study of the Erlitou culture and archaeological site, including the cultural characteristics of each period, the functions and changing characteristics of Erlitou pottery, the diffusion of the Erlitou culture and urban civilization, urban planning and demographic composition, the forms and governance tactics of early Chinese states, and the control of subsistence and resources. Xu Hong took the time to answer some questions before moving on to the team's pottery restoration laboratory, where the participants were able to learn more about the various steps involved in the restoration of ancient pottery.
After the tour of Erlitou, the participants visited the western city wall of Shang dynasty in Yanshi, where experts gave them a brief background to the discovery and excavation of the wall, related sites and an overview of the research conducted at the site. This was followed by a visit to the “Capital Cities of the Xia and Shang Dynasties” exhibition at the Yanshi Shang City Museum, where artifacts unearthed at the Erlitou and Yanshi Shang City sites were on display. The exhibition gave the participants a chance to see the cultural charms of the early Chinese states for themselves.
Another of the main events of the “Step Into Erlitou and Experience Ancient China” public archaeology programme was held on the morning of August 30, 2009. The academic forum “Academic Forum on Archaeological Research at Erlitou site for Fifty Years” was organised as a way of commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of the Erlitou ruins (1959-2009). Dr. Xu Hong, Director of the Department of Xia, Shang and Zhou Archaeology and Team Leader of the Institute of Archaeology's Erlitou Fieldwork Team, and Professor Deng Cong, Director of the Centre for Chinese Archaeology and Art at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, both gave presentations on the Erlitou ruins and Erlitou culture and took part in the subsequent discussions with members of the audience. The forum was presided over by Liu Guoxiang, the Deputy Director of the Centre for Public Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology (CASS).
Dr. Xu Hong's presentation was entitled “Erlitou : The Earliest China”. By using concise data on the archaeological discovery and cultural relics discovered at Erlitou and relying on his own experience as Team Leader of the Erlitou Fieldwork Team, he explained how Erlitou became China's earliest civilization. He drew upon bronze inscriptions and ancient documents to demonstrate the evolution of ancient Chinese characters and gave the audience some background information on the topography of the Luoyang Basin before going on to explore how the concept of "China" evolved throughout history. He examined the major discoveries made at the Erlitou site and the Erlitou culture's sphere of influence with the aim of determining which of the three stages of the development of China's ancient civilization the Erlitou culture falls under (i.e. nation state, kingdom or empire) and went on to share his observations of the formation of ancient Chinese states and capital cities based on the study of settlement archaeology. Dr Xu also posited that Erlitou may have been East Asia's earliest example of a core culture and that Erlitou ushered in a new era of ritual culture and paved the way for an integrated Chinese civilization. He went on to reflect on the history of Xia and Shang archaeology in China prior to the discovery of the Erlitou site. Using a large number of photographs to demonstrate the site's environmental setting, patterns of subsistence, and distribution of metal resources, he tried to give the audience a better idea of the environment and landscape which gave rise to the “earliest China”. Dr Xu relied on analyses of the archaeological discoveries made at Erlitou and other related research in order to answer the audience's questions on the livelihoods of the inhabitants of Erlitou and explain how the Erlitou culture were able to attain such a high level of sophistication in the arts and technology. He drew on research conducted on plant remains, the functions of certain pottery artifacts, comparative analyses of the forms of ancient Chinese characters and pottery dating from the Erlitou era, production tools, related archaeological sites, carved marks, motifs and decorations, pottery and works of art made from bone, bronze ware, turquoise pieces, and textiles.
Professor Deng Cong's presentation was on “The Microscopic World of Erlitou's Jade Artifacts”. He began by outlining the cooperative research that had been undertaken by the Institute of Archaeology CASS and the Chinese University of Hong Kong on jade artifacts which had been excavated at Erlitou. He began his presentation by showing the audience examples of some of the tools used in the microscopic study of jade artifacts and explaining their methods of use and functions. Professor Deng used numerous photographs to help give the audience a basic background on fractures, abrasion and the fundamental physics used when studying jade artifacts under a microscope. He then turned his attention to the history of technological development and described three techniques used for carving Chinese jade artifacts : string cutting, sawing and wheel-cutting. He discussed the manufacture and craftsmanship of the large dragon-shaped turquoise artifact and turquoise plaques which have been discovered at Erlitou in recent years. Professor Deng continued his presentation with an investigation into the artistic charms of jade and turquoise artifacts discovered around the world. He talked about the discovery of “zhang” blades at a site in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and how “zhang” blades discovered in Vietnam have captured the attention of Chinese academics. He concluded his presentation by listing some of the most recent archaeological discoveries of “zhang” blades in Vietnam and neighbouring countries.
After the researchers had finished giving their presentations, Dr. Xu Hong, Professor Deng Cong, the audience and the attending experts exchanged their views on a number of topics, including the production tools which had been excavated at Erlitou, irrigation systems, the chronology of Erlitou culture, the characteristics of Erlitou pottery, the origins and ethnic background of Erlitou culture, methods used in the construction of the palatial buildings, and the functions, dating, origins, excavation sites and historical significance of “zhang” blades.
The forum was brought to an end with a closing speech from Liu Guoxiang. He pointed out that the Erlitou site held a special place in the history of Chinese archaeology and that the forum was the sum of fifty years of academic research conducted on Erlitou. He felt that the forum had been a successful attempt to host an academic forum for the general public and expressed his hope that the forum would give people a greater understanding of archaeology and the Erlitou site and that this would in turn lead to a wider, better and more beneficial popularization of archaeological achievements and knowledge.
Another discussion forum, “Public Archaeology Forum : Early China from the Perspective of the General Public”, was held on the afternoon of August 30, 2009, and was presided over by Liu Guoxiang and Xu Hong. Professor Chan Ma-hung, President of Sino United Publishing Ltd. (Hong Kong), Mr Xie Ruguang, a Senior Planner at China Central Television, and Research Fellow Liu Guoxiang, were invited to give speeches on the subject of public archaeology. Mr Guo Zhenya, a conservator and Erlitou Villagers' Representative, was also invited to give a speech on his experiences as a conservator and on the relationship between the excavation of the Erlitou site, rural construction, and livelihoods of the Erlitou villagers. The audience joined the speakers in discussions on early China and public archaeology.
The first speaker to take the stage was Professor Chan Man-hung with a speech entitled “Archaeology and Public History Education from a Global Perspective : Thirty Years' Experience of Publishing the History of Chinese Civilization”. Professor Chan started by talking about his cultural responsibilities as a publisher and spoke of his own knowledge of Chinese history and society. He pointed out that history is an important academic discipline because he believes it “trains people to understand the development of mankind”.
Mr Xie Ruguang's speech focused on the term “public archaeology”. He argued that public archaeology was dependent on the general public and was a necessity for social progress, and he felt that archaeology had already taken its first steps into a new era of “archaeology for the masses”. He outlined the challenges that villagers faced in preserving cultural relics and highlighted the need for public archaeology. Mr Xie expressed his belief that the aim of public archaeology is to foster a larger number of conservators who will be involved in the preservation of cultural heritage and he concluded his speech by sharing his prospects for the development of Chinese public archaeology.
Liu Guoxiang began his speech with explanation of the implications of public archaeology. Liu argued that the purpose of public archaeology is not simply the propagation of knowledge of cultural relics; it can also make use of precise scholarship to pave the way for wholesome cultural needs and help improve the public's cultural awareness. He felt that one of the key purposes of public archaeology is the dissemination of Chinese social culture. He concluded his speech with an analysis of the concept of cultural heritage and an assessment of the realities surrounding the preservation of cultural heritage, and stated that the preservation of cultural heritage is not solely the responsibility of the experts and academics but also of the general public.
Mr Guo Zhenya, a farmer from Erlitou, was also invited to address the audience. Mr Guo has been involved in archaeological work at the Erlitou site over the past few decades. His strong sense of duty and passion for the Erlitou ruins made him a key figure in the discovery of numerous artifacts in the farmland around Erlitou and he has provided archaeologists with clues which lead to the discovery of many others. During his speech, Mr Guo talked about his passionate interest in the Erlitou ruins and he shared his opinions on the relationship between the excavation sites, rural construction, and the preservation of the Erlitou site. He suggested that the relevant government departments should step up their efforts to educate villagers and that a greater emphasis should be placed on the widespread education of archaeology and cultural heritage. He also stressed that greater supervision is needed in the capital construction of farmland and that the Erlitou site should be developed and preserved for the benefit of the general public.
After the presentations, the audience exchanged their views and opinions on early China and public archaeology. Some of the audience members took the opportunity to talk about how the forum had helped them gain a deeper understanding of China's history and society.
The forum was brought to an end with a closing speech by Xu Hong. He thanked the audience for their interest in Erlitou and ancient China and hoped that future discoveries and research conducted on the Erlitou site would be made known to the public so that a greater number of people could "experience early China" for themselves. He concluded his speech with the message "The new era of public archaeology has arrived". (Translated by Kelly McGuire)