Ancient capital provides insight into origins of Chinese civilization

ANYANG, China, Oct. 31, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — A news report by Global Times:

An ancient capital site with the longest, largest and most frequent archaeological excavations in China, the Yinxu Ruins, the last capital of the Shang Dynasty (c.1600BC-1046BC), in Anyang, Central China’s Henan Province, are not only listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also rank first among China’s 100 Major Archaeological Discoveries in the 20th century.

“The excavation of the Yinxu Ruins was a significant milestone in the history of Chinese archaeology as it marked the first time that a Chinese archaeological institute had unearthed an ancient ruins site. The site was also the first ruins of an ancient Chinese capital excavated by archaeologists,” Wang Wei, president of the Institute of Archaeology Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the chief expert of a national research program dedicated to tracing the origins of Chinese civilization, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, inspected the Yinxu Ruins on Friday afternoon.

“I have long yearned to visit here. This time I came here for further study and to gain a deeper understanding of Chinese civilization so that we can make the past serve the present, and draw inspiration for building an even better modern Chinese civilization,” he said.

Xi stressed that China’s excellent traditional culture is the root of the Party’s new theories.

To further develop a modern China, the integration of traditional Chinese culture into the development of society is more important than ever.

“We should stay confident in our culture and be more confident and prouder to be Chinese.”

Liu Zheng, a member of the China Cultural Relics Academy, told the Global Times that the archaeological excavation of the Yinxu Ruins started in 1928 holds world research significance. It was a “product” of the combination of traditional Chinese epigraphy, also known as the “preface of Chinese archaeology” of field researches that are commonly celebrated in Western academia.

With authentic archaeological discoveries, the site proves the credibility of ancient Chinese civilizations to the world. “Such a result can enhance the national pride on our cultures, laying solid foundation for boosting our cultural confidence,” Liu noted.

Seat of power

Situated on banks of the Huanhe River in Anyang, Central China’s Henan Province, the Yinxu Ruins consist of two sites: the Palace and Royal Ancestral Shrines Area and the Royal Tombs Area.

The last capital of the Shang Dynasty, also known as the Yin Dynasty, the city was the seat of power of 12 kings.

In addition to the remains of over 80 homes, numerous pits containing oracle bones were also discovered at the site. Used in divination ceremonies, these bones had inscriptions upon them, the earliest Chinese writing discovered so far, which has helped provide a clear record of events, both major and small, that occurred during the reigns of the 12 Shang kings over the period of hundreds of years.

The Royal Tombs built up upon higher ground contained sacrificial pits with chariots and human remains that were most likely sacrificial victims.

Burial goods found within these tombs include decorated bronze ritual vessels, jade wares, and ceramics.

Wang noted that bronze wares unearthed at the palace, workshops and royal tombs in the Yinxu Ruins are important evidence of the bronze civilization of the late Shang Dynasty.

Exquisite bronze relics such as the Houmuwu Ding, a sacrificial food vessel weighing around 800 kilograms, show the unique characteristics of Chinese bronze civilization.

Advanced culture

The discovery of the Yinxu Ruins was significant as they are a “cultural panorama” of the ancient cultures that existed more than 3,000 years ago, providing great insight into areas such as the formation of the Chinese writing system, architecture, agriculture and China-West cultural exchanges, Sun Guoding, a Beijing-based archaeologist specializing in the Shang Dynasty, told the Global Times on Sunday.

As one of the most important capital sites in early China, the Yinxu Ruins’ layout had an important influence on the construction and development of subsequent capitals in China.

Sun noted to the Global Times that the fact that the site’s buildings were clearly designed for different functions such as a handicraft workshop and a palace court reveals that there was a developed social system and governing body at the time.

The site reveals the social life of the people of the late Shang Dynasty, reflecting highly developed scientific and technical achievements and innovations, from bronze casting to the calendar system.

He emphasized that discoveries such as a double-wheeled horse carriage with brakes show the mechanical innovation of ancient people and their pursuit of an advanced “modern life.”

“Investigating where the carriage designs came from, many researchers came to believe that the Shang Dynasty people were inspired by cultures from the west. This is also a sign of China-West communications and Chinese culture’s ability to embrace the wisdom of the world,” Sun said.

“While excavating the ruins, generations of Chinese archaeologists have developed different research methods and technology, so the ruins can be seen as laying a foundation for Chinese archaeology,” Wang added.