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Dialogues Across Time and Space

2020-07-24 23:43:00 Source:China Today Author:
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Bringing life to the cultural relics collected in museums, the heritage standing on the vast land, and the characters written in the ancient books; vitalizing the cultural spirit that breaks down the barriers of space and time, spreading across borders, and having eternal enchantment and contemporary values; and presenting the fruits of our cultural innovations that combine traditional merits and modern values, and feature universal qualities deriving from our homeland. To achieve these goals is what the book Every Treasure Tells A Story has aimed to do.

One hundred treasures have been carefully selected for the book, each of which tells a legendary tale. The book introduces each of the treasures and talks about their relationships with the civilizations embodied in these artifacts. It celebrates the unique creativity, development path, and values of Chinese culture by telling breathtaking stories about the treasures, presenting extensive pictures, and providing an appealing, informative, and meaningful narrative.

To let 100 national treasures “speak” for themselves, the production team visited nearly 100 museums and archaeological research institutes, traveled to more than 50 archaeological sites, and recorded more than 1,000 pieces of cultural relics in Chinese history from the Neolithic Age to Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, all for the purpose of interpreting the legendary stories and rebuilding a Chinese history of cultural relics.

The history starts from chapter one entitled “Human-headed Pot: Gazing at Old Times.” Most ancient civilizations across the globe emerged from the birth of portrait art. The human-headed pot was made of red clay by the ancestors of the Yangshao Culture dating back to between 6,000 and 6,500 years ago. At that time, people carved out stone tools, and began to raise livestock, reclaim wasteland, and gradually form tribes. This marked the beginning of the Neolithic Age of human history. In the history of humans, pottery was the first experiment to be created from scratch. With their own hands, people used soil, water, and fire to produce physical and chemical reactions and achieve a transformation of substances.

The portrait’s lips are slightly curled upwards, exhibiting an innocent and sincere look of a child. The body of the pot serves as the body of a human. The large rotund belly seems to represent the full figure and fertility of a female. On the back of the pot, a spout with an oblate section extends out and was used for pouring water into the pot, while the eyes and mouth form the outlets for the water. The water discharged from the eyes of the human-headed pot looks like tears, signifying the initial pain of human birth. The clay figures molded by people of ancient times to resemble their own image have had a longer life than their creators. Their life is as old as mother earth herself, while their faces remain clearly intact to this very day.

Besides a large number of vivid cultural relics, the book presents the wisdom of ancient Chinese and their achievements in science and technology. There is one chapter named, “Longshan Eggshell Black Pottery Cup: A Delicate Craftwork 0.2MM Thin.” In the field of archaeology, this black pottery cup from Longshan period has been hailed as “the most delicate piece of craftwork among human civilizations from 4,000 years ago.” The rare thin-walled cup, made from the simplest materials and displaying the most superb craftsmanship, was unearthed in the middle to lower reaches of China’s Yellow River, provides us with a masterpiece of that time. Can you imagine that it is just as thin as a cicada’s wings?

Some historic characters and the objects they used were also recorded in the book. “Fu Hao’s Jade Phoenix: Legend of the Magic Bird” is one of these narratives. Fu Hao, a queen of King Wu Ding of the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 - c.1100 BC), participated in the affairs of state and, through her outstanding abilities, won herself a place within the male-dominated society. As a queen and also a general, she was brave and battlewise, and used to host various large sacrificial rituals. With her own fiefdom, she was financially independent. As a wife and mother, she was gentle and warm, and could be called an exemplar of the perfect woman. A rich set of articles were discovered in Fu Hao’s tomb, including 755 jade items, 499 bone hairpins, bronze mirrors, bone combs, delicate ivory cups, bone carving knives, turquoise, malachite, agate beads, and other gems. These exquisite objects not only helped people see the social status of the woman at that time, but also left an extremely rich cultural heritage, portraying a woman elegant and graceful like the jade phoenix itself.

It was such a giant workload and a real challenge to select just 100 most representative pieces from the huge number of existing cultural relics. It was not simply an aesthetic or academic issue, but related to how we understand the history. Therefore, every cultural relic in this book has an important place in the formation and spread of Chinese civilization, reflecting the level of productivity at that time and the creative wisdom of the people. Before introducing each of them, the production team spent lots of time studying historical materials and archaeological reports, drew on the opinions of historians and professionals, and conducted field investigation.

How to attract young people to accept the long-established Chinese culture is another question the production team carefully thought over. First of all, according to the characteristics of the cultural relics and the information they want to express, the team adopted a variety of narrative styles that are interesting, elegant or adorable, trying to bring the quiet treasures displayed in the museum alive, speaking to readers and stimulating their curiosity in exploring the development course of Chinese civilization. Thus, these silent art works of profound cultural significance that span thousands of years have been displayed in front of us in a readable way.

Shan Jixiang, former director of the Palace Museum, wrote in the preface, “Today, there is growing interest in the heritage of China. Many want to learn more about our country. Some are interested in perceptions, opinions, emotions, and the aesthetic tastes of our people, and some want to get acquainted with Chinese traditions, customs, and our national ethos. I believe that our treasures, as well as this richly illustrated and narrated book, will open the very window for our foreign friends to have a glance at Chinese culture. Hopefully, they may feel the distinctive enchantment of Chinese culture from the moment they focus on any one of the treasures in a museum, and in the end come away with a deeper understanding of our culture, which is wonderful.”  

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