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Going back to the roots

Foundations of Chinese civilization come into greater focus as exhibition examines key themes, report Li Yingxue and Wu Yong in Shenyang.

By Li Yingxue and Wu Yong in Shenyang | China Daily | Updated: 2024-07-08 05:58

The Light of Civilization: Hongshan, Liangzhu, and Chinese Civilization proves a popular attraction for many visitors to the Shenyang Museum in Liaoning province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Among 86-year-old Guo Dashun's most vivid memories, which span decades of archaeological exploration, the one that shines brightest, despite first being glimpsed more than 40 years ago, happened at the Niuheliang Site in Chaoyang, Liaoning province.

"That was a moment etched in time, as the clay head of a goddess that we had just unearthed lay before us, gazing skyward with a smile that seemed to invite conversation," says Guo, an honorary director of Liaoning Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, and a leading scholar of Hongshan Culture studies.

"Her eyes, adorned with jade, gleamed with a mesmerizing intensity, and drew everyone closer. It was our first glimpse of the face of our ancestors from 5 millennia ago."

The sculpture is a life-size terracotta representation of a woman with distinctive facial traits: high cheekbones, shallow eye sockets, a low nose bridge, thin lips and eyes inset with sparkling, jade circular pieces. It was discovered at the Niuheliang Site, which has been identified as a late-stage primitive settlement of the Hongshan Culture. The culture, pivotal in Neolithic Chinese history, once flourished across modern-day Liaoning, Hebei province, and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

Presently, a replica of this captivating face is on display at the Shenyang Museum in the provincial capital, Shenyang. Alongside it are 265 artifacts, which take visitors on a journey into the beauty and enduring legacy of early Chinese civilization.

The exhibition, The Light of Civilization: Hongshan, Liangzhu, and Chinese Civilization, opened last month, elevates the Hongshan and Liangzhu cultures to equal importance, examining them within the grand narrative of the origins of Chinese civilization, according to Wang Chuang, the exhibition curator, and member of the Shenyang cultural heritage center.

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