Sanxingdui relics spark new discussion

Writer: Cao Zhen  |  Editor: Zhang Chanwen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2022-11-10

Although the “Interpreting Sanxingdui” exhibition at Shenzhen Museum ended last month, talks on the ingenious designs of the Sanxingdui relics continue.

A discussion among Guo Xuelei, deputy director of Shenzhen Museum, Li Haoyu, executive director of Cheung Kong Industrial Design Center (CIDC) of Shantou University, and Prof. Tang Jigen of the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), was aired online Oct. 30. The talk, held during the exhibition, was organized by Shenzhen Museum, Dute News, CIDC and SUSTech’s cultural heritage research center.

A bronze mask with almond-shaped eyeballs. Cao Zhen

“I suppose the protruding cylindrical eyeballs of the Vertical-eyed Bronze Mask were designed for highlighting the power of eyes. People in the ancient Shu Kingdom wished to see unknown things through those eyes,” said Li. “Design comes from life; the Shu people held sacrifices in high regard, so interpreting the Sanxingdui relics should follow the sacrificing clues.”

The mysterious Sanxingdui Ruins in Guanghan City in Sichuan Province are believed to be the remnants of the ancient Shu Kingdom dating back more than 3,000 years. The Vertical-eyed Bronze Mask excavated in 1986 is one of Sanxingdui’s most eye-catching items due to its two protruding cylindrical eyeballs of 16 centimeters.

Replicas of the Vertical-eyed Bronze Mask with protruding cylindrical eyeballs. Sun Yuchen

The Shenzhen exhibition held from August through October replicated a sacrificial scene based on archeologist Tang’s research. He stated that the Vertical-eyed Bronze Mask and other bronze masks with almond-shaped protruding eyeballs represent the ancient Shu rulers being worshiped in sacrifices; the Bronze Standing Figure must be the officiant in sacrifices; the Bronze Sacred Tree placed between the Vertical-eyed Bronze Mask and the Bronze Standing Figure forms a connection.

“The Sanxingdui relics look different from those in the Central China civilization but Sanxingdui’s bronze casting technique demonstrates close communications between the ancient Shu and Central China in the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 B.C.),” said Tang.

Guo suggested viewers admire the beauty of cultural fusion, ritual and craftsmanship when observing Sanxingdui objects.

“Patterns on many Sanxingdui relics are similar to those from the Shang Dynasty civilization, which show the beauty of cultural fusion in China,” said Guo. “The sacrificing objects in Sanxingdui demonstrate the solemn and mysterious beauty. The exaggeratedly tall figures and large masks, as well as the figurines in vivid facial expressions, all reflect exquisite craftsmanship and unprecedented designs.”

Guo explained the reason why ancient Chinese people could make such superb objects. “They injected philosophical thoughts into crafts. For example, in the reign of Emperor Huizong of Song in the 10th-11th centuries, many delicate wares were co-designed by literati and craftsmen.”