Archaeologists in China’s Sichuan province announced this week that they have uncovered evidence of ancient attempts to communicate with fairies. Evidence of ancient sacrificial rituals was unearthed, along with bronze, jade, and gold artifacts. Some of the artifacts, the scientists said, are one-of-a-kind objects that point to the “fairy world” of ancient Chinese religion and thought. But if you’re picturing folk religion and Tinkerbell, think again.
The discovery was made at the famous Sanxingdui Archaeological Site in Guanghan City, in the southwest of Sichuan Province. The actual treasures from sacrificial pits 7 and 8 were excavated by a collaborative team of academics from Peking University and Sichuan University. Among the items was a bronze and green jade box embellished with a dragon head handle and which was once wrapped in silk. Sichuan University professor Li Hachao, who directed Pit 7, told Chinese news agencies that “it would not be an exaggeration to say that this ship is one of its kind, given its distinctive shape, fine craftsmanship and simple design.”
The collection of intricate sculptures includes mythological creatures, human-snake hybrids, and bronze heads decorated with gold masks. The symbolic program of the sculptures, which was mainly located in pit 8, is “complicated and imaginative”. As associate professor at Peking University, Zhao Hao said that they “reflect the fairy world imagined by the people of the time, and they demonstrate the diversity and richness of Chinese civilization.”
The discovery is receiving a lot of attention, not only because of the site’s historical significance, but also because of the invocation of the word “angel” in media statements. But “angel” here can be a confusing word. The word is derived via Old English (fae) from Old French (faie) and refers to women who were skilled in magic or enchanted things and illusions. In pop culture, the word fairy is most commonly associated with Tinkerbell in English-speaking countries or, if you prefer to think of yourself as cultured, puck: the winged one often associated with woods, under gardens and wishes magically. There are creatures. Entities described in Chinese mythology as “fairies” are often more powerful spirits associated with specific places, especially mountains, rivers, and oceans.
These “spirits” can be beneficial or malevolent and are sometimes related to former humans or animals who were turned into guardians of local spirits, ancestral spirits, and deities. For example, the departing Dove Mountain’s spirit-guardian (Jingwei), the bird was transformed into the spirit-guardian when it drowned in the East Sea. A former mortal, Strassberg’s a chinese bestiary describes her as both a “goddess” and a “spirit-guardian” and notes that Daoists identify her as “the transcendent”. [human]”And in modern China he” symbolizes the one who refuses to give up. Jingwei’s story is about metamorphosis and this fluidity is only increased by changing interpretations of her situation over time.
The invocation of the word “fairy” in news reports is illuminating, however, not only because of what it tells us about the discovery in question, but because of the ways in which it highlights the exclusion of fairies from Western extraterrestrial consciousness. If you look up “fairy” in the Cambridge English Dictionary you will learn that fairies are “fictional”. Look to the more Christian-friendly “angel” and you’ll find a complete lack of existential judgments.
All this is to say that communicating with angels, spirits and fairies are not different types of activities. If it sounds ludicrous to talk to fairies but expect souls to be sacrificed, then we are surrounded by the cultural prejudices of our Christian-centered English language. In the irreversibly hierarchical patchwork of Anglo-American culture, fairies sit at the bottom of the Peking-order and have no prospect of promotion. But Chinese mythology does not share our beliefs and distinctions. If the current interpretation is correct, the people of Sanxingdui were in contact with entities that could easily be described as spirits or deities. The language of “angel” captures the ways in which Chinese spirits and deities were often animal-human hybrids, but aesthetically, as evidenced by the images of Sanxingdui, they are quite different. You won’t find any pixie cut here.
Although scientists have not released the exact dates for the most recent discoveries, the Sanxingdui ruins are 3500–4800 years old, and experts have said the artifacts are about 3000–4500 years old. They are of great importance for what they reveal about the Shu civilization, which flourished in the region until 316 BC (when the region was conquered by the Qin dynasty). Archaeological research is the primary method of reconstructing this otherwise mysterious civilization as literary references to the Shu state are largely mythical and date from the 4th century BCE. History of Huayang,
Previous studies of finds from Sanxingdui have noted that the culture that flourished there in the Bronze Age was contemporary with the Shang dynasty and shares some elements with its mythology and religion. Not the least of these is the use of bronze sacrifices as a means of communicating with spirits. (This interpretation of the pits is opposed: Chen Shen argued in a 2002 book that the pits may have been burial pits rather than sacrificial sites. There are no human remains in the pits).
In a report on the bronze statue found in the sacrificial pit 1, Shen Zhongchang and Robert Jones wrote that “spirits were especially revered” in this way in the Shang religion during this period. At the same time, as Robert Bagley wrote, “there is nothing in Shang archeology that prepares us for a bronze sculpture of size and sophistication” found at Pit 1. Bagley argues that “the sacrificial ritual that produced two [Sanxingdui] pits [1 and 2 ] There is no exact parallel elsewhere in Chinese archeology and can only be related in the most general way” to ritual archaeologists found at other Shang sites. Said that some elements of the sculpture were similar to objects of the Zhou Dynasty.
In other words, Sanxingdui’s discoveries are critically important for the contacts between different kingdoms in ancient China, the development of metallurgical technologies, and what they can tell us about ancient Chinese religious rituals. The discovery of these more complex and ornate sacrifices helps color in our rough sketches of both Shu cosmology and culture and what Honglin calls “the early exchange and integration of Chinese civilization”. When Professor Hao spoke about the “fairy world”, the focus of his statement was actually “the diversity and richness of Chinese civilization”. Reports of ancient Chinese fairy tales, as fascinating as they are, slightly underestimate the importance of ancient god-spirits and discoveries.