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Farmers Contribute to History
Leading an ox by the blossoming rape fields, Yan Kaizong looks no different from any other farmer in Yueliangwan (Moon Bay) Village in the suburbs of Guanghan, a small city in Southwest China's Sichuan Province.

But the 63-year-old is proud of his legacy, one that none of his fellow villagers have. His grandfather discovered the rare jade relics that led archaeologists to find what we now know as the Sanxingdui Ruins.

The discovery of Sanxingdui has helped modern historians trace back the human history of Sichuan and the surrounding areas more than 5,000 years, enriching the overall knowledge of ancient Chinese history.

In 1953, Yan accompanied his grandfather when he donated relics from the ruins to the State.

As he lit a pipe and began to tell the story, Yan's memory returned to that far-off day.

It was an early morning in the winter of 1953. He and his grandpa Yan Qingbao set off for Guanghan, which was then a county.

"It took us nearly one day to wheel the wagon fully loaded with nearly 50 kilograms of jade objects to the county seat," Yan recalled.

"I was only 13 and fell several times on the way because it was raining. It was 4 pm when we reached the center, where an official warmly received us and offered us the best cigarettes," Yan said, gently puffing away at his pipe.

Yan's home village of Yueliangwan is about 40 kilometers from Sichuan's provincial capital of Chengdu.

Since 1929, more than 10,000 relics dating back to between 5,000 BC and 3,000 BC have been unearthed in the village's Sanxingdui Ruins.

The relics include bronze, gold, jade and marble artifacts, pottery, bone implements and ivory objects. The excavations yielded what were considered to be some of the most significant archaeological discoveries in China in the last century.

The Sanxingdui Ruins were accidentally discovered by Yan Kaizong's grandfather Yan Qingbao.

One night in the spring of 1929, Yan Qingbao, then a 43-year-old farmer, found a stone while digging a ditch in his fields. Removing the stone, he found a hole filled with more than 400 jade objects.

Word soon spread about Yan's discovery of the treasure trove as the jade objects were piled up in his home for all to see. Local landowners, intellectuals and officials flocked to Yan's home. But none of them could figure out in which dynasty the jade objects were made.

Some of the objects were sent to visitors and friends and found their way into the hands of archaeologists and attracted a great deal of attention.

In 1933, an archaeological team from Huaxi University in Chengdu headed for Sanxingdui to undertake the first formal excavation of the ruins.

Since then, several generations of archaeologists have worked at Sanxingdui.

Their discoveries prove that Sanxingdui contains the ruins of an ancient city that was the political, economic and cultural center of the ancient Shu Kingdom, the name given to Sichuan in ancient times.

Before the excavation of Sanxingdui, it was believed that Sichuan only had a history of about 3,000 years. Thanks to the excavation, it is now generally believed that civilization appeared in Sichuan 5,000 years ago.

"Because of the archaeological discoveries at Sanxingdui, Chinese history has been rewritten," said Chen Xiandan, deputy curator of the Sichuan Provincial Museum.

The Sanxingdui Ruins, located on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, also serve as convincing proof that a large number of settlements across the country and their cultures have contributed to the formation and development of Chinese civilization, said Chen, who has been studying the Sanxingdui Ruins since 1980.

This challenges the previously dominant view that Chinese civilization rose from a single source - the Yellow River valley.

For more than two decades after he found the jade objects, Yan Qingbao still lived as a farmer and stored the jade objects with farm tools in his courtyard until he donated them to the State in 1953.

"My two sisters used to play games with the round jade objects, rolling them on the ground as if they were wagon wheels or carrying them on their heads as if they were basins," said Yan Kaijian, 60, Yan Kaizong's brother.

Yueliangwan witnessed the excavation of many relics before the mid-1980s, whenever local farmers conducted any construction work.

Although he did not quite understand the significance of the relics, Yan Qingbao asked his descendants to hand them over to the State whenever they happened to find any.

From the late 1950s to the late 1980s, Yan Kaizong and his four brothers collected more than 80 relics - between 300 and 5,000 years old - from the village and handed them over to local departments in charge of cultural relics. "Our work was not completed until the Sanxingdui Relics Protection Station was set up in 1987," Yan Kaizong said.

When Yan Qingbao found the jade objects in 1929, his family had fewer than 10 members. Now there are over 100 members of the Yan family, spanning four generations.

The Yans are all farmers living on meager incomes in Yueliangwan Village, less than one kilometer from the Sanxingdui Museum, which houses all the cultural relics from the Sanxingdui Ruins.

Asked if he and his brothers regretted handing relics over to the State, Yan Kaizong, who is known locally as an expert on the relics, said: "My grandpa told us not to take things that don't belong to us. I believe what he said."

The Sanxingdui Ruins site covers 12 square kilometers. But only 4 square kilometers have so far been excavated by archaeologists.

Continuous excavation has been under way since 1980. And archaeologists say it is likely that more exciting archaeological discoveries will be made.

But the increasing media attention given to the Sanxingdui Ruins has also had negative consequences, with the Yan family's ancestral tombs being robbed three times between 1997 and 1998.

Instead of finding anything valuable, the tomb robbers were caught by the police. "Their experience has justified my grandpa's motto," said Yan Kaizong.

(China Daily April 1, 2003)

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