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The Brave and Elusive Ba
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The Ba people lived in the Three Gorges' area from the sixteenth century. They grew rice paddy and wheat on the banks of the Yangtze and made their own history in bloody fighting between the clans.

According to history, the Ba was a mysterious clan, famous for their bravery and great warriors. The Ba culture has remained an enigma, mainly due to a lack of related archaeology evidence. The Ba also left no written evidence.

The Three Gorges Project, the largest hydroelectric project undertaken in the world, began in 1996. This created a huge archaeology excavation that began in 2001. Before that, small-scale excavations, that began in the middle of the twentieth century, only found clues to the history of the Ba. But today, large-scale excavations in the area bring hope of resolving this great mystery.

Many found relics have revitalized the ancient Ba culture. Huge skeletons and funerary bronze ware give evidence of bloody wars they engaged in long ago.

In September 2001, archaeologists from Sichuan University were busy at the excavation site on the banks of the Pengxi River, a branch of the Yangtze. This is a huge Ba site, which had already been excavated for years. But there were still many mysteries buried in the mud.

On a summer morning in 1984, Liu of Lijiaba, a primary school teacher found a Ba bronze ware relic by accident, in a depression by the river, when he want to fetch water. This little discovery was an archaeological breakthrough of the history of Three Gorges area.

The archaeologists at Sichuan University went to the Pengxi River and a full-scale excavation began. The area they excavated expanded and the excavation lasted a long time. A mysterious world appeared beneath their feet. This was to be the Lijiaba site, later listed in the top ten archaeological discoveries of China.

Most relics excavated here are bronze ware, including swords, lances, daggers and arrowheads. They seem more like newly-finished artworks than relics rusted over time. But there are hints of blood and war in the find.

The Lijiaba site stimulated archaeologists. As they grew excited at the new discoveries, they found a 5,550-square-meter warrior grave in the Yujiaba, a place of Kaixian County in the upper part of the Pengxi River. Surprised at the large scale and splendid spectacle, archaeologists named it "The Warriors of the Warring States Period (475 BC  221 BC)". These graves buried a period of little known history. What wars happened here? When did the warriors die? There's not a single word recorded in the history books. The weapons found there varied. All they show are the earth shattering fights that would have happened there.

Perhaps, the Ba is the only nationality which wrote their history through war. The Ba history is simply a fighting history -- abundant bronze ware was found in the excavation of Ba sites from the 1950s. Most of the bronze ware were weapons and other things related to war.

Ba's historical situation was that to the east lay the kingdom of Chu, and to the north, the kingdom of Qin. Chu and Qin were the two strongest kingdoms in the world at that time. So how did the weaker Ba contend with them? According to history, there were battles between them, and once even the Ba kingdom intimidated Jiangling, the capital of Chu. It seems some answers come from the Ba's weapons. Centuries ago, the brave and seasoned Ba people had great destructive weapons. In the age of cold steel, weapons' quality directly decided the result of the battle.

Dong Yawei, who engaged in copying ancient bronze ware for years, shows the procedures of making a bronze sword in the Ezhou Museum of Hubei Province. All this brings you back to the Bronze Age of 2,000 years ago. At that time the Ba people had already had the exquisite skill of smelting and forging, which was not inferior to the Chu, Qin and other strong kingdoms and had much greater varieties and more exquisite patterns.

The Ba people, who lived more than 2,000 years ago, owned a systematic manufacturing procedure and had very accurate component proportions. The proportions of metal in all bronze ware was almost the same as that made by modern equipment. The bronze content enabled the heavy weight to retain stiffness and energy. In the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC  476 BC) and the Warring States Period, generations of craftsmen from the Ba kingdom made weapons only according to their own experiences. They did not have any reference or examining equipment -- all the manufacturing procedures and metal proportions were handmade.

From the Qin terracotta warriors and horses, we can imagine the might of the Qin kingdom, and that which was equal to it, the Chu kingdom occupied half of China. Besides the superior weapons and solid national power, the Qin and Chu kingdoms had the skill of being excellent makers of armory.

Nowadays, from Ba weapons excavated, it seems they had power equal to that of the Qin and the Chu. But archaeologists never found any armor. Without doubt, the brave Ba people couldn't simply antagonize their enemies with just their bodies. So in years of war, how did they protect themselves?

The Qin and Chu were based on the plains, whereas the Ba were in the mountainous region. The special landform determined that the Ba had little metal. So they had to abandon metal armor for other material. The ancient Ba area had developed raising animal stock. Also many wild Lianas or strong vines grew in the hills. The Ba people parched the vines with fire to make them firm, then, weaved them as armor. The Ba people adapted this light armor with vines and leather, which allowed them to move with agility in the hills and valleys. The shields of the Ba were made of adsorbent and flexible wood so that when the swords of their enemies chopped at it, it was hard to draw out. The results were imaginable.

What disappeared with the vine armory were the brave Ba people themselves. The kingdom disappeared long ago, and when archaeologists nowadays face the huge skeletons and bronze weapons, which tampered with the souls of the Ba people, they feel the story of the Ba people is just beginning.

In the 21st century, people of Tujia ethnic group, who live in many areas of south China, are considered descendants of the Ba people. The Tujia, who are honest with fierce tempers, narrate their lives only through song and dance. From these, which fill the air with stories of war and fighting, the mysterious connection with an ancient time can be felt.

Because of their pugnacious character, the Ba people's songs and dances of battle have been handed down to today. Until the Han Dynasty (206 BC  220 AD) the "Ba Yu dance" was still popular at the royal court. To the Ba people the meaning of the songs and dances were special -- it's their brave temper. According to specialists, the "baishou wu" (hand-waving dance) evolved from the Ba's dance, but it has changed to be used for festivity and sacrifice only now.

The actions of the Tujia dance show communal cooperation and reflect collective consciousness. The key point of the Ba people's bravery was its collective consciousness and unique way of pouring out fear in face of death, which was displayed in battle: a power beyond normal. In the 1800s, on the other side of the world, the Zulu people, original inhabitants of Africa, defeated England troops who were equipped with modern firearms and claimed to be No. 1 in the world, using only primitive weapons and the powers of collective consciousness, a useful annotation of the kind that was the Ba people's bravery.

In 1999, some remains of the Ba people were sent to Professor Zhuang Kongshao's laboratory in the Central University for Nationalities. Professor Zhuang's study lasted for two years until 2001, when he had found similar gene compositions. Then genes collected from the Tujia people were sent to prove the blood relationship with the Ba people. But because such a long time had passed, the scientific experiments couldn't get the appropriate result. Professor Zhuang and his assistants are still working and hopeful of a discovery.

The ancient history books of other kingdoms gave us not such a detailed but still coherent history sequence of the Ba kingdom. War has been the only culture of the Ba people from the Spring and Autumn Period to the founding of the Qin Dynasty (221 BC  206 BC).

To every man in the Ba kingdom, bloody fights and honorable death permeated his whole life. They drove out the shadow of death and prolonged the honor of their ancestors through romantic songs and dances and a tenacious reproductive capacity.

( translated by Chen Lin for, June 11, 2003)

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