In ancient China, the White Tiger is a collection of seven stars in the western group of 28 Constellations (while the eastern, northern and southern seven-star groups are respectively called Gray Dragon, Black Turtle and Red Phoenix). The White Tiger is said to oversee the weapons and wars of mankind, and is known as a god of fighting and killing. During the wars of the Western Zhou (c.1100 BC c. 771 BC) and Shang Dynasty (c.1600 BC c. 1100 BC), a brave and resourceful army got high praise from King Wu of Zhou, thereby claiming the name of "huben" and "hushi", both meaning "brave warriors." These were warriors of the ancient Ba people. The tiger later became an important component of central Han culture.
The History of the Eastern Han depicts the totems and origins of the Ba people and their first king Lin Jun. Many historians regard it as an important source for solving Ba mysteries. The book says, "After Lin Jun died, his soul turned into a white tiger. The later Ba generations watered it with human blood and offered human bodies as sacrifices for it." This gives written evidence that the ancient Ba people took the white tiger as their totem and thought it to be their ancestors.
Archaeological discoveries in the Three Gorges area in 1998 provided further evidence that the ancient Ba people sacrificed men for the tiger. In a Ba-style tomb, archaeologists found two human skulls at the foot of the remains of a Ba warrior, besides common burial articles such as bronze weapons. Obviously, the skulls were sacrifices. In another tomb, the dead had been cut into several sections to be used for sacrifice. These accidental or inevitable occurrences gave people thousands of years later the possibility to decipher its ancient mysteries.
The book doesn't give a detailed conclusion about the death of Lin Jun, the Ba's first king, but you can still imagine the scene then: the Ba people mastered the skills of fishing and hunting and military conflict and conquest were frequent among the tribes. As a military leader who set up the Ba State, Lin Jun could only be thought of to have died in battle. The later Ba people respected him as their god -- the white tiger.
In the minds of the ancient Ba people, the white tiger was the same as their ancestors and that's why the custom of offering sacrificial humans to the tiger was handed down.
Qingjiang River, called Yishui in the past, originates from Enshi County of Hubei Province and flows through such places as Lichuan, Badong, Digui and Jianshi. Most of these areas hosted the Ba culture throughout history. Today we can still find the Tujia ethnic group there, who are thought to be the direct descendants of the Ba. It is completely appropriate if we compare the present Tujia area as a frozen space in historic time. The primitive scenes of the Ba culture are preserved well and handed down. For example, today's Tujia people still imitate the jumping, fishtailing and face washing actions of a tiger when offering sacrifices to the dead. Meanwhile, they sing songs about tigers and the tiger also appears in different images on the front gate of the diaojiaolou (houses seated on wooden columns) of the Tujia ethnic group. Human were still sacrificed to the tiger until the 1930s, but today the Tujia people only have their forehead cut in a gesture of sacrifice to the white tiger.
The Tujia people living along the Qingjiang River in today's Changyang County, Hubei Province, still offer sacrifice in their boats. The deity they worship is the Wuluo Zhongli Mountain nearby, where they believe their ancestor Lin Jun was born. Many activities today are symbolic rather than being heavy and magical in remote antiquity. History has recorded the religion, belief and customs of ancient ethnic groups.
Shiben (Origin of the World), compiled by the Qin and Han people and after which Sima Qian of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-25 AD) wrote his Historical Records, said that there were two caves in the Wuluo Zhongli Mountain, one was red, the other black. The first king of the Ba State Lin Jun was born in the red cave. The Ba people were composed of five family groups with different surnames. Lin Jun, due to his accuracy in throwing swords and leading positions in boat-racing, became the leader of the five groups. Now the red cave and the temple to worship Lin Jun can still be found. Standing on the Wuluo Zhongli Mountain and looking far into the dark blue Qingjiang River, one can be lost in history.
To the east of Wuluo Zhongli Mountain and on a platform of the Qingjiang River Valley, people found the Xianglushi (Stone used as an incense burner) Cultural Ruins, which cover an area of 70 square meters. From the articles unearthed there, we can vividly see the ancient scenes as recorded in historical documents. The huge oracle bones were mainly sculptured from gill covering of big fish or tortoise shells. This, to some degree, shows the fishing and hunting life of the early-stage Ba people. The oracle fish bone has not been found in any other ruins of the same period.
For the Ba people, migration was as important as war. Previous archaeological surveys came to the conclusion that the Ba people entered the Yangtze River by way of the juncture where the Qingjiang River joins the Yangtze. However, some later facts reversed this conclusion. Archaeologists believed that the ancient Yangtze River had a larger volume of water than today and landslides occurred time and again. Therefore, it was hardly possible for the ancient Ba people to go upstream among turbulent rivers and treacherous shoals in their simple canoes.
On the contrary, there is proof that the Ba people entered the Yangtze River through the Daxi. The Daxi has become a dry river bed today and is situated about 30 km to the east of Qutang Gorge. In the past, it moved toward the Qingjiang River, parallel to the Yangtze River. Going across the watershed between the Qingjiang and Yangtze rivers, Daxi entered Enshi. The Enshi section was available for navigation until the 5th century. During the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC-476 BC), Ba troops were frequently spotted in Zhijiang, Songzi and Jiangling of Hubei Province. So we can say that the Ba people went eastward along the Daxi.
The Yangtze River became a new starting point for the Ba people. The usually strong Ba people began a pastoral life on two banks of the Yangtze River. They planted rice and oats, collected mulberries to raise silkworms and brewed wine with high-quality grain. As they got abundant food to eat, they used their surplus rice to make cosmetics. At intervals of wars, the Ba women would try their best to show their beauty.
According to archaeologists, the Ba people set up their homes mainly on tributaries of the Yangtze River as they first entered the area. The relatively weak Ba people found flat platforms and fertile soil convenient for living. Later, the Ba became prosperous in division and unity with the Chu and Shu states. As a result, they built capitals in Fengdu, Zhongxian and Fuling along the river.
Chongqing, now the largest industrial and commercial city in west China, used to be the most important capital of the Ba State and called Jiangzhou. Though more than 2,000 years have passed, we can still feel the enthusiasm and straightforwardness of the men and beauty of the women in the city. The residential houses supported by wooden columns, the boats connecting with each other and the endless stone stages may remind us of the past Ba life style.
In history, any ethnic group which adored war would never cease migrating. In the following hundreds and thousands of years, the Ba people covered nearly half of China. But later their force gradually decreased.
(CCTV.com translated by Li Jinhui for China.org.cn, June 21, 2003)