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Songs, Instruments and Homes of Ancient Ba People
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Some age-old ballads are still popular among the Tujia ethnic group in the mountains of the Three Gorges area. In fact, it is said that they have been passed down from the ancient Ba people.

The belligerent but courageous Ba people sang their songs during fights with the neighboring Chu State. The songs were later spread to the central plains. They used a pass in the Qutang Gorge to confront and escape from the Chu soldiers.

At the end of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), Liu Yuxi, a poet demoted from his post at the royal court, disembarked at the Qutang Gorge and trekked through countless mountains and rivers around the Gorge, learning to sing traditional ballads, writing many of them down. Years later, his style became one to be followed by other literary figures. Liu created "zhuzhici", referring to the ancient folk songs with love as their theme. For this reason, Liu's statue was erected in a temple beside the Qutang Gorge, which can still be seen today.

History recorded the words of Song Yu, a scholar of the Chu State in the later Warring States Period (475 BC  221 BC), when he spoke to the Chu King and said: "There was a singer who sang songs in the capital. He started out singing Song of the Rustic Poor' (which was popular in the Ba State) and his followers were in their thousands," suggesting the influence of Ba songs on the Chu people.

The zhuzhici folk songs were passed down for thousands of years. Today the songs and dances in Yichang, Hubei Province, an old haunt of the Chu, still preserve much of the primitivism of the ancient Ba people. However, something modern was also added.

In 278 BC, the Chu poet, Qu Yuan committed suicide by jumping into the Miluo River. His death was barely noticed at a time when death in war was frequent and the Chu State was on the edge of collapse. But his name was not forgotten, and even mentioned 2,000 years later, because he left, to later generations, magical and powerful poems and his thoughts on the mysteries of life.

Qu Yuan might have been one of the first poets to decipher the Ba songs. Or maybe he created those songs himself. He portrayed vividly the behavior and customs of the ancient Ba people from the gorges with his magical words.

The poet is still worshipped in the Qu Yuan Temple of Zigui County, Hubei Province. Lepingli was thought to be his hometown. However, an archaeological excavation in 1997 broke people's perception about Qu Yuan's life. In Lepingli, archaeologists found, to their disappointment, no ruins of the Chu culture that they had imagined had been there. One of them, Lin Chun, even jokingly called Qu Yuan a "non-native" of the place. Where did Qu Yuan come from then? Some relics excavated there were related to the Ba culture and shed some light on the subject.

As a poet of overflowing brilliance, Qu Yuan was highly regarded by the Chu King. However, he was still unpopular with mainstream society. This might have been largely due to his parentage. Documents show that one of Qu Yuan's ancestors was a witch in the Ba State, which could explain the deity or wizardry in his poems. The origin of Qu Yuan can hardly be clarified today, but his poems were widely read and appreciated by later generations. As a vanguard in Chinese culture, the Ba people undoubtedly affected the civilization process of the Yangtze River valley area and even the central plains.

Archaeology and museums help mankind to understand their past better and to help interpret the present and future. In one museum it is possible to see unearthed articles, mainly musical instruments such as a bell, zheng (bell-shaped percussion instrument with a handle, used in ancient times by troops on marches) and chunyu (a kind of bronze musical instrument). What's most attractive is a 14-piece chime, which is totally different from those previously found like the Chu chime in shape, design or decoration. As musical instruments in the past symbolized power and status, it is possible to infer that these unearthed articles belong to a monarch and high-ranking officials of the Ba State. The delicate relics possibly remove doubts about the existence of a capital of the ancient Ba State.

In production technology, the Ba chime reaches a peak of perfection. Musicians have found that each piece of the chime can produce double sounds and cover a seven-note scale. The size of these musical pieces decreases progressively, from 21 cm to 8.6 cm. Music archaeologists have decided to categorize them into a special and independent group.

Chunyu is another unique and typical musical instrument of the Ba people, and found only in Sichuan Province. In the past, the Ba warriors struck it during battle to produce a thunderous lingering sound. As unique bronze ware of the Ba people, chunyu was not brought to the Chu State and the central plains. The state-of-the-art bronze product also reflects the Ba people's worship of the tiger. The white tiger displayed on the chunyu has a touch of modern art about it, with its eyes and ears clearly portrayed. People can even count out the tiger teeth from its open mouth.

Both the chime and chunyu disappeared in Chinese culture and kept quiet in the ground for a very long time. When they did come to light again, it was possible to believe they had just been made.

The Ba people changed their capital several times along the Yangtze and Jialing rivers and left to later generations a surprisingly large number of bronze and pottery ware. The Ba State must have been a brilliant kingdom in history, but as yet a complete city of theirs has not been found. Have their city walls been buried together with their history?

The architectural style of the ancient Ba people was largely determined by their living environment. They selected a kind of building that was built on wooden columns because they lived in areas besides mountains and rivers. The lush nearby woods provided them sufficient materials. In today's southeastern Chongqing, western Hubei, northwestern Hunan and southeastern Guizhou, it is possible to see large numbers of houses that rest on such wooden columns. They are the residences of the Tujia ethnic group and called "diaojiaolou".

Archaeological discoveries also prove that the ancient Ba people lived in large groups of such houses on wooden columns. Therefore, it was unnecessary for them to set up city walls, for steep valleys and mountains that surrounded them helped to consolidate their cities.

Also, the cities of the Ba people were not so isolated. The great Yangtze River and countless brooks connected them. Consequently, the Ba people developed trade and commercial activities. They bartered local salt and cloth for outside commodities.

However, the billowing Yangtze River and frequent landslides must have destroyed the dreams of the residents in the gorges area over night. The sand and earth would take away the life and city of the people. Should we imagine that these houses on wooden columns represent the buildings of the ancient Ba people?

All the houses on wooden columns were built against the mountains, with one upon the other, like sacrificial platforms soaring up to the sky. The residents there still follow many of the customs and living style of their ancestors. Though the Chu palace and Qin cities disappeared long ago, film producers restored them according to historical record. The architectural structure of Song and Ming dynasty cities came down, in one continuous line, with that of the Qin and Han cities.

The architectural style of the Ba people must also have affected the buildings of the central plains. Archaeological findings have shown that ancient tribes in the Yellow River valley made their houses by ramming the earth, but some found architecture-combined earth-ramming and timber structures. The combined style predominated in ancient Chinese architecture for a long period.

( translated by Li Jinhui for, June 23, 2003)

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