If you are interested in bronze artifacts and happen to be in Beijing, do not miss the ongoing exhibition at the China Millennium Monument Art Museum.
The exhibition, which runs until April 10, features 27 inscribed bronze artifacts recently unearthed in Baoji, in northwest China's Shaanxi Province.
The discovery of the bronze items on display was "one of the greatest archaeological finds in China in the past 10 years," said Li Xueqin, a researcher with the Chinese History Research Institute and renowned expert on Chinese bronze artifacts.
The more than 2,000 characters inscribed on the items are expected to shed light on the history of the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BC), which has puzzled historians for thousands of years.
An inscribed bronze piece is considered a national treasure since its inscriptions, along with bamboo slips -- which were used as paper to write on -- and the pictographs carved into tortoise shells and animals bones, are the only documents of Chinese history before the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC).
Yingzheng, the first emperor of Qin who reunited the country, burned numerous historical files written on bamboo slips and buried intellectuals alive as he considered them potentially harmful to his administration.
The 27 bronze pieces on display all have inscriptions, which illustrate important events in the Western Zhou Dynasty, Li said.
Among the 2,700-year-old artifacts is a pan (water container) with 372 characters. With a depth of about 20 centimeters and a mouth diameter of about 54 centimeters, the pan has on its inner surface 21 lines of inscriptions.
The inscriptions, which documented how the eight generations of a Shan family helped emperors of the Western Zhou Dynasty in wars and management, gave a clear list of the 12 emperors and their periods of rule.
The name of one emperor, Xiaowang, is new to historians as it has not been listed in any historical annals discovered so far.
The pan, called Lai Pan, was believed to bear the most characters among the bronze artifacts unearthed after 1949.
The great find was made accidentally by five farmers, Wang Ningxian, Wang Latian, Wang Mingsuo, Wang Qinning and Zhang Qinhui in the poverty-stricken Yangjia Village in Meixian County in the city of Baoji.
On January 19 this year when the farmers were scooping up soil on a cliff to make bricks, a lump of soil rolled off the cliff as the hoe of Wang Latian hit the ground. A cave appeared.
In the cave were the 27 priceless bronze items.
The simple farmers did not hesitate to report the find to the local cultural heritage administration.
Within hours Zhang Runtang, head of the Baoji Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage, arrived with archaeologists.
"The farmers are heroes. They could have remained silent about the find, sold them to smugglers and made a fortune," Zhang said.
Zhang said each of the farmers was awarded 20,000 yuan (US$2,400) for the find. The annual income of a family in the village is about 2,500 yuan (US$300).
To celebrate the find Wang Latian bought 2 kilograms of meat during the recent Spring Festival.
On the opening ceremony of the exhibition in Beijing, Wang, who had never left his hometown, moved his face towards a glass cabinet holding the Lai Pan, clenched his hands and held his breath for fear of dirtying the glass.
"It had never occurred to me that we held them. Of course they belong to the country," said the 46-year-old farmer in his strong Shaanxi accent.
(China Daily March 13, 2003)