Poet's Home Holds Secret Treasures
For Chinese literature lovers, the Chengdu Du Fu Thatched Cottage Museum is the sacred land of poetry and a national treasure. The museum is dedicated to one of China's greatest poets, and is also a great place to relax. Covering 16 hectares, the museum boasts different flowers in different seasons.

Even in the coldest of winters, its evergreen bamboo groves give a hint of spring. An archaeological discovery is currently arousing the attention of both the public and academics.

On October 14 workers repairing drainage pipes near the museum's main entrance, found a pit believed to have been used from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). In the following weeks, museum employees excavated more than 30 ceramic articles and building components of the Tang Dynasty.

Since then, archaeologists from the Chengdu Relics and Archaeological Institute have worked on the site, and have found plenty of ceramic utensils of the Tang Dynasty. Of these utensils 106 are intact, including bowls, trays, basins, jars, vases, cups, chess pieces, pottery balls, tiles, eaves titles, bricks, iron, copper and stone ware.

The eaves tiles and bricks display exquisite designs of animals and flowers, while some ceramic utensils have characters. Near the bottom of the pit, archaeologists found rotten pieces of lacquer ware. On one piece are two vermilion characters the size of about 1.5 square centimeters. "The words look like huanhua, or flower bathing in Chinese.

But they need to be verified," said Wang Yi, director of the Chengdu Relics and Archaeological Institute. According to Zhou Weiyang, deputy director of the Chengdu Du Fu Thatched Cottage Museum, this is the first field archaeological work that has been done in the museum since it was set up 46 years ago.

The large number of relics unearthed at the site has added more authenticity to the museum. "Although Chengdu boasts a history of more than 2,300 years, the discovery of the Tang relics - daily utensils in this case - is still considered a rare find in the city," Wang Yi said.

In addition to Tang relics, archaeologists have also unearthed the pedestal of a stone baldachin weighing 1.5 tons. It has a length of one meter, a width of 60 centimeters and a height of 80 centimeters.

The pedestal dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The leg of a porcelain incense burner, which was among relics used by later generations, appears to be unique because it has the design of a human face resembling that of a bronze human mask, unearthed in the Sanxingdui Ruins, 40 kilometers from Chengdu. Since 1929, more than 10,000 relics dating back to between BC 5,000 and BC 3,000 have been unearthed at the Sanxingdui ruins.

The excavations yielded what were considered one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in China last century. One important feature of the Sanxingdui Ruins is a large number of fantastic bronze human masks. At the Du Fu Thatched Cottage Museum, archaeologists found that the ancient Chinese people of different dynasties have left traces of their existence at the museum site.

More than 1,000 years ago, the ancients in the Tang Dynasty buried the utensils in the lower layer of the site and later on, people of the Ming and Qing dynasties between the 14th and 19th centuries piled up their own essentials upon the Tang construction.

Luckily, very little damage has been done to the two boundaries, which showed that people of different dynasties took care to protect Du Fu's former residence as the sacred place of Chinese literature, Zhou Weiyang said.

This can also serve as proof for local chronicles recording the protection and repair of the Du Fu Thatched Cottage in different dynasties, he said. Located on the bank of the Huanhua Brook in a western suburb of Chengdu, the Du Fu Thatched Cottage Museum is not a cottage in the literal sense.

It is a commemorative museum including a traditional Chinese garden built at the site where the Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu (712-770), constructed a thatched cottage for his family in 760. Hailed as one of China's greatest poets, Du Fu enjoyed lasting fame. His poems are included in school textbooks, and any foreign student of Chinese literature should be acquainted with his works.

Du lived during a period marking the beginning of the decline of the Tang Dynasty. Du experienced a war fought by two rebel generals during 755-763, which ravaged many parts of the country and led to the dynasty's decline.

A native of Gongxian County in Central China's Henan Province, Du moved to Chengdu in 759 to take refuge from the war. In the following spring, he built a cottage by the Flower Bathing Brook with the financial assistance of a friend. There he lived a peaceful life for about four years, writing 240 of his 1,400 poems.

Du's poems are known for sympathetic portrayals of human suffering and bitterness in the face of injustice and corruption. In 761, the roof of his cottage was destroyed in a storm.

That led him to think of the difficulties of other poverty-stricken scholars. The experience led him to write a poem in which he said he would die content in his leaky cottage if the less-fortunate could find shelter.

Du's cottage was destroyed in the late Tang Dynasty. In 902, a poet named Wei Zhuang found the ruins and built a new cottage on the site. Since then it has undergone more than 10 major renovations.

Today, the Du Fu Thatched Cottage Museum consists of several structures, including the Poetic History Hall, the Shrine of Gongbu (Du's official title), the Memorial Hall of Du Fu and a replica of Du's thatched cottage, built in 1997 according to the description of Du's poetic works. Couplets greet the eye everywhere, gracing gates, pillars and halls.

Commenting on the life, character and literary achievements of Du, the couplets are ingeniously composed, often containing quotations from Du's poems. Because of Du's important position in the history of Chinese literature, visiting the Du Fu Thatched Cottage Museum is a must for most first-time visitors to Chengdu.

Strolling leisurely on the museum grounds, visitors can enjoy the aura of the ancient culture, as well as tranquility in the bamboo groves, away from the urban jungle.

(China Daily November 7, 2001)

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