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Farmers Open Exhibition of Royal Treasures
Five farmers from western China cut the ribbon for the opening of an exhibition of ancient bronze ware from the imperial past on Sunday evening in Beijing.

The show, Auspicious Bronze ware in the Prosperous Era, is the debut of the inscribed bronze pieces, which provide new clues that might revise the conclusions of the massive archaeological investigation into the Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties (2070-256 B.C.).

In late January, 27 bronze pieces -- now lauded as national treasures -- were unearthed at Yangjia Village, Meixian County, northwest China's Shaanxi Province. Archeologists said they belonged to a royal family with the surname "Shan" believed to have lived during the reign of King Zhouxuan in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1100-771 B.C.).

The farmers, all villagers of Yangjia, were among the first to discover and protect the treasures. Their actions are said to demonstrate a heightened awareness among common Chinese people of cultural heritage conservation.

In recognition of their actions, the local government awarded each of the farmers 20,000 yuan (US$2,410) and invited them to Beijing for a holiday and to cut the ribbon for the opening of the exhibition.

One of the five, 50-year-old Wang Ningxian, said, "If I had sold the bronze ware, I would have made a good fortune. But I couldn’t break the law. If I find more cultural relics in the future, I will report them to the government as I did this time."

It was reported that in September 2001, a bronze piece from the Western Zhou Dynasty changed hands for 9.24 million US dollars on the international auction market.

"The farmers' voluntary protection of historic relics is just as valuable as the discovery of the treasure trove, and contrasts sharply with the theft, smuggling and trafficking of cultural relics," Zhang Tinghao, director of the Cultural Heritage Bureau of Shaanxi Province, said at the ceremony.

The bronze ware include 12 "ding", cooking vessels each with two loop handles and three or four legs, nine "li", cooking tripods with hollow legs, and others such as kettle, dish, etc.

All of the pieces bear ancient Chinese characters, numbering more than 4,000 in total. The inscriptions, accounting for a quarter of all inscriptions on bronze pieces of the Western Zhou Dynasty unearthed in China, relate to the history of the 12 kings who ruled the dynasty, archaeologists said.

"The discovery of the bronze pieces may be listed among the most important archaeological discoveries in China over the past decade," said Li Xueqin, former president of the Research Institute of History under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a senior researcher for the Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties Project.

Inscriptions on two of the bronze pieces embrace four chronological factors, namely year, month, phases of the moon, and Gan and Zhi signs, which are two sets of traditional Chinese signs, with one being taken from each set to form 60 pairs, designating years, months and days in ancient times, according to Li Xueqin.

The inscriptions are very important for revising the chronology of the Western Zhou Dynasty, Li said.

The government-backed Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties Project focused on compiling a relatively detailed chronology of the three dynasties, which has been lacking from historical records.

The Western Zhou Dynasty chronology compiled from the 1996 to 2000 stage of the project, whose initial results have been made public, failed to tally with inscriptions on the latest unearthed bronze ware.

The bronze ware exhibition will end on April 10.

(China Daily March 10, 2003)

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