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Yinxu Museum helps US scholars dig deeper into Shang history

Updated: 2024-05-31 07:31 ( XINHUA )
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Oracle bone inscriptions displayed at the new hall of the Yinxu Museum in Anyang, Henan province. [Photo/Xinhua]

ZHENGZHOU — Nestled beside the tranquil Huanhe River in Anyang, Central China's Henan province, stands the new hall of the Yinxu Museum, a striking structure in the shape of a bronze square ding, or ancient cauldron.Its exterior walls are adorned with classic Shang Dynasty (c. 16th century-11th century BC) bronze decorations, and the lintels above its three main doors feature the characters Da Yi Shang in bronze.

Anyang, the last capital of the Shang era, China's second dynasty, has been a focal point of archaeological significance since work began at the Yin Ruins in 1928. The site has yielded a wealth of exquisite bronzes, oracle bone inscriptions and other cultural relics that highlight Chinese civilization's enduring charm and grandeur.

"The characters Da Yi Shang mean the 'Great Settlement of Shang'. At that time, this was the most populous and prosperous city in China, and the Shang people proudly referred to it using this name," said Tang Jigen, one of China's most senior archaeologists on Shang, as he explained the meaning of Da Yi Shang, derived from oracle bone inscriptions, to three visiting American scholars on May 17.

The Director of the National Museum of Asian Art in the United States Chase Robinson, Deputy Director Lori Duggan Gold and Curator of Ancient Chinese Art J.Keith Wilson, traveled to this ancient city for inter-museum exchanges. In a single day, they explored the museum, visited the archaeological sites of Shang's largest palace ruins discovered so far and its royal tombs and held in-depth discussions with their Chinese counterparts. As the sun set, they found it difficult to leave, moved by the deep cultural connections they had forged.

America's National Museum of Asian Art in Washington consists of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and is part of the Smithsonian Institution, the largest museum complex in the world. The Freer Gallery of Art, founded in 1923 and the Smithsonian's first art museum, sponsored China's early works of the Yin Ruins archaeological excavation that began in 1928. In February 2023, to commemorate the centennial of the Freer Gallery, the National Museum of Asian Art held a special exhibition titled Anyang: China's Ancient City of Kings, which displayed over 200 artifacts from Shang. The exhibition continued until April 28.

"It was one of three major exhibitions that we mounted for our centennial. It's the only one that was up for 13 months. It occupied the main exhibition space in our museum and was very popular, not only with the public but also with critics and museum professionals," says Robinson, adding that it narrated a story of Shang civilization, technology, industry, city planning, archaeology and collaboration.

The exhibition's popularity in the US also inspired Chinese archaeology and cultural heritage scholars to bring the exhibition closer to Chinese audiences in Anyang by displaying several photos during the planning of the new hall of the Yinxu Museum.

The American scholars were delighted by the museum's design and the depth of their exchanges and mutual learning with their Chinese counterparts.

"Worldwide, we work together. It's very exciting for us to be featured here," says Gold. Her museum regards exchanges in arts as a big responsibility and takes very seriously how to share works and form partnerships and collaborations with the world.

"Seeing your exhibition was a stunning experience. Having more people see the Yin Ruins and sharing the discoveries with a broader audience is our shared mission," Zhao Qingrong, executive deputy director of the Yinxu Museum, told Gold.

"Over a century, the museum has been committed to understanding ancient Chinese civilization," says Robinson, expressing his wish to continue this tradition and carry out joint exhibitions, research projects and staff exchanges.

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