Archaeologists found in China two neolithical centres of jade worship: the Hongshan sites in northern china yielded a relatively small number of objects, butwith highlyimaginative designs and polished execution (considering the primitive tools available at the time) that challenged our modern, patronizing viewabout the ancient state of mind; the southern Liangzhu sites are even more impressive: there are great numbers of them spread over much of middle part of eastern china, andthey areof a large scale, with each tomb situated on a soil platform that would have required thousands of people to pile up, and many yielding hundreds of jade items per tomb. While the majority of these lacked the artistic refinement of Hongshan jade, the more complex objects pose their own challenges to our understanding of the ancient people.

The picture of a two-faced demon, with numerous variations, appears frequently on Liangzhu jade objects, mostly on the ritual "cong", but occasionally also on axes and discs. Shown above are two items from my own jade collection, an unusually shaped, flattenedcong with two faces instead of thestandard four, and a circular tube with three demon faces. The former type, as far as I could discover,has not before been seen either in archaeological sites nor in private collections, while only a small number of the latter type are known. Whereas the four faced congs usually have the demon face on each corner, one large cong hasdemon faces in the cornersas well as in the middle of each side, with a pair of bird signs separating the frontal and corner faces. A similar arrangement is used on each side of my two-faced cong, with two corner demons, two centre demons, and four bird signs separating them. The tube has three different types of demon faces, each of a familiar design from unearthed jade.

The figure as a whole is a man wearing a large feather hat with perched legs andspread-out upper arms, but sharply bent elbowsso that the lower arms and hands point back at his own chest, while the lower face appears to consist of eyes that are also the breasts of the man, a nose that might be the man's genitals, and a mouth that might be considered to be the navel though it is situated rather low, or possibly the vagina. The strokes that draw out the eyes, arms and legs, however, seem to bear the skinpattern of a python. In short, thepicture contains a variety of ideas of some divine ancestral figures that have been amalgamated.

Given the large scale of the Liangzhu tombs and the complex ritualistic thinking presented by the variety and elaboration of jade objects, the Liangzhu people had a highly organized social system, which somehow left no trace in historical records. We have no idea what happened to the Liangzhu people, other than that around 2000BC they disappeared from their original locations, but some subsequent sites showing Liangzhu influence were found in the surrounding regions such as Shandong, Guangdong and Taiwan. A simpler version of the demon face, usually embedded into a figure with more prominent bird features, appears on jade "blade objects" in Shandong, and this probably developed into the Shang taotie figure that appears on bronze vessels.

We also do not know what the Liangzhu people used the cong for. It has been suggested that the round hole is used to hold sacred reeds/feathers that represent ancestral gods, and ritual wine is poured down the reeds during ceremonies to represent gods accepting the gift by soaking up the wine. Some contemporary sites in northwest china also have jade congs, but plainly polished with no demon faces, and this type of cong also occasionally appears in Shang and Zhou sites. However, thefew mentions of the cong in Zhou ritualbooks are too obscure for us to definitively interpretwhether congs were used in this way, in contrastto thequite frequent mentions of the jade disc being used as gift to honour visitors and jade rings being worn as indications of status in Zhou historical records. Zhou books' fewmentions of taotie are also nonsensical so it appears that one thousand years after the Liangzhu people's disappearance, the Chinese world had already lost all knowledge of them.




The orignal design of the Liangzhu monster face has a demon wearing a large feather hat, with a second face on his chest, the eyes being the breasts and the mouth being the navel (which links to the ancent legent of 刑天, whose head was chopped off by Yellow Emperor but he continued fighting using breasts as eyes - the legend probably arose from a burial ritual for headless warriors killed in battle) - the upper face is the main one and the lower one subsidiary


However, when the symbol was spread to other tribes, its meaning did not always get correctly understood, such that the lower face was thought to be the main one and the upper face was part of the feather hat, producing new designs


then human faces got replaces by other animals, e.g., bird above human head below, a natural move for a bird worshipping trible

人戴高帽造型变成鸟戴高帽 and man wearing tall hat changed to bird wearing high hat

人戴高帽演变成玉圭等等 man wearing hight hat leading to blade like jade designs

一只鸟抓两个人头,很快就出现玉漩矶 bird with two human heads, expanding to a circular structure that will become the toothed disc

.夏朝二里头出土绿松石牌也可看到上下双面 a Xia dynasty plate with turquoise pieces fitted on copper plate also has the double face



Shang bronze utensils are noted for a gross scariness that somehow suited their culture, which is known, from inscriptions on oracle bones,to require almost nonstop divinations about whether the gods approved even the smallest actions the king wished to undertake, including, for example whether it is OK to make sacrifices to the gods with 3 cows, 5 cows or 7 cows. Mangled skeletons from graves show that human sacrifice was carried out regularly, often on a very large scale. (Reminder of Cambodia under Pol Pot.) Otherwise we have no information, first hand or even second hand, about what life was like in Shang times, unlike the Greeks who left us wall paintings, pottery pictures and legendary epics that at least allow partial glimpses into life 3000 years ago.

A prominent feature of the bronze utensils is the taotie monster face, of which a number of examples are shown in the above diagram together with several related objects. Two are >4000 year oldjade objects with the Liangzhu monster face, one a detail on a jade knifefrom the Longshan eraseveral hundredyears later than Liangzhu,with a clear derivation relation to the taotie. Also shown aretwo other Shang objects, one a bronze utensil showing a tiger swallowing a human and the other a jade carving showing an eagle holding two human heads. The latter two have been differently interpreted, that the tiger/eagle is some kind of guardian demon embracing/protecting the humans, ordestroying harmful ghosts. This interpretation fits in with the frequently appearing taotie - it ought to be a "good guy" not a "bad guy" if the Shangs wanted to see it so often.

The demon is probably related to the ghost eating Zhongkui that appear in stories and rituals of much later times. Even today jade carvings representing Zhongkui's head, and paintings depicting him giving his sister away as bride (with some mythological meaning which we no longer know), can be found in arts and crafts shops. Some Japanese pictures of Zhongkui show him with four eyes, apparently related to the two-faced Liangzhu monster, and an annual Zhou ritual has a ghost-exorcist mask with four eyes; today some parts of China still have these masked rituals but now presented as festival drama acts; the masked Noh plays of Japan appear to be another residual practice. The door demons used by the traditional Chinese mansions are another residual practice involving this ghost eater.

A Zhou book mentions the taotie as a greedy monster that self destructed from over indulgence. This is most probably a misinterpretation bysomeone writing in a later era when ritualistic practices of past dynasties were only vaguely known. Today taotie is mainly used in restaurant advertisements of grand banquets.



The above picture shows three mysterious jade objects found in ancient tombs that are carbon dated to 5000 years ago, before there was any written history. Ancient books, mostly finished in the Han Dynasty but some already in existence in Zhou times and containing fragmentary legends that would have been orally transmittedbefore the invention of writing, obscurely mention jade objects used in some heaven and earthworship rituals. It is hard to make sense, first because the descriptions are so obscure, second because we are not sure which actual objects the mentioned names correspond to. After working through various possibilities, it is now commonly agreed that the cong 琮described in the books correspond to the rectangular block with round hole in the middle. The other two have so far not been identified withobjects mentioned in the books, and are referred to by the modern names invented from their shape: the Horse Hoof Object and the CylinderShaped Object.They have the common feature that allhave a hole in the middle, and at least for the cong, there is the idea that it "goes through to heaven", thus allowing us to imagine that the other two also have the same function.

A seemingly unrelated obscure detail in history books was that in Zhou times, the state of Chu had the duty to provide the Zhou court with "holy reeds" for the purpose of "absorbing wine". It is vaguely known that some ancient rituals involve a divine statue made from a bundle of reed; when wine is poured on the statue, it gets absorbed, as if the god has drunk it. Some believe this came from west asia: during the harvest, the last bunch of wheat from the field is bundled up and worshiped as the corn god.

A Japanese author connected the two obcure details together: he suggested that the sacred reeds areplugged into the hole in a cong to symbolize humans getting through to heaven with the help of the divinity represented by the reeds. I myself havesuggested that the Horse Hoof Object was the original version, and later evolved into the more formal, artistically crafted cong and Cylinder Shape Object versions. Someone else suggested that the Horse Hoof Object symbolized the vagina, through which humans are born, arriving into the material world from another world that ancienthumans imagined to beexisting on the other side. Of course this is alljust guessing, since we have nothing more concrete to work with.

The more concrete question is how long it took the ancient humans to learn the jade carving skills while at the same time working out the religious ideas. Before such fine objectscould be produced with the necessaryskills, they first had to produce more crude objects using easier materials and simpler tools. It is impossible to jump from pottery to fine jade; possibly the intermediary steps were wood and bone; while carved wood objects from over 5000 years ago would have rotted away, some bone objects ought to have survived.




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"History repeats, first time as tragedy, second time as farce" - Marx
历史重复,一次悲剧,一次闹剧 - 马克思
"Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it" - Santayana 忘记历史注定重复历史 - 山塔亚那
"Those who remember their history are also condemned to repeat it" - Yuen 记得历史也注定重复历史 - 阮宗光
"Oscar Wilde was wrong about cynics knowing price not value; cynics know value is always less than price" - Yuen

         foundation     王尔德说错了;愤世的人不是知价不知值,而是知道价高值低 - 阮宗光