Kingdom of Mystery (2)

2004-12-27 16:15:13 China Daily


  Important records
  According to Li Tong, more than two thirds of Xixia`s territory are covered by desert. The Yellow River traversed Xixia. The area along the river, namely the Hetao Plain, was once one of China`s "farm belts."
  "The Tanguts were not only horseback people, they were also in the process of turning into agricultural society," said Li.
  This can be proved by a gilded bronze ox, which has been inscribed on China`s national treasure list.
  The bronze ox weighted 188 kilograms and was unearthed in a Xixia tomb in Yinchuan in 1977.
  According to Li, when archaeologists arrived, the tomb had already been robbed. But when one of the excavation team members accidentally kicked the wooden door plank that was removed from the frame and placed on the ground, "a miracle" occurred. The two horns of the bronze ox, which had been buried under the plank, poked out of the plank.
  "Relics need to meet at least three requirements to be inscribed on the national treasure list: well-preserved, irreplaceable, and representing the highest level of craftwork at the time it was produced. The ox is fully qualified," Li said.
  The excavation team also unearthed a stone horse sculpture from the same tomb.
  The exhibition also includes a page of sutra in Xixia characters, which was uncovered in Baisigou Pagoda in the county of Helan in 1991.
  The sutra, Li said, is the earliest book printed with wooden movable type so far unearthed in China.
  There are also some other works featuring Xixia characters, including stele inscriptions, bronze seals and bronze warrants.
  The Tanguts devised their own indigenous ideogrammatic script in the 11th century. It was based on the traditional Chinese characters, but much more complicated.
  According to Li, only about 10 per cent of the 7,000 or so Xixia characters has less than 10 strokes.


  The most complicated Xixia characters have 48 strokes each.
  Because of its complexity, the Xixia characters are called "words from heaven" by historians.
  It became a dead language with the down fall of the kingdom, but has already been cracked by today`s archaeologists.
  With the popularity of their own characters, the Xixia people developed a literary tradition of translated Buddhist texts and original secular works.
  "The Tanguts kept a tradition of embracing Buddhism," said Li.
  Except sutras, the tradition can also be proved by a unique kind of glazed pottery architecture ornaments, which are in the shape of "sweet-voiced bird" (miaoyin niao).
  Called Kalaviuka in Sanskrit, miaoyin niao is a legendary half-man, half-bird figure worshiped in Buddhism. "Visitors will be impressed with these precious relics of Xixia. They present part of the fabulous historic and multi-ethnic cultural heritage of China," Li said.
  (China Daily December 21, 2004)

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