IN SEARCH OF A VANISHING CIVILIZATION

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ZUOJIANG RIVER VALLEY (Guangxi)
 
The Zuojiang River Valley is situated in the southwest of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. It shares a border with Vietnam, and flows from the southwest to the northeast about 345 km long. It runs through a mountainous area, and is famous for its picturesque landscape formed by the process of erosion of limestone. The work of Nature has given shape to numerous exotic pinnacles and spires, bizarre sinkholes and caverns, scenic hills and underground streams.
 
The main topography of the river region is clusters of peaks and isolated peaks. In the upper reaches of the river there are many clusters of peaks; while in the lower reaches there are many isolated peaks. They also served as the medium for depicting people's creative and imaginative expressions.
 
Huashan rock art site Zuojiang River Guangxi
Huashan rock art site in Zuojiang River, Guangxi
Zuojiang River Valley Guangxi China
A view of Zuojiang River Valley, Guangxi
 
When I took a small boat down to the Zuojiang River, the scene along the river struck me. I have visited the rock art sites many times. In the March of 1985, we started early, it is rainy, and the wide expanse of misty Zuojiang River is draped in a veil of mist. The mist and clouds are moving and running, and gradually vanished then we could see undulating hills, forests and bamboos, green hills and clear waters - really picturesque scenery.
 
Along Zuojiang River there are eighty rock painting sites, but Huashan come out first. From side view it seems that the mountain was cut off a half. The river winds along the mountain ridge, in the front the Huashan shaped a huge awl (taper), the paintings beginning from half way up to the mountain, and until the foot of the mountain. The top of the cliff sticking out, just protect the pictures. The drop of water keep dripping from the top cliff reaches about 5m parts from the foot of the mountain. So we can say the paintings were painted in the shelter, but the shelter is very immense stretch several hundred meters wide. In the oppositive bank, there is a wide expanse of flat land: in this land turn one's head back to see Huashan, the mountain become more magnificent, people facing Huashan to took place ritual meeting here is very suitable. We stayed in Huashan a long time, enjoying ourselves so much as don't want to return. When the land is enveloped in a curtain of darkness, we put up for the night in the boat. It is the dead of night, the river is very dark, sometimes there are dog barks in the distance, but few and far between.
 
rock art painting Huashan
Dancing & offering sacrificers to Gods,
rock painting in Huashan,
Zuojiang River Valley, Guangxi
The existence of the rock art of Zuojiang River was documented as early as Song dynasty (960-1279 A.D.). In the area sheepherders and inquisitive inhabitants had also discovered the existence of rock paintings. The country people who know of them always considered them magical, and recent times the populations of localities near the sites have built up local legends and superstitions around them.
 
The legends spread from ancient times, but the formal scientific investigation did not occur until 1950. From 23 Sept to 1 Oct 1950, Guangxi Ethnic Minority Society and History Fact-finding Mission investigated the rock paintings. Up to now the investigations have made for several times. Some articles and reports about these investigations have been published, then the rock art of Zuojiang River become one of the most famous rock art sites in China.
 
Up to now, 80 rock art sites have been discovered in the Zuojiang River valley. Eighty percent of the sites are on the cliffs of both sides of the River and its tributaries, most places of the sides are located on the curves of the river and a few sites are a bit far from the rivers. 
 
In the rock art of Zuojiang River, there are different kinds of images, such as human figures, dogs, birds and implements: knives, swords, bells and bronze drums. Besides, there are images of boats and sexual intercourse. However, the praying figures are the main motif. The most of the figures have big bodies; the biggest figure is 3 meters tall.
 
The typical combination of the images is that in the center is a tall praying figure with a knife or a sword by his waist. Under his feet there is a dog, beside him or between his legs there is a bronze drum with a bright star. On both sides of the figure there are lines of smaller figures in profile that seem to dance for joy. The larger character is often depicted as a positive figure (frontal). The body is bigger and the posture remains consistent; the arms raised and legs apart. But the shapes are not all the same; some have round heads with broad chests and smaller waists. In some the head and neck are one rectangle, and the torso is triangular in shape. The figures are unclothed except for endless variations on headdress. The figures shown in profile with the same posture are always smaller than positive ones, and the headdresses are less frequent. There are many more of these smaller, profile figures, crowded together around the frontal praying figure. 
 
rock art painting Huashan
Dancing & holding a memorial ceremony,
rock paintng in Huanshan,
Zuojiang River Valley, Guangxi
In Zuojiang, the rock painting of Huashan is the biggest, most magnificent and most typical. The name "Huashan" literally means the "mountain of the pictures". On the cliff, the picture is 210 meters in width and 40 meters in height. There are many images, especially at the lower part of the cliff, 1,819 images can be still seen include over 1,500 praying figures. The largest figure is 3 meters in height and the smallest is only 30cm tall. They are distributed over thousands of square meters yet very concentrated. 
 
Scholars suggest that all praying figures in Zuojiang are dancers. The posture, with arms rose upward and legs squat, is the frog dance posture, as the frog is the totem of this tribal group. There are frontal and profile figures, but the postures are the same. Often in totemic religious, the people will dress up to resemble the totemic animal: that is the reason.
 
According to popular legend, the images on the cliff are those of frog-gods. Frogs are highly thought of in the culture of the local Zhuang people. They are called "Maling" in the Zuang language. The local people have an ancient Maling Festival every year. During this time, they worship the frog-gods and imitate the frog's movements in dance. They believe frogs are daughters of the Thunder-god, sent to be messengers between heaven and earth. The Thunder-god commands the wind and rain. Worshipping the frog gods is important to the Zhuang people who believe the gods will help bring them good weather for an abundant harvest and a healthily, flourishing population. So the paintings on the Huashan cliff are not just records of human activities, but also images of their gods. Through this artwork, scholars can explore the ancient people's mysterious ideas of deities and their illusory ideological world.
 
Art was more than a thing of beauty. It was also a method of compelling the forces of Nature to work for people. In a mysterious and dangerous world making new picture seemed to promise the artist that he and his people would not be injure. It may be true. Certainly the artists who risked their lives scaling the treacherous cliffs had other than purely aesthetic ends in view, and the locations themselves suggest an appeal to collective spirit of the tribes to get rid of the disasters of flood and drought, guarantee a flourishing population, and bless and protect the warriors.
 
Since the 1950s, discussions on the dates of the rock art have been carried out in academic circles. We have concluded that these rock paintings cover a time frame from the Warring States Period to the Eastern Han Dynasty (475B.C.- 220A.D.). The C-14 analysis has briefly proved our determination.
 
During this period, the Zuojiang River valley was still in the last stage of the primitive society and early stage of the class society. The rock art has the age characteristics, a strong color of primitive religion, with an atmosphere of immense zeal and vigorous mystery. The rock art of Zuojiang River valley is not only the gem of China, but also a spectacular artistic flower in the treasure house of the world.
 
 
 
The China Rock Art Archive
 
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