Reading between the lines
Liangzhu's "king of all cong". [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]
The sprawling site, located in the Yangtze River Basin near China's southeastern coast, is home to a civilization whose influence was felt across centuries. It has also revealed an early regional state from late Neolithic China with a unified belief system, according to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.
Proof for that shared spirituality of the state, which existed for roughly a millennium between 3300 BC and 2300 BC, was carried by the cong, whose mysterious pattern depicts a manlike figure donning a bristling feather crown and rising above a wide-eyed, bar-mouthed beast. The same pattern was repeated 16 times across the surface of the artifact: twice on each of the four sides and twice across each of the vertical edges. (Those across the edges depict a simplified version, with the human figure reduced to just two eyes and a mouth.)
"It's not as though any other jade artifacts bearing the same man-and-beast motif had never been encountered. They had. But none of them had spoken so distinctly and powerfully as to catch the attention of the archaeologists," says Wang Ningyuan, who has worked in Liangzhu since 2000 and today leads the excavations conducted at the site.
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