THE SOUTHEAST COAST OF CHINA
Chen Zhao Fu
China's east and south coast, the 18000 km coastline lie scattered more that 5000 islands, the biggest Taiwan and Hainan, long regarded as China's "treasure islands" because of their abundant resources. The coastline may be divided in two types: sandy and rocky. In the southern coastline, the mountain ranges are close to the coast. The pounding of waves against the has formed rocky, jagged coast which are strategically important and favored with numerous islands and islets, and bog, deep natural harbors as well as art sites.
There are mainly six rock art sites have been discovered in the southeast coast area, such as Lianyunggang, Jiangsu, Hua'an, Fujian, Wanshan ,Taiwan, Zhuhai, Guangdong, Macau and the ancient rock carving in Hong Kong.
ROCK CARVINGS IN MACAO
Aware of the ancient rock carvings in HongKong, and the prehistoric occupation of Colane in Macao as revealed by excavations at the Hac Sawan site, people have been conducting a systematic research of Colane in the belief that rock engravings might also be present there.
On Nov.14,1982, a spare pattern "chessboard" rock carving was discovered by Mr.Manuel de Arajo in the valley trending south from the KOHO bay on Colane Island. Examination nearby rocks revealed the existence of man-made "pits" and a more complex rock carving.
The "chessboard" pattern is similar to those of Shek Pik, Tung Chung and other sites in HongKong. The dating of these" chessboard" pattern carvings is controversial and some scholars have pointed out their close resemblance to the pattern on "Union Jack" and other early Iron Age pottery.
The series of semi-spherical "pits" or depressions in the sites have not been noted in Hong Kong. At two sites in Colane, they are associated with the "chessboard" pattern. Some scholars confirmed that the pits were man-made: all were approximately 10 cm in diameter and 5 cm deep. Attention was focused on the more complex carving, which seemed to be made up of vessels perhaps misted boats or ships. The patterns were however extremely faint and difficult to trace.
A return visit was made to the site in 1985 in order to make an ink rubbing of the more complex carving. The locations of other rock carvings in the area were surveyed, but none were found.
Photographic reduction and reversal of the pattern shows very clearly that a complex arrangement of elements is present. The precise objects depicted however remains unclear, and one can only speculate. The complex carving may represent misted ships, it is difficult to conceive of this complex carving as having been executed by Qing dynasty villagers. After comparison with Zhuhai petroglyphs we confirmed that the pattern would seem more consistent with some of the Bronze Age rock carvings in HongKong.
Clearly, the matter is not easily
resolved, and the Colane engravings raise more questions than they answer. But
they do put the issue in a sharper focus: the complex carving and the "game
board" pattern as well were prehistoric, probably Bronze Age.
PETROGLYPHS IN ZHUHAI
Directly close to Macao there is Zhuhai City, Guangdong Province. In Oct.1989, a set petroglyphs made up of six pieces in four sites were found in precious Mirror bay, Gaolan Island. Zhuhai petroglyphs have been widely recognized by some experts and scholars, and have joined the rock art study in China with a brand new face.
Zhuhai petroglyphs are in a interleaved way carved on rocks, in which there patterns of techniques have been established to make their own stylish petroglyphs-outlined scratches, chiseled sketches, and somewhat bas-relief; and subjects mainly are figures, animals, ship-like shapes, cloud-and-thunder spirals patterns and waves patterns. The most representative is the Treasures Cave's petroglyphs, which is 5 m long and 2.9m high and was made up of more than 10 groups of figures and images.
Zhuihai petroglyphs are somehow a mirror
reflecting the ancient life of Yue nationality living seashore and their beliefs
and worships. They styled somewhat similarly with those found in the southeast
coast, and are a kind of sister-like technique of expression of art revealed
from between their configurations and feats of kill, and those patterns and
designs carved in ancient pottery, bronze were found elsewhere, and also there
is a linkage with ancient remains elsewhere. So some scholars believe that they
are relics of Bronze Age in Guangdong.
ROCK CARVINGS IN HONG KONG
There is an old story about Hong Kong that describes the amount of information known about this area at the time when the British Government asked the Qing
Archaeology in Hong Kong has revealed a surprisingly long period of habitation in this area, from as early as 6000 years ago. More than one hundred prehistoric sites have been investigated and many of them excavated. A prehistoric culture sequence has been established, beginning with the earliest known human presence in the area in the Neolithic Age and the continuing well into the Bronze Age.
The rock carvings, however, have been recognized for centuries among the local folk. One particular;y prominent carving was recorded in the xin'an County gazettes as 1819. The book recorded the Tunglung petroglyph adoring the northern to Hong Kong harbor. The Tunglung engraving is the largest and the most impressive in Hong Kong, with a height of 180 cm. And a width at the base of 240 cm. When chalked the pattern is visible from well offshore, as it was executed on a large boulder which stands out somewhat from the other coastal rocks and is only 4 to 5 m. Above the sea level. A vertical fracture divides the motifs into 2 halves. To the right, there seems to be a highly ornate bird although only the head and possibly the feet are distinguishable from the swirls and elaborations, to the left there is a conglomeration of figures with several " eyes" and other non-distinct units.
In addition to Tunglung, there are seven
or more other rock carving sites that
have been discovered in Hong Kong. Most of
them are found in the coastal settings but none of them face the open sea, or
any large expanse of water. They are all situated on small inlets or bays less
than 500m.wide, while land opposite Tunglung is 15000m. Away, forming a large
bay. This aspect may be significant. At shipi, also in Hong Kong, there are two
engravings actually face one another across a lagoon.
In 1978, three places of petroglpys were discovered in Wanshan, Kaoxiong County, Taiwan.
The Wanshan, petroglyphs located in a deep jungle have a very simple topic, obviously irrelevant to any economical activity. They apparently depicted religious activities. The Central Mountain between the pei-nan Mountain and the Chih-pen Mountain is the traditional domination of the Rukai Tribe. Its low temperature made the place unfavorable for agriculture. Rukai myths show that tribesman originally earned their living by very simple agriculture, hunting and gathering. Later on with the introduction of millet, they moved elsewhere to look for cultivable lands. Probably because of the change of economical activities, Rukai sheltering from rock shelter, hut, simple farm house to finally a Northern Paiwan settlement of house with slate-covered roofs. The change of the way of living naturally altered their art creations.
The Rukai supernatural religion is ancestor-worshipping. The tribesmen believed that life come from earth and stone, and was related to Lake Dalubaling in the Central Mountain. In the east of the lake, not very far away from the petroglyphs stood a large stone pillar, which was believed to be the assembling place for Aididingan, their ancestral spirits.
The number1 petroglphs dealt mainly with Aididingan, the ancestral spirits, describing how they created life. In the petroglyphs there are human heads, snakes, spirals, concentric circles and cupules. The human figures wear branched ornaments on the head, raise both hands high, bend their legs slightly, but they have no feet; on the human heads there are radiating lines, spirals, and concentric circles. They are typical plastic arts, which appear exclusively in Eastern Asia and the Circum pacific Archipelago. The snakes with double curve motif, human figures, and human heads bear much relationship to the figures on Rukai and Paiwan wood carvings.
The foot prints and cupules on number2 depicted the traces of tribal movements; and the cupules and abstract line curves on number3 petroglyphs dealt with racial proliferation and pedigrees. Perhaps because of the change of the way of living, several abstract symbols have lost their significance and thus disappear from modern paiwan wood carvings. The pigment of the pictoglyphs serves as a feasible basis for inferring the age of their creation. Yet there are so far no scientific methods to specify the age of the creation of those petroglphs done by pecking, grinding, or polishing.
Even today the Rukai tribesmen observe
thoroughly the regulation--any one who goes to the place of origin of the tribe
must wear plain clothes only, all ornamental glass beads are forbidden. The Rukai
tribe might have moved to Taiwan as early as from the begin of Christain, when
glass beads were popularly worn as ornaments in Southern Asia. Some
scholars believe a scientific study on the snakes on the Rukai ancient pottery
vases may specify the age when the latest petroglyphs were created
About de Hua'an rock art, we have an ancient literature of Tang dynasty(618-907AD) said: there is a mountain, at its foot is a very deep pool dewelling an evil crocodile that always did harm to the villagers and they had to move to other places. One night it thundered hard. The mountain were shaken so hard and falling in the pool. The evil crocodile's blood, flowed over the fields, at the same time an inscription appeared on the cliff. It is now so call Hua'an engravings.
Around 1915, Prof.Hua first discovered Hua'an rock art. Seventy years passed, in 1985, I went to the rock art site, in two banks. The mountains and the rivers are emerald green, and found the river become very different, the water comes rarely and when it does, the flow is rapid creating many shoals. As a result it is very difficult to navigate now.
Here, the river makes a winding, forming deep pond, about 10 meters across. The southern bank is a sheer cliff, about 30 meters high containing six separate groups of engravings.
Hua'an rock engravings are highly stylized many people to guessing their meaning. Scholars considered the engravings like some ancient writing of minority ethnic group.
After my investigation, in the May of
1985, I considered the subject matters of Huan'an rock engravings are dancers,
masks, and animals . The masks maybe related to the dancers, in some primitive
dances the participants wear masks, legs squat, arms raise, naked and under the
buttocks a tail dress. The females are always marked by breasts. The atmosphere
of this dance is rough and enthusiastic. It is not surprising that the images of
the figures are similar to strokes of Chinese ancient writings, Chinese
traditional painting emphasizes likeness between Chinese and western ancient
Many masks rock engravings have been found in the Southeast area. In 1979, a rock engraving site was discovered in Jiangjinyan, southwest of Lianyungan City,9 km. Close to the sea. The carvings or engraving spread over a level and smooth black rock. They are divided into three sections. Section A consists of human faces, crops and symbols. The human faces are often linked by a line, with the crops below, hinting at some land worship. The engraving in Section B are composed mainly of astrological figures, birds and animal skulls, perhaps also as an indication to some worship. Section C consists of totems as shown amidst a cluster of clouds and stars.
The Lianyungan rock engravings are of great interest, most of the figures show mythical beings represented as anthropomorphic faces on the end of stalks: the crop designs appearing in the rock engravings reflect just one of the sun and the earth, as agriculture was the main resource of the people. Near the carving are scattered with relics and remains from the late Paleolithic and Neolithic Age. Scholars consider that the rock engravings belong to the Neolithic age, 5000 years ago.
At the center of the three sections is a sacrificial site: a big stone tribal deity with three small stones at its feet. It's most possible that the place with all this rock art remains had been once a ceremonial site of worship being given to Goddess of Land and agricultural God.
Style is the most important consideration in rock art research. By " style" is meant the constant from and sometimes constant elements, qualities, and expression in the art of an individual or a group. Both subject matter and technique enter into the definition of style. For the archaeologist, style is exemplified in a motive or pattern, or in some directly grasped quality of the work of art which helps him to localize and date the work and to establish connections between groups of work or between cultures.
After introducing the six rock art sites
of Southeast Coast in China, then we can see some common characteristics among
Chinese rock art shows some regional characteristics. Primarily rock paintings, mostly using red mineral pigments, are common in the south, while in the northwest rock engravings are widespread. But in the southeast coast all sites are engravings.
Wanshan carvings mainly chiselled with
unregular tooth like fringes, and
the chiseled points linked up to lines. The line of Liangyungan rock
engravings, made by carve, are very bold and vigorous. The lines scrods section
show " v" shape, about 1 cm deep and 2-3 cm wide. Comparatively,
Huan'an engravings are deeper and wider, made by carver and polish similar to
the technique used in Zhuhai, Guangdong. Also we can meet the same techniques in
Hong Kong and Macao.
The most southeast coast rock art sites relate to religious rites. Hong Kong ancient carvings face to the bays. According to the Chinese old literatures, some Yue peoples stayed in the southeast coastal areas by the sea, and their ritual always take place there. Hua'an engravings had been recorded in an old literature, and they have been discovered in Tang Dynasty. The meaning was considered an incitation to put down a devil. We can think this rock art site had something to do with religious activities.
All carvings of coastal groups have complex and abstract designs or symbols, such as a meanding single lines, dots, circles, spirals and square spirals, etc. In Macao, a series of semi-spherical pits or dots were discovered and these symbols so called" cup marks", we found in Lianyungan and Wanshan also. Sometimes they are arranged in row and circles or in paired parallel columns. Various hypothesis, none of which are yet provable, have been put forth regarding the interpretation and the significance of these groups. One hypothesis proposes that they served as containers for sacrificial offerings or for other purposes of worship. Another theory considered them as representations of constellations while the third sees them as the female sex symbols.
Symbols were engraved in an attempt to gain some measure of control over threatening forces or poorly understood phenomena, to safeguard the balance of power in the universe and the continued prosperity of the individual and the groups.
Thus, the art can be considered a religious expression made in an effort to propitiate the supernatural. These numerous symbolic themes in the southeast coast rock engraving offer an exceptional quantity of information about the magic religious aspects of prehistory. However, even today, one manages to understand only the most superficial meanings, and not even that much.
Mask rock art have an important position in southeast coast. Along the circum-pacific, we know that the mask rock art distribute in a wild area. The masks reflect a spiritual world unknown to us. It is the imaginative way in which they are portrated and the emotion of joy and sorrow they seem to convey. The masks are interesting and arouse us to muse over things of the remote past. Mask engravings in rock art show us lively, formative and true life materials that made up the mental world of their makers. Moreover mask designs had appeared in many Neolithic sites in China, the face designs in painted potteries, pottery figures, bone objects and jade sculptures. This clearly illustrated that masks designs were widespread in China in the Neolithic Age. It is also reasonable to consider that the most the mask engravings of Lianyungang; Hua'an, Fujian; and Wanshan, Taiwan; belong to this age.
But the petroglyphs in Macau, Hong kong
and Zhuhai, dating these petroglyphs mainly on the possible association of the
geometric style with ceramics and bronze works. Locally there are two stages: a
late Neolithic phase with soft pottery, and a Bronze stage with hard pottery.
While the soft pottery does have simple spirals and square meanders, the closest
relation of the rock art with the more elaborate spirals of the Bronze Age
ceramics. One motif which dominates the early Bronze Age pottery is found
nowhere else in Asia. It is a complex multiple spiral, and variations of this
are extremely close to the rock art engravings designs. In summary, while a Late
Neolithic dating cannot be entirely ruled out, evidence points strongly toward a
Bronze Age date for these engravings.
Here I try to mention the stylistic characteristics of art. Among the Southeast Coastal rock art drawings there are many complex and abstract designs. The simple ones are meandering single lines, single squares," chessboard" or asterisk patterns. There are some geometric elements like circles, spirals, square spirals, concentric circles, rhombus, swirls and curvilinear designs. Then there are abstract elements with zoomorphic or anthropomorphic and amorphous features.
Turning to the zoomorphic designs the Tung Lung engravings in Hong Kong is a good example, offering the most interesting possibility reconstruction. To the right is an obvious birdlike figure which resembles in some way a motif in bronze drums. The bird's attention is directed across a fracture in the rock to a highly stylized creature or perhaps it is a scene. It seems that this part of the design relates to the bird motif, especially one variant of the bord-holding-fish.
I do not sure the abstract design appears to have gone step further into the cerebral mystical reaches of the wind. The abstract design like the designs of Neolithic ceramics in Southeast Coast made by dots, lines, triangles, rhombus, etc. These simple geometric figures form all kinds of designs and patterns. The studies of anthropology and archaeology show some abstract designs have the meaning of totem worship or ancestor worship. In this case, these designs are abstract for us, but for the prehistoric peoples there have very specific contents. Time flies, we want to make these designs a concrete analysis of concrete conditions do very difficult.
Abstract designs of all kind in Lianyungang engravings such as dots, lines, circles, concentric circles, some like the pattern of the galactic nebula, some form maps. The similar designs were discovered in Taiwan and Hong Kong. In 1974, a picnicker discovered a series of artificial etchings in the rocks overlooking Jos House Bay, Hong Kong. The carved designs were immediately dubbed "pirate maps" by the press, as the twisting coastline visible from the vantage point where the carvings were found resemble the designs on the rock..
In Macao and Hong Kong among the geometric elements there is the double or interlocking spirals or square meander, generally referred to us as "lei", thunder, and "cloud" spirals are also found on bronze drums in southwest and southeast China. We found them in other southeast rock art sites also. Hua'an rock engravings is highly stylized or abstract. There enigmatic quality has tempted many people into guessing their meaning. Many scholars considered the engraving like some ancient writings of minority ethnic groups; but they can't be sure. When I jumped over the boulders and climbed on the cliff I could see the engravings face to face. I surprised some masks are very striking and also others are very stylized, closing to Chinese ancient writing. Here I can see the rock art and writing go together.