This week: China’s lost kingdoms

Boris Kasimov Yangzi river. IMAGE: Boris Kasimov/Wikimedia Commons.

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that Chinese culture began with the Qin – the regional powerbrokers who in the 3rd-century BC conquered their warring rivals to become the country’s first imperial dynasty, thereby ushering in a system that lasted until the 1911 Revolution, more than 2,000 years later.

Indeed, the Qin – whose first emperor connected together the fortifications that became the Great Wall and left us the famous Terracotta Warriors – did much themselves to play up their game-changing role in China’s history, carefully recording their own victories while destroying books and other evidence that might have offered an alternative take on their glorious conquests.

But as we learn this week on The Past, a series of spectacular archaeological discoveries in recent decades has thrown new light on the Qin’s long-overshadowed predecessors, the Bronze Age kingdoms of Zeng and Chu, which flourished in the middle Yangzi region about 2,500 years ago, and whose rich culture is now being highlighted in a major new exhibition, Lost Kingdoms of Ancient China, opening at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum in October.

In the latest issue of Minerva magazine, curator Fan Jeremy Zhang guides us through the show’s treasures, and explains how the ‘lost kingdoms’ of Zeng and Chu were able finally to emerge from obscurity to obtain the recognition they deserve.

Elsewhere this week on The Past, we have been searching the archives for more about ancient Chinese culture: we looked at how emperors consulted the celestial powers in order to receive their ‘Mandate from Heaven’; we delved into the origins of copper production, and discovered how it lead to the creation of some of the country’s greatest treasures; and we even offered an armchair guide to some of the marvellous artefacts on show in China’s venerable provincial museums.

And finally, if all that simply whets your appetite for more, don’t forget to have a go at our latest Quiz, which this week is also themed around Chinese history. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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