On Show

Archaeological Surveys of Wuzhong

Permanence Exhibition
F Hall , 2nd Floor in WuZhong Museum

The name Wuzhong (ancient Suzhou) has a venerable history whose roots trace back to the State of Gouwu founded by Wu Taibo in his flight to the south. As local indigenous cultures encountered the Central Plains (north China) civilization represented in Zhou Culture, transmitting their livelihood in paddy-rice and fishing, introducing education through ritual and music as state law, honoring gentility and humility as a model of morality, the pre-Qin State of Wu adopted a multifaceted attitude of accommodation and gradually reached its peak power as Shoumeng declared himself King, leading the southeast as Kings Helü and Fuchai consecutively competed for the hegemony of Wu among other states.

Wu Culture in the narrow sense means the culture of the State of Wu, blanketing all pre-Qin Wu material culture and its spiritual content; in the broader meaning, Wu Culture encapsulates a cultural phenomenon with definite regional characteristics that have continued from pre-Wu times to the present in the area around the state. The latter sense connects in near-limitless ways with Wu State culture, or possibly impacted and established that culture’s foundations, or possibly took on an enormous influence from that culture – passing through different historical periods, but exhibiting spiritual continuity.

A major birthplace of Wu Culture, Wuzhong was also the site where the culture thrived. From Neolithic settlement remains through pre-Qin cultural relics, burials, and urban remains, the significance of archaeological research on early period remains in Wuzhong goes beyond verifying history and restoring such glory, rather investigating and inducing the process of multifaceted fusion within Wu Culture, displaying, through concrete and abstract means, its millennia-long and continuously prosperous specialties and spiritual essence.

The First Wu Peoples

Traces of human activity had appeared in Wuzhong as early as the Paleolithic. A large volume of Paleolithic chipped stone tools and mammal fossils were unearthed at the Sanshandao Paleolithic Site in the middle of Lake Tai and depicted a setting for early man’s survival as hunter and fisher.

Upon entering the Neolithic, the first inhabitants gathered in settlements within Wuzhong and developed the earliest known paddy-rice agriculture irrigation system in China – there is no shame calling the area ‘a rich land of rice and fish’. Accompanying this abundance in the commonweal were developments in material culture and advances in society and civilization while following complex regional cultural evolution and succession unique technologies in pottery manufacture and jade working become a major characteristic and cultural element of pre-Wu Culture, ultimately merging with the grand current of Chinese civilization.

1.The Thriving Glades and Marshes

2.Eating Paddy-Rice and Fish

3.Tracing Origins of Wu

Springs and Autumns of Wu State

The ‘Ancient House of Wu Taibo’ in Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian records: “Taibo and Zhongyong fled to the Jing Man peoples and tattooed their bodies and cut their hair to show they could not be used [by the Zhou court] … Taibo fled to the Jing Man and declared the State of Gouwu. The Jing Man were friendly towards him, and over a thousand households pledged allegiance, establishing him as Wu Taibo.” The State of Wu as a nation was a joint construction by Zhou peoples migrating to the south and natives of Jiangnan, a state where education through ritual and music fused with regional customs and habits. Aside from written materials, years of archaeological work have furnished additional possibilities for understanding and restoring Wu’s history. Jades unearthed at Yanshan in 1986 elicited investigations on the institution as well as the culture of jade used in Wu. Archaeological discovery and research at the large burials of Zhenshan in the 1990s revealed the burial customs and rules associated with the highest Wu nobility. In the twenty-first century, the excavation of Mudu Ancient City has further pushed forward heated discussions on the social life, shifting of capital cities, urban function,  and development of urban form in Wu – becoming essential to understanding the Wuzhong Region as the south-east’s political and cultural heartland during the middle and late Springs and Autumns Period (770 BC- 476 BC).

1. Elders of the Zhou House

2. A Jade Suit Sealed in Tumulus

3.Constructing a Grand City

4.Burying Jade in the Hills

The Struggles of the Great Confederations

Wu, Chu,  and Yue strove for supremacy in the southeast during the middle and late Springs and Autumns Period. At peak strength, the State of Wu “broke through to the west and overpowered the Chu, threatened Qi and Jin to the north, overcame the Yue in the south” as the clear regional superpower. The frequent military conflict brought in a cultural exchange that enriched Wu Culture. Contemporary Wu State grave goods – particularly the bronzes themselves – absorbed multiple Chu-style and Yue-style bronze fashions. Indeed “half were Wu, half were Chu” in the Grave One Heshan bronzes discovered in 1980, believed to be part of the spoils of Wu campaigns in Chu.

Yet sudden and dramatic political shifts brought on cultural renaissance or destruction. Wuzhong would be ruled by Yue following Gou Jian’s destruction of Wu, and was later under the jurisdiction of Chu. Looking at the archaeological discoveries, traits of Chu Culture present themselves in both the burial form and grave goods of Warring States tombs, the area culture of the Tai Lake Region gradually integrating into Chinese Civilization.

1. Earth Mounds and Stone Burial Chambers

2.The Chu-Wu Conflict

3.Wu Lands, Chu Style