Shaanxi Through Dr. Robin’s Eyes
The Eastern Aspect: Banpo andLantian
Ancient Rome was overlooked by seven hills; Chang’anpossessed eight rivers, namely the Wei, the Jing, the Feng, the Lao, the Chen,the Chan, the Yu, and the Ba. Half of them are scarcely more than mountain-fedstreams, with courses stretching for fewer than one hundred kilometres. The Weiand Jing rivers, meanwhile, irrigated the 800 li Qin Plain, being vital arteries for agriculture and waterbornetransport. It is reported that the Wei formerly teemed with fish, so much sothat when the adventurer Arthur Sowerby (1885-1959) accompanied the Singer sewing-machine heir RobertSterling Clark (1877-1956) across Guanzhong in 1909, they actually witnessedthe practice of cormorant fishing from rafts (Clark and Sowerby, ThroughShên-kan: the account of the Clark expedition in north China, 1908-9, Chapter 5; also shown inphotographic plate 20). Now seldom seen outside the karst beauty spots of Guangxi,Shaanxi fishermen would launch the birds from bamboo rafts, their gulletstethered with twine so they would have to cough up their catch. Should thefeathered slaves protest and refuse to dive, they would temporarily be untiedand fed a few sprats. For George Hogg, who rode through the Tongguan Passduring the anti-Japanese War, this was an “ancient corroded countryside,”rescued from famine only by the timely inundations of the Wei. In his mind “theroads have been worn down by the wheels of centuries, so that only the tops ofthe carts passing along them are visible, and whole villages modeled in mud arescarcely distinguishable from the crumbling loess cliffs around them” (I See a New China, Chapter 2).
七丘瞰罗马，八水绕长安。围绕长安的八水是渭、泾、沣、涝、潏、滈、浐、灞，如今半数几乎成了山间小溪，绵延不过百余里。泾渭之水曾灌溉八百里秦川，是农业和水运的大动脉。据记载渭河当年是鳞光闪闪，所以当探险家苏道味（英文原名为阿瑟·德·卡尔·索尔比Arthur Sowerby）陪着“胜家缝纫机”的继承人罗伯特·斯特林·克拉克（Robert Sterling Clark）在1909年路过关中时，都亲眼看到了竹排上的鸬鹚在河里叼鱼（见罗伯特·斯特林·克拉克和苏道味著《穿越陕甘：1908-1909年克拉克考察队华北行纪》第五章和插图20）。此情此景就是在今天广西美丽的喀斯特风景区也难得一见，那时陕西的渔夫把鸬鹚从竹排上放出去捕鱼，鸬鹚戴着脖套，叼到鱼咽不下去得吐出来。要是长着羽毛的奴隶反抗不潜水，主人就会解开脖套，喂它几条小鱼。抗日战争期间，当乔治﹒何克骑马走过潼关的时候，这儿还是一片“古代洪荒的乡下”，只有定期泛滥的渭河让其免受饥荒。在他的眼里，“几百年来的滚滚车轮压得山路沧桑不堪，人们能看到的只有沿途的车顶，泥淖中的村庄和其周围摇摇欲坠的黄土高坡难分彼此。”(见乔治﹒何克著《我看到了一个新的中国》第二章)。
Thatoff-yellow tedium which melds homes and landscape into a piece is still there,only now we peer down upon it from asphalted highways and have not thenecessity to stoop to the level of a mule. Reclamation and greening are theorder of the day through much of the territory due east of Xi’an. In 2004,partly in anticipation of the staging of the International Horticultural Exposeven years later, a new administrative unit, the Chanba Ecological Zone, wasdesignated. The exhibition itself was staged on a 418-hectare formerbrown-field site (45% of which was wetlands), which had undergone rigorousdecontamination. Upon its closure the expo site, as had been planned all along,was converted over to parkland. After the bedding plants have withered and beenuprooted and the trellises discarded a few solid structures serve as a reminderof what went on there before. By night the Chang’an Tower glows in differentcolours, its segmented thorax blinking at motorists who wend their way back tothe city.
Theauthorities hope that through investing 15.7 billion yuan in creating theChanba Zone, a green corridor can be cleaved between the industrialized easternsuburbs and the verdigris slopes of the White Deer Plain and Lantian County.That Zone, which extends to 581 square kilometres, currently conserves 180kinds of plant species belonging to 48 families, and 150 species of wetlandcreature falling into 27 orders and 50 families. The drive towards greaterenvironmental protection and building a sustainable future forms a compellingand ongoing narrative in itself, but on closer inspection these districts arealready a kind of cultural palimpsest, written and overwritten with countlesslayers of humanistic history.
The earliest Xi’anese?:the Banpo Museum
Around four thousand years before the Emperor QinShihuang consolidated his imperial state, the plains to the east of Xi’an weresettled by the prehistoric Yangshao people. Evidence of their existence layhidden until 1953 when local labourers working on the foundations to a powerplant began to uncover artefacts of obviously great antiquity. The subsequentarchaeological dig advanced at what now seems like a breakneck speed. Barelythree years after the first barrows of earth had been shifted, the Banpo Museumwas ready for opening and Shaanxi people could appreciate the lifestyle led bytheir distant ancestors. The authorities were determined that this event beseen as the triumphant culmination of a modern, highly-efficient operation.Photographs taken at the time depict popular merriment and a clamour notnormally witnessed outside of New Year celebrations.
One word that springs readily to mind whenever Banpois mentioned is “quirky.” It sits nine kilometres to the east of the citycentre in Baqiao District (the name literally means “Bridge over the RiverBa”), an up-and-coming area which is still semi-rural. Prior to the completionof the East-West line of the Metro in the winter of 2013-14, “eastenders” weresomething of a people apart. Perceived by city folks as odd birds, new stylepaternalism in infrastructure projects has sought to lift them from theirslough of insularity. The minutes it now takes to reach the suburb via subwayhad hitherto been unimaginable. Travelling on the city bus via Changying EastRoad or the parallel roadway stretching beyond the Chaoyang Gate, quarter hourscould give way to half hours and more. The former route might be described as aconcrete rat-run which gave way to flatlands broken up by nucleated groves ofskyscrapers. The latter brings passengers by the tailors and clothes malls ofKangfulu, where bespoke suits can still be assembled and cut to order大高静流 , not tomention two military colleges.
一提到半坡，人心里冒出的第一个词就是“怪”。半坡位于距西安城中心九公里外东边的灞桥区。这块大有开发前途的地区依旧是个半农业区赠我一世蜜糖 。2013年至2014年的冬天，在西安地铁的东西线未竣工前，东郊的人有点疏远，城里的人觉得他们怪，而新的基础设施就是要把他们从狭隘的境遇中解放出来，现在坐地铁到郊区的速度以前是无法想象的。要是乘公交车沿长缨东路或其辅道去朝阳门外，十几分钟的车程可能要走半个多小时。长缨东路可以说是弯弯绕的水泥路cf小草辅助 ，主要是为了给聚在平地的摩天大厦群让道。而其辅道则通往康复路的裁缝店和服装批发市场，那里到现在还可以定做衣服，就更不用提还有两所军事院校了。
At the entrance to the Banpo museum visitors aregreeted by a colossal, unexpected gateway. The great arch mimics thecrisscrossing beam structure of Yangshao houses. The same feature appearselsewhere in the precinct, even inspiring the design of the concrete publictoilet block. Contrary to the illusions of primitivism, the Banpo latrinesglister white and the cubicles are scrubbed and regimented.
To date, only about twenty per cent of total remainsof the prehistoric community have been excavated; that is to say an area ofapproximately 50 000 square metres. As the site is surrounded by a horseshoe ofmodern high-rise developments, with yet more construction work promised theremainder is unlikely to see the light of day. The visitor experience isdivided into three discrete sections – a museum offering displays of dioramasand unearthed objects, the visitor hall erected around the uncovered remains凤翅鎏金镗,and finally an outdoor reconstruction of the “primitive village.”
A quotation from Zhuangzi (c. 369-c. 286 BC) loomslarge in the foyer to the museum: “One knows his mother, not knowing hisfather/ Setting to work at sunrise and resting at sunset” . This coupletretrospectively encapsulates what was thought to be the guiding principle ofthe Banpo civilization. In the 1950s, archaeologists, working according to thethen prevalent Marxist paradigm of history, claimed that this was an earlymatriarchal society. The mother was acknowledged as the head of the family andas the crucible of new life. Men played a subordinate role.
博物馆的大厅里很突出的引有一句庄子的话“民知其母，不知其父”；“日出而作，日落而息”，这副对联回顾性的总结了半坡文明当时的主导思想。在二十世纪五十年代蓝染忽右介 ，考古学家遵循的是马克思主义的历史观，认为这是早期的母系氏族社会花甲汤 。一家之长与生活的引领者是母亲，男人处于次要地位。
Mao Zedong lent his approval to this widespread viewof the Yangshao peoples. His 1964 speech ‘Discourse on Philosophical Problems’compared the unequal situation of present-day women with the dominance achievedby these forebears. In his rhetoric he said金丝虾球, social development has different stages, and the primitivesociety was divided into several stages. Women was buried alive
毛泽东是赞成仰韶人的这种观点的，1964年在《关于哲学问题的讲话》中，他比较了现代女人的不平等地位和历史上的主导地位，他说：…….社会发展也是有阶段的，原始社会又分好多阶段。女人殉葬 那时还没有，但要服从男人。先是男人服从女人步轻尘 ，走到反面，女人服从男人…….
The resourcefulness of the Yangshao is certainlyevident throughout the exhibition. They benefited from the rich soils of theGuanzhong Plain, which were well-suited to growing vegetables, and could huntwild deer or fish as well. One mannequin display depicts a hunting scene inwhich it is the women, and not the men, who form the front phalanx, wieldingspears and capture-nets.
The earth also furnished them with raw material forcraftwork. As the potter’s wheel had not yet been invented Banpo residentscreated ceramics using the ring-building method. Sausage-like rolls of wet slipwere coiled around and around in a spiral until a stable vessel developed. Thecontours were smoothed out with a moistened hand. These pots were then fired inthe nearby kiln, which, it is estimated, could have reached temperatures ashigh as 1000 degrees Celsius. Banpo pots are a deep shade of red with severaldistinctive designs painted over the surface, including what must be one of theearliest examples of a vase fashioned after the form of a gourd. Inexpensive replicasare available on-site.
For experts and visitors alike, it is the decorationsupon the surface of the clay which present the greatest conundrum. A number ofceramic items bear an ambiguous symbol that appears to combine a na?ve fishdrawing with a spiky human face. The exhibition offers five versions of whatthe symbol potentially represents:-
1) That this is a totemwhich formed part of the Banpo people’s superstitions;
2) That the Yangshaorevered their ancestors and this is a representation of what they were believedto have looked like;
3) That the fish’s hornsand caps symbolize power;
4) That it is a shaman’smask which was used in a ritual.
The fifth, less probable, explanation posits that itis an image of an alien face, and that the Yangshao had contact withextraterrestrial life!
The tribe’s prowess at fishing is plain to see. Thisis indicated in a rather quaint way to visitors. Where a single vertebra from aChan River fish was retrieved among the domestic refuse at Banpo, curators havethought to have it mounted upon a custom-made wooden template. Contemporaneoushooks are affixed to a square of velvet near the creature’s mouth.
Furtherspecial features vivify our sense of Banpo as a living community. A miniaturediorama provides a twenty-first century twist on “Pepper’s ghost,” an oldVictorian illusion practiced by stage magicians in Britain. In the originaltrick, an assistant would stand concealed under a trapdoor beneath the stagelevel. A strong light from the rear allowed his or her reflection to appear inan angled pane of glass placed directly above. It seemed as if a ghostlyspectre were floating upon the stage. At Banpo the trick is done using anonstop film of actors performing everyday activities in Yangshao dress. Theirimages are projected upwards so that to the viewer they are apparentlyinteracting in amongst a miniature village consisting of plastic huts andtrees.
其它的特色使我们对半坡居住区的感觉更加鲜活。微缩的模型提供给我们的是二十一世纪的 “佩珀尔幻象”，犹如英国舞台上的魔术师在上演古老的维多利亚时期的景象（ 佩珀尔幻象Pepper’s ghost是一种在舞台上与某些魔术表演中产生幻觉的技术。这种技术借用一面平坦的玻璃与特定的光源技术，使物体可以出现或消失，或是变形成其他物体——译者注）。在原来的机关中，有一位助手会站着藏在台下的暗门里，台后的一束强光将其身影反射到头顶一块有角度的玻璃板上，这样就好像有一个诡异的幽灵在舞台上漂浮。而在半坡，则是通过电影胶片的连续播放，让演员穿着仰韶人的衣服演绎当时的日常活动。演员的身影被反射，这样参观的人就明显感到自己是在一个有塑料房子和树木的微型村子里和当年的人仰韶人在互动。
Moving on into the excavated section of the site, visitorspass through a roomy, aircraft hangar-like space, not dissimilar in feel to thehall which houses the Terracotta Army in Lintong. The building, which wascompleted in large-scale renovations carried out between 2003 and 2006, isaesthetically-satisfying, complimenting perfectly the contents. A muted amountof sunlight is admitted via apertures in the roof. These elongated “eyes” areshaped exactly like the horizontal lozenge found on the Banpo face insignia.
Surveying thisextensive plot, we can appreciate two chief peculiarities. First of all, theBanpo people inhabited homes with spacious underground cellars. Secondly, theirburial rites seem indicative of their own special cultural values. Whilst menand women were interred alongside each other in the village cemetery, thebodies of children were placed in shallow graves but a short distance from theinhabited houses. Their exclusion from the main burial ground perhaps signifiesthat they were not accepted as full members of the adult community. Arguably,the bereaved mothers still wanted to keep them close by. Furthermore, theyhoped that should their souls wish to migrate they should not be imprisonedwithin an ordinary casket. Hence, jars with holes bored in the sides formed thereceptacle of choice for dead infants.
Beyond the two inside exhibition zones, the fullquirkiness of Banpo comes into its own. The rear of the site is given over to aseries of contemporary huts meant to recreate the environment of the originalvillage. Perhaps a few years ago these were studios forming part of alive-action performance involving pottery-making and other arts. The thatchedroofs have by now grown threadbare and shards of bowls and jars wait to beswept up. Interspersed with these structures are a few incongruous signs andsymbols added when the grounds were restyled. These appear to bear norelationship to the authentic archaeological remains. Fertility images, such astessellations of matrons with heaving bosoms, abound. Not so much matriarchalclan society brought to life as the fleshliest mythologizing of The Golden Bough solidified intoconcrete.
除了两个室内展厅，还有演绎半坡人完整的离奇故事的地方。在遗址的后面，有一排现代修建的模仿原来村落环境的小屋。也许几年前，这里还是实景展示陶艺和其它艺术的地方。茅草屋顶现在已变得破烂不堪，地上是破了的碗和陶器的碎片。点缀这些建筑的是修建时加上去的不协调的标志和符号，与真正的考古文物没有丝毫的联系，到处都是生育的图片，如用镶嵌技术制作的胸部高耸的女人。没有像《金枝》一样的耽于肉体的神话，谈不上对母系氏族社会的再现（《金枝》The Golden Bough是英国人类学家詹姆斯·乔治·弗雷泽的名著，是一部严肃的研究原始信仰和巫术活动的科学著作，是一部在世界范围内研究古老习俗及其有关信仰、观念的科学巨著和闻名遐迩的学术必读著作。由于该书搜集了丰富的人类学资料，被称为人类学的百科全书——译者注）
Although the grounds offer excellent opportunities forthose wishing to be photographed posing in “prehistoric” surroundings onecannot seem to escape the shadow of the adjacent apartment blocks for verylong. The ornamental garden can boast one of the most impressive collections ofpeonies in the local area, making April or May the best time to inspect theoutdoor portion.
In spite of its relative obscurity outside of China傅玉书 ,Banpo has played host to at least one notable tour by foreign visitors. In 1974- two years before the death of Chairman Mao - the group of left-wingParis-based scholars known as Tel Quelwas allowed to sightsee at places of special interest across China. Tel Quel had recently created asensation by refusing to toe the line of the French Communist Party, which hadcondemned Maoism as an aberration of Marxist ideas. One point of friction wasthe translation into French of the Italian politician Maria-AntoinettaMacciocchi’s De la Chine (originallyentitled Dalla Cina: dopo la rivoluzioneculturale)**** the French means "In China" and the Italian means"In China: During the Cultural Revolution"**** The title of theEnglish language edition Daily Life inRevolutionary China better conveys the author’s intentions. There werehopes that this account would lift the lid on what was going on inside Chinawith a seismic jolt as massive as that generated by Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China thirty-five yearsearlier. The French Communist Party, on the other hand, was not amused.Officials perceived Macciocchi’s reportage as being singularly unhelpful to theinternational class struggle, a one-and-a-half-pound chunk of pro-establishmentpropaganda which reproduced verbatim the optimistic oratories of local cadres,whilst whitewashing over the ideological excesses of the Cultural Revolution.They refused to endorse and disseminate the work, whereas Tel Quel found their interest so pricked that they devoted specialeditions of their journal to revolutionary aesthetics, and lobbied to beadmitted on a fact-finding trip to Mao’s China at the earliestopportunity.
当年除了在国外相对的无名之外，半坡的确至少接待过一个外国的名人团队。1974年，就是在毛泽东去世的前两年，法国巴黎 《原样》杂志的一群左翼学者按预先设定的路线来访问中国。《原样》当时由于拒绝顺从法国共产党和谴责毛泽东思想背离了马克思主义的初衷而引起了轰动。其中的摩擦之一就是把意大利政治家玛利亚﹒安东奈他﹒马可科奇Maria-AntoinettaMacciocchi的《中国的文化大革命》翻译成了法语（其法文题目为《在中国》，也许英文标题《革命中国的日常生活》更能表达作者的意思）。他们当初的希望是这本书能揭开当时中国国内所发生的一切的盖子，像三十五年前埃德加﹒斯诺的《西行漫记》那样引起一场地震似的轰动效应。然而法国共产党不买账，其官方认为马可科奇的报道非常不利于国际上的阶级斗争，有一大半的文字是在做预设的宣传，展现的都是当地干部的乐观言辞，是在粉饰文化大革命对意识形态的过分看重。法国共产党拒绝认可和宣传这部作品，而《原样》杂志则认为自己的兴趣很敏感，决心发行专刊来展示革命的美学。经过游说，于是很快就有了这次实际调查毛泽东领导下的中国的机会。（《原样》Tel Quel又译为《太凯尔》 《如是》 《泰勒》 ，是1960年由作家索莱尔斯创办的法国先锋派文学刊物，1983年停刊，并由《无限》Infini杂志取而代之——译者注）
The itinerary chosen for them by the governmenthappened to consist of attractions which had either been created for, orappropriated in, the cause of Red propaganda. For most in the group - which includedthe semiotician and literary critic Roland Barthes, the publisher Fran?ois deWahl, the Bulgarian-born psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva, her husband PhilippeSollers, and Marcelin Pleynet – the agenda of the trip was obvious from earlyon.
From Roland Barthes’sterse and often downright grouchy jottings, which never gelled into hislong-hoped-for critical work on Revolutionary China but were nonethelessprinted as Carnets de Voyage en Chine(2009) in French and Travels in China(2013) in English translation, we can glean the strongly ideological flavour ofthe proceedings. At Hu County, to the southwest of Xi’an, the quintet waswelcomed into a commune that had embraced the medium of “so-called peasantpainting” to illustrate the class struggle. Ding Jitang, who still to this daysells his own pictures behind the Drum Tower in Xi’an, had come to the area inthe 1950s and encouraged the locals to embark on this particular project. Priorto being allowed to view any artwork, the TelQuel group was briefed about the changes to life brought about by theLiberation struggle, and the success of the Great Leap Forward was reiterated.The local leaders told them that the tried and tested collectivist model ofproduction had ensured that famine and want were entirely eliminated in thecommune.
Barthes notes some truly jaw-dropping statistics. 12000 paintings by amateurs had been produced to illustrate life on the land;8700 had already been churned out to criticize the revisionist line of the lateLiu Shaoqi and the late Lin Biao. The content of the former varied, in hiseyes, from the “realist” and “banal” to the downright “crazy.” Othersromanticized the consequences of agricultural reform and collectivization, withdepictions of villagers being overwhelmed yet not overly-surprised by bumperharvests, which flooded colour into the palette of blues, greys and brownswhich constituted country life. The information overload constituted by thesevisual aids made him wryly muse that the brigades which lacked amateur painterswere probably “the lucky ones”!
No such dogmatism is apparent in Hu County today, thehome of the 75-kilometre long Lao River, one of the lesser of Chang’an’s eightwaterways. Stepping into the main East Han Village, one may as well be visitinga middling-to-well-off community in California or on Australia’s SunshineCoast. The residents mostly inhabit multi-storeyed villas, which have so manyrooms that they have taken to renting them out on a nightly basis to tourists.Ornamental lotuses and topiary are the successors to the corn and sweetpotatoes of old and what scant information boards there are proclaim tales ofinternational friendship, involving eminent country artists like Pan Xiaoling,and not the triumphs of socialism. I suppose I was fortunate in that my lonetrek to Hu County was not marred by Philippe Sollers rabbiting on about how MaoZedong was the rightful heir to Qin Shihuang and how the People’s Republic heldaloft the true destiny of the Chinese people. Instead the small county bus wasfull of dozing professionals feeling the snap of a winter Saturday. My friendHongjie tried to rouse us by adopting a falsetto voice and translating theadverts for proctology procedures printed on the antimacassars on the seats.His classmate from primary school, the trainee surgeon Dr. Wang snorted back toconsciousness, apologizing for his slovenliness. “Normally on a Friday we go toKTV or I listen to my grandfather sing Shaanxi opera, but last night we workedfor hours on some experimental surgery – transforming a male goat into a femaleone. Soon I can advance to a human patient. My professor trained in SouthKorea, so with his help I think I can have a good career. You know in some waysChina was ahead of the UK? A man who has gender reassignment can pay to havehis identity card altered and from then on that person is legally a woman; caneven marry a husband.” The “billy” must have had a shock when it awoke to finditself a “nanny.” No amount of straw and stroking could compensate for such aninfringement of rights nor was it likely aspiring to find matrimony of the sortDr. Wang described. The farmyard’s answer to Caitlyn Jenner probablyhad not been found. Crossing my legs tightly I noted how the locals still burntwood in their kitchens and that the smell is so very distinct from coal smoke.
今天的户县没有了这种教条的局面。这里是长安八水之一，七十五公里长的涝河源头。走进东韩村，仿佛就是在参观美国加利福尼亚州的一个中上社区，或者是来到了澳大利亚的阳光海岸。人们大多数住的是多层的别墅，房间很多，就把有些房子租给游客过夜。代替以前的包谷和土豆的是装饰性的莲花和灌木丛，不多的信息栏里展示的是与国际上的友好交往，包括对著名农民画家潘晓玲的介绍，而不是社会主义的伟大成果。我感到庆幸的是刘馨圆 ，我单调而艰难的户县之旅并没有受到菲利普·索莱尔斯不停的唠叨影响，他的书中一直在喋喋不休的说毛泽东是秦始皇最合适的接班人，中华民国代表中国人真正的命运。冬天周六前往农村的公交车上，坐满了打瞌睡的各种专业人士，我的朋友洪杰为了逗大家，便用一副假嗓子读座椅罩子上印的治疗痔疮的广告。他的小学同学，外科见习医生王大夫从打呼噜中醒了过来，为自己的邋遢连连抱歉：“通常在周末我是去歌厅唱歌，或是听我爷爷唱秦腔，但昨天晚上我们做了好几个小时的外科实验手术，是为一个公羊变性。不久，我就可以给人做这种手术了。我老师曾留学韩国，有他帮忙我想我的前途不错阿木龙虾 ，你知道在这方面中国比英国强。一个男人要是想变性，就可以花钱改变身份，把自己变成女人，还可以嫁人。程丽莎
I doubt that the French leftists of forty yearsearlier carried home rolled-up stencilled images of orchards at three-for-theprice of two or were offered frames more expensive than the picturesthemselves. It does not take a broad stretch of the imagination to see thatthey were being pushed to see Hu County and Banpo as being of a continuum. Thepsychologist Julia Kristeva was attracted by the notion that here in Banpo wasa society in which women were the dominant sex and presumably were responsiblefor education and preserving the culture. Her study entitled About Chinese Women (1974) used Banpo tospeculate upon how the female was gradually displaced as the centre of theprimitive community. Going into some detail about the contents of the tourKristeva relates her delight at listening to a certain Ms. Chang discoursing atlength about the significance of Banpo to modern day Socialists. Thisself-taught tour-guide had thoroughly digested Engels’s On the Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Shesought to portray the ruins as an almost idyllic commune which had not yet beentorn apart by the rise of capitalism.
Doubts of the same nature were recorded by theSinologist Burton Watson not long afterwards. His 1983 tour around China, asrecorded in China At Last, saw himtour the Middle Kingdom for the very first time more than twenty years afterhis translations of Records of the GrandHistorian and Mozi werepublished. Notwithstanding, the Reform and Opening-up being in its vanguard,much public discourse had yet to shed its dogmatically Marxist trappings.
On hearing Ms. Chang’s talk alongside Kristeva, RolandBarthes was, by contrast, positively vitriolic. He noted the “muddledexplanation of this society, given by the clearly incompetent foxy-faced girl,is unfortunately dominated by obvious prejudices: collectivism, platitudinousmaterialism, absence of symbolism.” Some of these points are perceptive. We cannow laugh at the clumsy and anachronistic parallels drawn between the Yangshaoand the twentieth-century Chinese peasantry. One of Barthes’s special bugbearswas apainted frieze (now no longer on display) depicting a “gathering ofprimitive folk round a fire.” In this “a woman with her finger raised,domineering, is speaking; we are told: ‘discussion of problems by villagers!’”The reconstructed scene with its feminine village leader seems to perfectlycapture Chairman Mao’s view of the Yangshao as proto-communists.
It is a shame that Barthes’s bad mood caused him tosneer even at the curator’s final gesture of friendship. On their departurefrom Banpo, each foreign visitor was presented with a wooden fish, presumably areplica of the insignia on the Yangshao ceramic wares. With his scant knowledgeof the Chinese language, the Frenchman would probably not have known the pun onthe character yu (giving somebody afish implying that you wish for them to enjoy an abundance of blessings).Within a Shaanxi context, this had an extra level of significance. In TangDynasty Chang’an, foreign dignitaries were customarily awarded a fish token.
Nowadays, Banpo has worked its way into popularculture in a less contentious manner. A bestselling children’s book, which mayseem a little macabre to foreign tastes, is entitled The Girl in the Jar and set in the Yangshao society. Thenarrator is one of the villagers who died in infancy and she tells the story ofher short life to the modern day reader. Much more prominently, Banpo suppliedpart of the inspiration for the logo of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. As shopassistants at the museum are all too eager to point out, the multi-colouredchildren who flank the Olympic Rings had their facial features modelled on theBanpo mask. Thus皇家威龙 , that most contemporary of events could be said to havebrought to international attention one of the oldest and most elusive chaptersin Chinese history.