Liangzhu loong and Chinese loong

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2024-02-15

FILE PHOTOS: Carved jade loong-themed works and loong patterns engraved on pottery

The most important evidence revealed by the series of archaeological discoveries of the Liangzhu civilization to date includes the Liangzhu ancient city site, the Fanshan and Yaoshan royal cemeteries, food storage (reflected by the approximately 100,000 kilograms of carbonized rice stored in the Chizhong Temple granary), the large-scale water conservancy system in the northwest of the periphery of the Liangzhu city site, and the usage of a complete set of jade ritual objects such as Cong and Bi, as well as developed handicraft skills, complex behavioral rituals, etiquette and ceremonial systems, and rich ideological concepts reflected in complex decorative patterns. These represent solid evidence that fully exhibit many of the main characteristics of the more than 5,000-year history of Chinese civilization.

Testifying civilizational history

Among the discoveries, the relationship between the Liangzhu loong (dragon) and the Chinese loong is also an important part of testifying the more than 5,000-year Chinese civilizational history and its characteristics, which requires in-depth exploration. At present, the loongs discovered at the Liangzhu site, include a large number of carved jade loong-themed works and loong patterns engraved on pottery, are an important aspect of showcasing the intellectual and cultural essence of the Liangzhu civilization.

Carved jade loong-themed works mainly consist of loong head jade bracelets. Multiple instances of loong patterns engraved on pottery have been discovered, with some retaining only the head, tail part, or torsos. Only two complete examples have been unearthed to date. One such example is the wide-barred pottery cup (M12: 32) unearthed from the Longtan Port, Haiyan, which features two parallel loong patterns etched around its abdomen (Figure 5). Another example is the pottery unearthed from the Liangzhu site in Yuhang (Figure 6).

Based on the current research on the stages of Liangzhu culture, the carved jade loong-themed works belong to the early and middle stages of Liangzhu culture, while the loong patterns engraved on pottery belong to the late stage. This phenomenon suggests that pottery displaying loong patterns may represent a further development the loong imagery depicted in carved jade loong works.

According to current findings, the carved jade loong-themed works from the early Liangzhu culture can be traced back to the late Songze culture.

The Pu’an Bridge M17: 2 loong head jade bead is very small, with an irregular circular shape (Figure 8). Comparing this carved jade loong piece with the Guanjingtou M47:9 loong head jade bead from the early Liangzhu culture, it can be seen that carved jade loong works from the early Liangzhu culture evolved and developed from those of the late Songze culture.

Songze culture, the predecessor of Liangzhu culture, was primarily based in the Tai Lake basin. The discovery of the M17: 2 loong head jade bead from Pu’an Bridge also indicates that jade loong works found in the Tai Lake area were produced around 5,300 years ago. When considering the jade loong works in the early and middle stages of the Liangzhu culture and the loongs engraved on pottery in the late stage, it further demonstrates that the jade loong works and imagery produced 5,300 years ago in the Tai Lake area remained popular until 4,300 years ago.

Showcasing origins of civilization

Around 5,000 years ago, Liangzhu culture entered the stage of civilization and began to exert significant influence on the surrounding areas, reaching as far as the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, the middle reaches of the Yangtze River and the Lingnan region, bringing advanced production technology and complex consciousness to these areas. Remains of Liangzhu culture have been found at various sites in the Central Plains, and loong imagery has also influenced the hinterlands of the Central Plains. Chronologically, the loong of the late Liangzhu culture is closely related to the loong of the early Taosi culture. As for the shape of the loong, the Taosi Panloong is close to the head of the loong pattern found on the pottery He (a kettle-shaped vessel) of the late Liangzhu culture and the coil torso found in a Liangzhu pottery piece. These two phenomena suggest that the painted loong of the Taosi culture was developed based on the loong form in late Liangzhu culture. The loong imagery of the Taosi culture, represented by the Erlitou culture of the Xia (c. 21st century–16th century BCE), as well as the successive evolution during the Shang (c. 16th century–11th century BCE), and Western Zhou (c. 11th century BCE–771 BCE) dynasties, the Qin (221-207BCE) and Han (206BCE–220CE) dynasties, has formed the main image of the continuous development of the Chinese loong culture in the Central Plains. This series of phenomena demonstrates that the Liangzhu loong played a significant role in shaping the imagery of the Chinese loong.


Zhu Naicheng is a research fellow from the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Editor:Yu Hui

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