Spooky masks with bulging eyes and bulbous noses. A creepy shamanic figure with an exaggerated face, and giant hands. A towering tree with serpentine branches.
I’m not talking about a haunted house — I’m talking about Sanxingdui, the Sichuan mystery that forever shook up Chinese history as we know it.
If the Yellow River is the so-called cradle of civilization, then how do we explain a cache of bronzes and other artifacts contemporary with the Shang, but worlds away from Shang style?
Archeologists called the 1986 find Sanxingdui, because there were three mounds, each resembling a star, and linked it with the Shu culture that historically teamed up with the Zhou state to eventually topple the Shang.
But there’s a problem — Sanxingdui yielded no written records. Unlike the Shang, which offered a window into their world through oracle bones, scientists can only guess the meaning in Sanxingdui artifacts.
And given that scientists still remain much in the dark, it makes sense, then, that did the same for the Sanxingdui Museum — letting visitors walk in dark corridors to view the collection of these eerie, groundbreaking artifacts lit by carefully set spotlights.
Founded in 1997 at the excavation site of the Sanxingdui (makes you wonder if they just killed their chances for making any more finds on site) in Guanghan, near Chengdu, the museum is about as close to a haunted house as you’ll get when it comes to putting artifacts on display.
But you’ve got to have the right balance of mystery. The explanations and descriptions in the museum are as vague as the origins of the Sanxingdui. I wished the museum told more of the story of this mysterious culture — but, given how little is known, there’s no use screaming about it.
Save your screams for the spooky unmarked taxi drivers outside the museum entrance. 😉
When to visit
The Sanxingdui Museum （四川广汉三星堆博物馆 广汉市文物管理局, 0838-5500349, [email protected]) is located in Guanghan, 23 kilometers outside of Chengdu, and open from 8:30 am to 6:30pm (when the 2nd exhibition hall closes). Admission costs 80 RMB (82 RMB if you’ve got to have the cool souvenir stamp).
As an indoor destination, you can visit almost anytime. But since you have to walk between two buildings to see the entire collection, pleasant temperatures make the transition a LOT smoother. Ideally, shoot for Spring or Fall.
Get yourself to Chengdu first — it’s well connected by air and train.
Once in town, the tourist transportation center at Chengdu’s Xinnanmen Bus station (旅游客运中心, 新南门汽车站 ) offers direct buses to Sanxingdui leaving at 8:30am and 3:00pm.
Where to stay
We stayed at one of Chengdu’s branches of Home Inn, a reliably clean and friendly choice in the city. Find this and more hotels by booking — online, as I did — at Ctrip.com (no deposit needed, and you can cancel easily, if necessary).
This is the Travel China with the Yangxifu series, which appears every 2nd Wednesday of the month. Thanks to Rich for inspiring me to launch this series.
To read more, visit the Travel China with the Yangxifu archives.