IN SEARCH OF A VANISHING CIVILIZATION

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CANGYUAN (Yunnan)
 
Quite different from the rock art of the north are the distinctive red-painted ones of south, most typically those of Yunnan and Guangxi.
 
Ten sites have been found in Cangyuan in the Awa Mountains on the Burmese border. Cangyuan rock paintings were first discovered in January 1965.
 
Rock Art No.2 site in Cangyuan county Yunnan Province
Rock Art No.2 site in Cangyuan county, Yunnan Province
The Mountains of Yunnan Province
The Mountains of Yunnan Province
 
With a subtropical climate, the fertile Awa region has plentiful rainfall and only 40 frost-free days years. It is suitable for the growth of dry rice, paddy, maize, millet, buckwheat, potatoes, cotton, hemp, tobacco and sugarcane, as well as bunch subtropical fruits as bananas, pineapple, mangoes, papayas and oranges.
 
In Cangyuan, there is moderate climate, fairly heavy relief, isolated by mountains and distance. Trees, bushes, grass spread everywhere, varied and colorful. For a distance we can see a yellow gray cliff inlay in the green hill. This is the rock painting's site. Such as Site One, when I reached in April 1985, around the site there are many trees and grass, before the cliff a terrace in southern from here mountains and rivers come clearly into view, and a small village Muchan leap up vividly before the eyes.
 
The rock paintings can be seen only as one draws near. The pictures cover a space thirty meters wide on the cliff, and the top of the pictures is about five meters from the ground. All individual images are not big but concentrated. The rock paintings here, as elsewhere, have suffered from erosion by rain and magma. Except for those blurred by erosion, the images are still very clear and bright.
 
In the side of the cliff, many long narrow flags hung on the branch of trees. These are the villagers offered to the rock paintings. We get some scripture which printed by wood block from the creak of the cliff, when we open the scriptures there are all written with Tai Nationality minority's characters; below the paintings we also saw another offerings such as food and some money.
 
rock art painting figures Yunnan
Painted in red of jugglers and performers holding shields, Cangyuan, Yunnan
Site Six also can be seen very far away a huge yellow cliff inlay in the green, trees, bushes and grass covered the path of the mountain. After half an hour's drive we stopped at the foot of a mountain and began to climb. At first we followed a steep, zigzagging path, but later we had to hack our way through bushes. Thorns scratched our hands and legs. We soon grew tired under the blazing sun and were out of breath. When we were so tired we could no longer walk, an almost vertical cliff suddenly confronted us. When I come near, the rock paintings contents are very abounding, there are scenes of fighting, herding, hunting and performing acrobatics, meanwhile some persons wearing feather capes relates to religious significance. There are too many things for the eyes to take in.
 
Most of the Cangyuan rock paintings were painted on the smooth surfaces of the vertical cliffs in red color. Spectrum analysis suggests that the artists for their red pigment used hematite or similar ores.
 
Judging from ethnographical data, the binder for mixing the pigment was probably ox's blood. The Wa people - a major ethnic group in Cangyuan - still used this as binding medium in the paint for the ceremonial drawings on their headman's house in the 1950s.
 
While fingers seem to have been employed as a painting tool, some kind of brush was also used to create the larger drawings. About 1,000 drawings and symbols are scattered on the cliffs of the ten sites. The main motifs are: human figures, spirits and ghost, houses (pole-dwellings, huts on the tree), animals (buffalos, zebus, pigs, leopards, elephants monkeys and birds), and symbols which include one handprint.
 
dancers rock art painting Yunnan
Dancing in circles (rock printing) No.7 site in Cangyuan county, Yunnan province
One picture shows a circle of dancers holding one palm upward and the other at the side, much as local dancers do today. The figures are shown in vertical projection, lying on the ground like a five-petal led flower. The picture of the village is of great interest, it's extent being symbolized by a circle within which there are more than ten pole-dwellings (surprisingly resembling those depicted in the rock art of Valcamonica, Italy) Outside the circle there are several zigzag lines, perhaps representing the paths winding through the mountains. The paths are crowded with people driving sheep and pigs in all directions towards the village; some people are busily husking rice with a pestle and mortar, preparing for a sumptuous feast. Perhaps the villagers were about to hold a feast to celebrate successful fighting.
 
Based upon a synthetic study of these drawings and symbols, we reconstruct the daily life of the people who left these paintings on the cliffs. These people could build permanent house and led a sedentary life in large settlement. They engaged in herding and planting. They raised oxen and pigs, and pounded some kind of cereal (rice?) in the mortars. They also hunted with spearing, shooting and other methods lassos. Some form of leadership probably existed. Battles often occurred. Rituals and related dances were held very often. Most of the rock paintings were probably created during or after some important rituals.
 
 
 
The China Rock Art Archive
 
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