Sanxingdui brings mysterious Chinese culture to Houston

Updated: 2015-09-09 16:03

By MAY ZHOU in Houston(China Daily USA)

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Sanxingdui brings mysterious Chinese culture to Houston

Dirk Tuerenhout, curator of anthropology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, talks on Sept 4 about the uncovered city layout at the excavation site of Sanxingdui. MAY ZHOU / CHINA DAILY

To Dirk Tuerenhout, curator of anthropology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, his favorite piece at the exhibition China's Lost Civilization: The Mystery of Sanxingdui is the impressive 8-foot-5-inch standing figure.

"He was probably holding a big elephant tusk," said Tuerenhout. "Then you wonder where this statute was placed. Was it for ceremony or sacrifice? Also, these elephant tusks uncovered at Sanxingdui were from Thailand.

"Imagine that someone decided to go to such a faraway place, and the terrain was hard to traverse, yet they brought 60 elephant tusks back to Sanxingdui. It must have taken a very long time," he said.

The exhibition, showcasing more than 100 artifacts, concluded on Sept 7 after a five-month display. It was organized by the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Cultural Relics Bureau of Sichuan province.

"This is a very popular and interesting exhibition," Tuerenhout said. "People often came to me unsolicited and told me how much they loved this exhibition. People enjoyed looking at the pieces, listening to the music, and imagine an ancient civilization that's truly a mystery.

"A lady told me that she had visited this particular exhibit numerous times," he said. "She enjoyed contemplating the culture that made this. It's an advanced culture which made all this."

Doris Harrington visited the Sanxingdui exhibit two days before its closing. She told China Daily that it was her second visit. "I find the culture very fascinating. I also love the art itself. It's from so long ago, yet the pieces were so well made, still intact and well preserved," she marveled.

Tuerenhout remembers Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong's visit to the museum vividly. "She was the highest-ranking lady official in China and she came to visit us. I thought that's pretty cool, and she was genuinely interested. Yao Ming came with her too; that was a unique experience for us.

"Liu came to Houston to highlight the links and exchanges between the US and China," he said. "This exhibit is just one example of such exchanges."

Liu, while touring the Sanxingdui exhibit, had commented that "although geographically far away, China and the US still share a lot in common, including the realm of culture. As the old Chinese saying goes, it is better to see once than to hear a hundred times."

Tuerenhout said that he understood Liu was also preparing for the upcoming visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping. "I am sure his visit was prepared very well. Many years ago, Chinese President Deng Xiaoping visited Houston and wore that big cowboy hat; maybe we should send one hat to Washington and present it to President Xi," said Turenhout.

According to Tuerenhout, over the past decade the Houston museum has hosted numerous Chinese exhibits such as Tibet: Treasures from the Roof of the World; Uncover the Extraordinary Secrets of the Silk Road; Treasures from Shanghai: 5,000 Years of Chinese Art and Culture; and Secret World of the Forbidden City: Splendors From China's Imperial Palace, 1644-1911.

"During the Forbidden City exhibit, we had President Bush, the senior one, visit us. He was able to walk back then. He said, please give me a tour. I said, gladly, but since you lived in Beijing, maybe you could give me a tour.

"While looking at the exhibit, he was telling me about the gardens in Forbidden City and how beautiful it was," recalled Tuerenhout.