The color is warm, the touch is delicate, and the crystal is clear. The ancient Romans would have these characteristics. Amber from northern Europe is called “northern gold”. The ancient Egyptians gave amber a symbol of mythology, and regarded it as the exclusive stone of the sun god Kebuli, and regarded it as a treasure. .
It is precisely because of people’s obsession with amber that trade routes for amber trade have sprung up in Europe, and different civilizations have collided with each other and flourished. These amber roads intersected with China’s “Silk Road”, and in ancient times, amber was able to flow into the Han family from Europe, Southeast Asia and other origins. The world is closely connected by a small, golden amber.
Fortunately, the Amber Road itself did not disappear in a long time. Part of the Silk Road in southern China, between Yunnan and Myanmar, can still find historical pictures. Burmese amber, the oldest amber in the world, formed between 70 million and 110 million years ago, is still circulating on this road. At the market in Tengchong, Yunnan, there is still a lively scene of amber trade hundreds of years ago.
Amber, a treasure in world history, connects the world
In 60 AD, the most debauched emperor in ancient Roman history, Nero, gave a secret mission to his capable general, the officer Claudius. This general took 20 guards, crossed the Alps, crossed the Danube, went through untold hardships, and came to the barren Vistula area in central Poland. In this regard, Claudius completed his task – to find the true origin of amber for Emperor Nero and many nobles, so that they could buy more amber at a cheaper price.
In fact, before they went north to explore the origin of amber, the Nordic peoples have also been exploring the “sales channels” of amber. About 10,000 years ago, in the Neolithic Age, in Scandinavia, where today’s Denmark, Norway and Sweden are located, people have already discovered amber in their labor, and used these amber to grind into amber beads, which doubles the number of value. They believe that these golden, warm particles floating on the water and sent by the waves are gifts from the sea god, and they are called “mermaid tears” in various myths and legends.
By the 6th century, the Nordics, known as “Vikings”, had built advanced ships and mastered a wealth of seafaring knowledge. They started exporting amber out. At home, they were ordinary farmers, shepherds, or skilled craftsmen, but once on board they became formidable pirates, bringing a raid to their destination, or normal trade. They scavenged for amber on the Baltic coast, looking east and south for wealth and survival. Trade routes connecting various parts of Europe were also opened up. Along these trade routes, the Vikings brought amber wherever they went, and brought back advanced cultures and civilizations to Scandinavia.
Therefore, the European Amber Road can be roughly divided into two lines, the eastern line and the southern line.
The Swedish Vikings opened up the eastern route, passed through Prussia, along the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, and reached the hinterland of today’s European part of Russia, establishing the pattern of Denmark, Germany, and Russia. It is on this line that the Amber Road meets the Silk Road, leading to the Near East, Central Asia, China in East Asia and India in South Asia.
The southern line starts from the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, crosses the Vistula River, passes through the Via Pass, reaches the east of Vienna, Kanontum on the Danube River; then crosses the Alps and goes south to Aquilia, the trading center. From here, by sea, merchants shipped amber to southern Italy, Greece, North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean and Egypt. On this business road, cities have also emerged one after another, and countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and Austria have appeared one after another.
Above, amber can still be seen in bunches for sale at souvenir stalls in Polish bazaars today. The picture below shows the scenery of Myanmar today.
With the development of the amber trade, each nation and country with distinct personalities on the European continent began to form and rise, and then framed the historical pattern of Europe. So far, groups of Europeans have come together for the little golden thing called amber.
Looking back at the history of Europe and even the world, there are more or less inextricably linked with amber. It can even be said that due to Europeans’ mad pursuit of amber from the north, silk from the east and gold from other continents, the great geographical discovery of the world was opened, and human beings finally came together, and the whole world has since entered an unprecedented era. The “Amber Road” is like China’s “Silk Road”.
Ancient treasures of the Han Dynasty on the Eastern Amber Road, sourced from Myanmar
In fact, when the ancient Romans were looking for amber in full swing in northern Europe, the mysterious East also had an important amber producing area – today’s northern part of Myanmar. Similarly, Chinese ancestors also had another more mysterious “Oriental Amber Road”. The amber excavated in Myanmar was transported to the hinterland of China very early, and this colorful stone was also highly regarded as an ornament by the Chinese court nobles early on.
The ancient Chinese believed that the “soul of the tiger” was gathered in this golden or brown-red transparent stone, so it was called “the soul of the tiger”. Various myths and legends about amber have existed since ancient times. There is such a paragraph in the “Shan Hai Jing”: the west stream pours into the sea, which is rich in fertility, and there is no ill disease when wearing it. It means “Yu Pei” in the sea, and wearing it can be disease-free. Scholar Zhang Hongzhao mentioned in “Shi Ya”: “Yu Pei” is the ancient name for amber. In ancient China, it was called Yupei, and later it was called Amber.
The earliest amber artefacts unearthed by archaeological excavations in China are from the Neolithic Age: Sacrifice Pit No. 1 Sanxingdui, Guanghan, Sichuan, a heart-shaped amber pendant with a length of about 5 cm and a slight defect has been unearthed. Inscribed cicada belly pattern. In the pre-Qin period, the Chinese had carved amber into the shape of animals for decoration. In the Han and Jin dynasties, amber jewelry became a luxury item played by princes and nobles or wealthy businessmen.
The records of amber in ancient documents were first seen in Lu Jia’s “New Words, Daoji” in the Western Han Dynasty: “Amber coral, green feathers, pearls and jade, mountains and waters, choose the place to live, clean and bright, moist and moist.” At that time. Some people think that amber, like coral, should be found in the water. China’s deeper understanding of amber is like “Han Books: The Legend of the Western Regions: Jibin Country”: “(Jibinguo) came out with an ox…coral, tiger soul, and bi wandering”, Jibinguo was the name of the Western Regions country in the Han Dynasty; “The Book of the Later Han Dynasty: Biography of the Western Regions” also has the saying that “the Great Qin has amber”.
The picture on the left page was taken in Heshun Ancient Town, Tengchong, where amber trade has existed since ancient times. Picture 1 on the right page shows “ear candles”, which women in northern Myanmar would wear to symbolize good luck; picture 2, Ming Dynasty amber cup; Picture 3, Qing Dynasty amber snuff bottle. Figure 4. Today’s carvers still have a special liking for amber. The picture shows one of the Zhushiji jewelry carvings.
In 1991, several amber ornaments were unearthed from the Eastern Han Tomb in Xingren Jiaole, Guizhou Province, one of which was 3.1 cm high, in the shape of a lion, with curled four legs and inscribed outlines of limbs and facial features. It is now in the Guizhou Provincial Museum. In addition to the amber-made Sinan pendants collected by the Nanjing Museum, and the amber seals and amber animal-shaped pendants collected by the Jiangxi Provincial Museum, it can be seen that a large number of amber products appeared in the Han Dynasty.
Where did this amber come from?
According to the “Han Shu Biography of the Western Regions”, Jibin, located in what is now the inland of Central Asia, produced “coral, tiger soul, and bi wandering”. It is the record of European amber in the Han Dynasty, arriving in the Western Regions along the “Silk Road”. “The Book of the Later Han Dynasty: Biography of the Southwest Barbarians” contains “Tiger Soul, Shui Jing, Lili” and so on from Ailao Kingdom. The country of Ailao is located in today’s Lancang River basin, but Yunnan does not produce amber, and the “tiger soul” produced here should come from today’s Myanmar. The Five Dynasties Li Xun’s “Sea Medicine Materia Medica” said that “Amber is the body fluid in the sea pine wood. It is like peach gum at first, and then it condenses. There is Nanpa, which is not as good as the imported ones.” Road” with ships loaded from outside the domain.
Some studies believe that although China produces amber, the ancients had a clear understanding and use of amber in China no earlier than the Eastern Han Dynasty. Therefore, the amber discovered in China from the Han and Jin Dynasties and before is very likely to be foreign. The cited literature actually outlines three origins of early Chinese amber: one is the “Silk Road” via the Western Regions; the other is the “Southwest Silk Road” via Yunnan; the other is the “Maritime Silk Road” via the South China Sea. The amber origins pointed to by the three passages are Myanmar and the Baltic Sea.
In the “Man Shu-Volume VII” written by Fan Chuo in the Tang Dynasty, which recorded the history of Nanzhao, the main products of Yunnan were introduced by region, and there was a certain record of Burmese amber: “Amber, Yongchang City Boundary I went to the west to dig it in the Amber Mountain on the 18th day, and went to the pine forest. I think it’s rare.” Although this record has only a few crosses, the description of the location of the amber mining area in Myanmar is very clear: Yongchang County, which was established since the Eastern Han Dynasty, is today’s Baoshan and Tengchong area, and an 18-day journey westward. , almost just arrived at the Hukang Valley in northern Myanmar today. “The piece weighs more than 20 catties”, which just shows a feature of Burmese amber – there are more large pieces.
Tengchong, “the first city on the edge of the South Pole of China”, “Amber Archway Jade Bridge”
Myanmar has a long history of digging and using amber. Among them, there is a custom of grinding the whole piece of amber into a long candle shape, which is called “ear candle”, which is very representative. Ear candles are giant earrings believed to bring good luck. At the local girls’ coming-of-age ceremony, the earlobe will be pierced, and a metal weight will be used to gradually expand the ear hole until the ear candle can pass through. In the early years, this kind of amber jewelry was sold in antique markets in Tengchong, Yunnan and other places.
This also happens to confirm that there is an important transit point on the “Oriental Amber Road” with Myanmar as its source, that is “Tengchong” under the “Yongchang” mentioned in “Manshu”.
Historically, Tengchong was an important town on the ancient Southwest Silk Road. It was called Dianyue in the Western Han Dynasty, Yongchang County in the Eastern Han Dynasty, Jizhou Prefecture in the Tang Dynasty, Tengchong House in the Dali Kingdom, and “the first city in the extreme border” in the Ming Dynasty. From the perspective of transportation distance, Tengchong has a very unique geographical location. It is only more than 200 kilometers away from Myitkyina, Myanmar, and more than 600 kilometers away from Ledo, India. It is an important gateway and node for China to South Asia and Southeast Asia. Due to its important geographical location, heavy troops have been stationed in all dynasties.
Due to its convenient geographical location, there has always been a caravan trade in Tengchong in ancient times. The local people followed the caravan to many countries in Southeast Asia and brought jade and amber from these places. Therefore, Tengchong also has the historical relics of “Amber Archway Jade Stone Bridge”.
Tengchong is a small town on the southwestern frontier with beautiful scenery and tranquility. The top picture is the panorama of Tengchong Ginkgo Village, the bottom picture on the left page is taken in a corner of Ginkgo Village, and the second picture is a pile of amber sold in the Tengchong Amber Market.
In the travel notes of Xu Xiake, a traveler in the Ming Dynasty, there is a wonderful record of people selling Burmese amber and jade in the Tengchong market. “Dianyou Diary Twenty-seven” describes it like this: “…meeting Liu Taoshi and Shaping Xu Xiaolian, I knew that Lu Lang had already gone to the racecourse, so they went out with him. I had met Lu, and I knew that the horse was not ready. Then I said goodbye to Lu and watched Yongchang. Jiaren gems, amber, and green stones are also not good.” “…Xiaoji on the 25th. Cui Jun came to wait for the rest of the meal, and went to the market with him to buy amber green worms. There are also people who care about life, Cui Zhiyou , led to the jade miller’s house, I want to grind the green slate pond cup, but I don’t see it, I hope to arrive tomorrow morning.” The level of activity of amber and jadeite merchants in Tengchong can be seen.
At the end of the Qing Dynasty, Tengchong produced a famous “Amber King” Yang Bingchun.
Published in 1935, the British author Mrs. Mayford wrote in the book “China-Myanmar Relations”: “Tengyue Plain has a village named Dadong, which has been famous for its good amber carving for hundreds of years. This kind of resin fossilized into The lumps mostly come from mines in Upper Burma. They are transported to Dadong, and then cut and honed.” Then she described the multi-millionaire businessman Yang Bingchun: “His people set up shop in all major cities and towns in Yunnan Province, as well as in major cities in Burma. Finally, Kolkata, India.” She visited the largest amber workshop in “Bingchun Ji”, described the amber processing process in detail, and praised: “Sugong can carve immortals or groups of people, birds and beasts, trees or flowers… Artists and sculptors rely solely on imagination, without the use of models, and they can make tools by themselves.” The craftsmanship of “Bingchun Ji” sculptors is superb, and a few words are enough to evoke countless imaginations of future generations.
The story of Tengchong and Burmese amber does not stop there in history.
More than 380 years after Xu Xiake arrived in Tengchong, Tengchong still continues the tradition of jewelry and jade “Jiezitian” (Yunnan dialect, that is, “going to the market day”). Every five days, jewelry and jade merchants from Myanmar and China will still focus on fixed places to trade jade and amber, just as Xu Xiake’s travel notes record. Today, the unique and long-standing jewelry and jade trading culture here has almost never changed.