Yecheng City Demystified
Narrator: Zhang Yong (Researcher, Fuzhou Monument Archaeological Team; Team Leader, Archaeological Team of Pingshan Site)
After two archaeological excavations during2013 to 2015, two phases of architectural stylobates of the Western Han Dynasty were found on the Pingshan Site. Wells, pottery kilns, rainwater splatters and river channels were discovered on the stylobates, and a number of building materials including the floor tiles, semicircle-shaped tiles and plate tiles were unearthed, among which are eaves tiles with dragon patterns and eaves tiles inscribed with “Wansui” (Longevity) characters and even an iron anchor, leading to the conclusion that this place was the palace area of Yecheng, the capital city of the Minyue State of the Western Han Dynasty.
It is well-known that Fuzhou has a history of more than 2,200 years. The earliest city in Fuzhou was the capital city Yecheng which was built by King Wuzhu of Minyue State in the early Western Han Dynasty. But even about twenty or thirty years ago, there was still an endless debate in the academic field on where Yecheng was located. Some believed that Yecheng referred to Fuzhou, and some held that Yecheng was the site of Han Dynasty town in Chong'an (now Wuyishan City). With fresh archaeological discoveries, the mysterious veils over Yecheng were gradually lifted.
To meet the needs of various construction projects, the Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology at Fujian Museum and the Fuzhou Monument Archaeological Team jointly carried out several archaeological rescue excavations in Pingshan area from the 1990s to the early 2000s, and achieved important results. Archaeological excavations at the construction sites for China Construction Bank Fujian Branch Headquarters, Pingshan Market, Fujian Provincial Agriculture Department, Fujian Provincial Finance Department, Fujian Province Second Construction Engineering Corporation, Fujian Provincial Department of Fisheries and Fujian Provincial Forestry Administration led to the discovery of the remains and relics of the Han Dynasty. Among them, eaves tiles inscribed with “Wansui” (Longevity) characters were discovered on the construction site for Pingshan Market, and the large rammed earth stylobates of the Western Han Dynasty were found on the construction site for Fujian Provincial Finance Department and the site was further identified by experts from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage as the venue for the governmental offices of the Minyue State. With these results, academia gradually agreed that Fuzhou is where Yecheng was located.
According to archaeological findings, we believe that the range of Yecheng was roughly the area which reached Yeshan Hill in the south of Pingshan Hill, and extended eastward to the Guanfengting Lane, and westward to the West Lake. But why was Yecheng situated here? According to the research of experts both home and abroad, 7000 to 2000 years from now, there were several transgressions of seas along the coast of Fujian, and the sea level was three to four meters higher than it is now. Therefore most of the current Fuzhou urban areas are below sea level then, and Yushan Hill and Wushan Hill were no more than small islands on the sea. In the early years of the Western Han Dynasty, the area from Pingshan Hill to Yeshan Hill was a small peninsula extending into the sea. This peninsula was an ideal location to build the Yecheng as the capital city as it had Pingshan Hill at its back, Yeshan Hill on its south as the shield, ocean waters on the east and west sides and the Ouye Lake in the center to provide freshwater sources.
To meet the needs for urban construction in Fuzhou, the construction of Fuzhou Metro Line 1started and the Pingshan Station was located right in Pingshan area. From August 2013 to June 2015, the Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology at Fujian Museum and the Fuzhou Monument Archaeological Team jointly carried out several archaeological rescue excavations in the main station and at the east entrance of the Pingshan Station, covering an area of 3,000 square meters. All the archaeological team members worked hard for a long time with no complaint and successfully completed the archaeological excavation tasks, which generated significant results.
Through the archaeological excavations, the rammed earth stylobates of the Western Han Dynasty, which can be divided into two phases, were discovered and is about 130 meters long from the north to the south. Due to severe damage, no rows of plinth but scattered pillar holes and rainwater splatters were found. However, three wells and a pottery kiln were found in the northeast of the stylobates. One of the wells also has six sections of pottery walling cribs, and it takes about four people to lift up one walling crib. The surprise came when a large number of floor tiles with both plain and diamond patterns were found in a river channel, the number of which is larger than the sum of the tiles unearthed in the area of Pingshan in the previous decade.
At the same time, the largest stock of eaves tiles inscribed with “Wansui” (Longevity) characters of the Western Han Dynasty was unearthed, including three types, i.e. those with Cirrus cloud patterns, those inscribed with “Changle Wansui” (Long Happiness and Longevity) characters, and those with dragon and phoenix patterns. These characters and patterns are symbols that these tiles were reserved for high-class buildings only. These tiles include a dragon-patterned eaves tile of classic simplicity, displaying a ferocious dragon turning back to stare at the viewers, which may show the valiancy of the Minyue people.
The large-scale rammed stylobates, the large stock of floor tiles, and the high-grade eaves tiles inscribed with “Wansui” (Longevity) characters are solid proof that this was the palace area of the Yecheng city. It might not be the city center, but it should not be far away from the city center.
We discovered an iron anchor in the river channel on the west side of stylobates. The anchor, which is about 50 centimeters high with an anchor hole, has four anchor palms and weighs 32.5kg. It may be the earliest iron anchor found in Fujian or even China, which is of great significance for the study of China's early navigation technology. It not only shows the seaward pursuit of the Minyue people, but also shows that this river might be a water channel leading to the West Lake. At that time, the West Lake area was a bay, and sea boats could directly pass through the river from the bay and reach the Royal Palace area at that time, which also indicates the existence of a pier in the area.
At the end of 2018, an archaeological exploration was conducted at the construction site for the intelligent parking lot of Fujian Provincial Forestry Administration, and it led to the discovery of the rammed earth stylobate of the Western Han Dynasty, and a plinth. There were collapsed piles of plate tiles and semicircle-shaped tiles on the stylobate. Four tiles were found, which bear the Cirrus Cloud and arrowhead pattern, the dragon pattern and Cirrus Cloud and “Wansui” (Longevity) characters pattern. It can be inferred that this was also the palace area and even the central area. Therefore, it can be assumed that the area ranging from the old finance building to Guping Road and covering the sides of Yeshan Road was the palace area of Yecheng City.
The CPC Fuzhou Municipal Committee and Fuzhou Municipal Government have attached great importance to the major archaeological discoveries. In recent years, the Yeshan Spring and Autumn Garden has been established with Yeshan Hill and Ouye Lake as the center, and the location of the archaeological site museum has been reserved for future development. In the future, a small-scale archaeological excavation might be carried out in the park to show the palace ruins of Yecheng City to the general public.