In the mountainous region of Li County in Northwest China’s Gansu Province, archaeologists have uncovered a monumental discovery: the Sijiaoping Ruins, a large-scale architectural complex dating back to the Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC). This site, now identified as a significant ceremonial location, enriches our understanding of early Chinese culture and architecture.
The Sijiaoping Ruins, perched atop a mountain, occupy an artificially leveled platform encompassing an impressive 28,000 square meters. The site is characterized by its symmetrical and square layout, typical of high-grade and royal architecture in ancient China. This architectural style is emblematic of the Qin Dynasty, symbolizing the ancient Chinese belief in harmony and grandeur.
At the heart of the ruins is a square central platform, flanked by annex buildings. The discovery of exquisitely crafted eaves tiles, adorned with cloud and rope patterns, has been pivotal in determining the age and function of the complex. These artifacts bear a striking resemblance to those found in the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China.
Hou Hongwei, leading the archaeological project, stated that the building materials unearthed, including the tiles and their intricate designs, suggest that the Sijiaoping site was a high-level ceremonial structure from the Qin Dynasty. This conclusion is further supported by the discovery of a half-crypt space, possibly a water pool, reflecting the Qin people’s reverence for water.
The importance of the Sijiaoping site was recognized soon after its initial discovery in 2019. It lies in proximity to another significant archaeological location, the Dabaozi Mountain site, a vast tomb cluster in Gansu Province. Archaeologist Xue Ruiming has noted that these findings indicate Li County’s historical significance as the center of the Qin regime during the Spring and Autumn Period (770BC-476BC).
The Sijiaoping architectural complex provides invaluable insights into the burial and ritual practices of the Qin Dynasty. Unlike Western ceremonial structures, which often carry religious connotations, ancient Chinese ritual buildings reflect the country’s philosophy. These structures are seen as expressions of ancient Chinese views on interpersonal relations, the dynamic between humans and nature, and ethics.
The discovery of the Sijiaoping site offers a rare glimpse into the ceremonial architecture of the Qin Dynasty, differing from the more pragmatic style of the Xia Dynasty (c.2070BC-c.1600BC) and the transport-oriented designs of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770BC-256BC). The Sijiaoping Ruins stand as a testament to the sophistication and depth of Qin Dynasty culture and architectural prowess, shedding new light on the ritualistic and societal norms of one of China’s most influential historical periods.