Replicating the past: father-daughter team’s school project using leftover clay to produce mask resembling 3,000-year-old artefact goes viral in China

·3-min read

A father-daughter art project in which the two built remarkable clay replicas of 3,000-year-old bronze artefacts from Sanxingdui in southwest China drew over three million views on Weibo since it was published on Sunday.

The pair made two replicas, one of a beautifully designed ding – a vessel similar to a cauldron – and a copy of one of the masks that have become famous worldwide. The two used cardboard to build the structure and then added clay and paint for the details.

The artefacts unearthed at Sanxingdui have transformed the site into one of China’s most important archaeological discoveries in decades. Last year’s announcement of pristinely-preserved gold masks has fundamentally altered how scientists view the very first cultures to have lived in China thousands of years ago.

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The girl, a primary 4 student, had initially asked for her mother’s help to finish the project. But the 41-year-old mother surnamed Zhao told Wutong video, a news platform in mainland China, that she “had no idea how to finish the assignment”.

“I asked her father for help and he said, ‘the square ding should be simple to make with boxes’.”

“My daughter found the patterns online, and, because the patterns on the left and right sides [of the ding] are relatively simple, she kneaded it with clay herself, while her father kneaded the Sanxingdui mask pattern on the front of the ding,” Zhao said.

However, building the mask became more than homework, but rather a way to spend time together as the family spent most of their time at home in Nanjing, the capital of eastern China’s Jiangsu province, as the city tries to prevent a Covid-19 outbreak. The province reported seven asymptomatic cases on Monday.

A Chinese father and daughter paint their replica of a ding, an ancient vessel. Photo: Wutong video
A Chinese father and daughter paint their replica of a ding, an ancient vessel. Photo: Wutong video

Nanjing is not under a lockdown, but many public places – such as libraries, museums, and entertainment businesses – have been closed since March 16. Face-to-face school classes were also suspended, although the city is gradually resuming lessons.

Stuck at home, Zhao remembered they still had bags of leftover clay from making the ding.

“It would be a shame to throw them away, so the two of them thought about making a bronze mask,” Zhao said. “My daughter is very interested in the bronze artefacts, and my husband is also willing to play with her.”

With the experience from making the ding last time, father and daughter replicated the mask, even though making it was more complicated.

After seeing the pictures of the handmade replicas online, many people expressed their admiration for the father.

“The teacher asked you to help your child with her handicraft assignment, but instead you ‘raided’ the tomb to get the real one,” a person joked.

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