The archaeological discovery of Zhang Xianzhong’s sunken silver in January has sparked a renewed interest in the would-be emperor’s short-lived Xi Dynasty (1644-1646).
During the later years of the Chongzhen Emperor’s reign (1628-1644), Zhang was a roving bandit who styled himself as the Eighth Great King. His men raided the provinces of Anhui, Jiangsu and Hunan before beginning a conquest of Sichuan in 1644.
Zhang’s “empire,” ultimately limited to the borders of Sichuan province, ended when he was killed by the Qing army in 1646.
A monument near the Jin River in Chengdu reads, “Stone cow and stone drum, silver money a big sum. He who figures it out could buy the whole town.” In Jiangkou County, Pengshan District, some 50 kilometers from Chengdu, the cow and stone in the rhyme became a dragon and tiger. There are statues of a dragon and tiger on the mountaintop to the east of Jiangkou County.
Locals long regarded the rhymes as a clue to where Zhang’s buried treasure rested.
The earliest discovery was made in 2005 by Yang Fuhua, a resident of Shuangjiang Village.
While using an excavator in the riverbed as part of a government water project, Yang came across four black “stones.” After cleaning them, he realized they were badly tarnished bricks of ancient silver that bore the mark of Jiang Guoqing, a silversmith employed during the reign of the Chongzhen Emperor.
The demand for services to support incoming treasure hunters brought new industry to the city, and within a few years many of the residents owned villa housing and expensive cars.
A diver surnamed Song with 13 years of experience found more treasure in April 2014, when he located a golden tiger buried some three meters below the water. Song contacted a dealer surnamed Yuan who offered 800,000 yuan for the piece, but he chose not to sell.
Three days later, Song went back into the water and found a gold stamp that belonged to Marshal Yongchang.
Song was surprised to find the golden tiger and stamp matched, and the price rose to more than 10 times than the initial offer.
Yuan said he sold the tiger and square stamp, together with some silver and gold relics, to a businessman surnamed Fan in the northeast.
Police arrested the three, but the pillaging had already begun.
In February 2015, Liu Jin, a 60-year-old in Shuangjiang Village, jumped in the water to look for the treasure. Thirty minutes later, he returned with a silver square. Liu sold the treasure, and in September 2016 he was sentenced to three years in jail.
Liu was one of 10 villagers arrested by the police for illegal trade in historical relics.
Yuan Tingdong, an expert in Sichuan history and culture, said every item found in Jiangkou was incredibly value to historians who study Zhang Xianzhong and his reign in Sichuan.
Relic experts said every item found in Jiangkou has been rare and precious. Some compare it to a second Sanxingdui, a cultural dig that dates back some 3,000 years.