Tattoo was considered to be a widespread custom since prehistoric times. Unearthed relics from the the Shang Dynasty proved that there were remnants of this practice. Their body patterns distinguish different clans, ages, gender, and social status.

The Olmec civilization also unearthed many jade relics with tattooed faces.

Note: Liu Dun Yuan, Art and Archaeology and Ancient Civilizations

Olmec jade mask tattoo decoration

Tattoos of Taiwanese aboriginal women

Shandong Longshan culture jade celt

Western Zhou jade celt with bird carvings

Late Neolithic nephrite jade with carvings

Warring States Period jade celt

The Cult of the Jade

The great interest and attention it later had, happened precisely as of the flowering of the Olmec civilization, where it embodied the greatest cultural and religious element. This means that the worship of jade appeared suddenly in Mesoamerica, and even though this mineral was known in the mentioned area for millenniums, it never had any importance. That sudden change must have been caused by a strong cultural influence, which must have arrived through the sea and, precisely, from China, where this cult existed many years before our era, about 1,500 years; of all the cultural knowledge the Chinese immigrants brought- we have given some examples-, the cult of jade was an important part, and the carving technique, as well as the cultural and religious reasons for its usage, arrived in full maturity, not at its beginning or during its evolution

The worship of jade started with the Olmec, is itself enough evidence to affirm about the presence of Chinese immigrants, whose accidental arrival to the Mesoamerican coasts left a deep mark on the culture of the principal pre-Hispanic civilizations of that region. Through the whole history of human culture, only two civilizations have granted the jade a great religious and social meaning, and a great economic value.

However, the greatest and most refined sculptorical Olmec achievement was the jade carving, which has no comparison in the whole Universal Art. The Olmec were the only ancient civilization that sculpted complete jade human figures, perhaps it would be more accurate to call them “The Jade Lords”.

Note: Gonzalez Calderon The Jade Lords

Feline sacrifice (tattoo), Xalapa Museum

Tattoos of Chinese ethnic minority women

Tattoos of Chinese Yunnan ethnic minority women

Feline Worship

The Shang dynasty of China, Olmec civilization of Mexico and Chavin civilization of Peru all worshiped the feline god.

When the Olmec and their ancestors first began to worship the jaguar, they may have considered it to represent an animal of force and power. Subsequently, they took this simple faith and developed it, through a centralized worship a supernatural creature - a hybrid offspring that is part and part beast. Some scholars believe that the Olmec baby face represents a “Jaguar Man", who possesses sacred jaguar blood.

Note: Jonathan Norton Leonard, Ancient America

Pace of Yu

Sorcery and Shamanism

In ancient times people could connect with the heavens through the shaman. With this heaven and earth connection, those controlling this form of communication had the knowledge and power to rule. Therefore, the shaman became an indispensable member at the royal court. In fact, often times the king was actually the leader of the shamans. The founder of China’s first three dynasties possessed shaman and supernatural abilities. For example, Xiayu was able to stop and control huge flooding by using mysterious powers of his "Pace of Yu”, which became an important style for later shamans. Another shaman was Shang Tang of the Shang Dynasty, could pray to the heavens for rain. Furthermore, shaman Houji could make his own crops grow and mature faster than others. Such traditions have been confirmed in Shang Dynasty Oracles. The Oracle bone inscriptions noted: the Shang King is the leader of the shamans. According to the inscriptions, the only holder of prophecy rights is Shang king. It contained contents of the Shang kings performing rain dances and dream interpretations, all of which were both Shang king’s and Shaman’s activities. This demonstrates that Shang kings were indeed Shamans.

Note: KC Chang, Qingtong Huichen

Before the Europeans arrived in America, the Hopi Native Americans performed a snake dance and prayed to the rain gods for rain. The dancers brought a live snake, first by holding it in their hands, then placing it in their mouths, thus reaching the pinnacle of the dance. “The snake dance was performed in a circle, where dancers were paired off, with one holding the snake and the other holding a feathered broom.” The Hopi people have been known to have long hair that they let it down when dancing.

Note: Wei Juxian "Connection between Ancient China and the Americas’"

Native American Snake Dance

Native American Snake Dance

Tiwanaku, South America, Stone Carving on the Gate of the Sun with Sun God, Virachocha, holding a staff (ruler)

Fuxi and Nuwa holding a “gui” and “ju” (compass and carpenter’s square)

Chinese snake dance figure

Picture of Shaman Yu Shi Qie found in Shan Hai Jing

The shaman was an expert in understanding and communicating with heaven and earth. He was also knowledgable in using the ancient “ju” or carpenter’s square. The true shape of the “ju” carpenter’s square was not known, but through pictographs, it can be understood that it resembled the word “工” (gong). the “gong” (工) carpenter square tool could be used to both draw a circle and a square. (On the Eastern Han tombs, the murals of Fuxi and Nuwa contained images holding compass (gui) and a carpenter’s square (ju). The compass (gui) and carpenter’s square (ju) draws a circle and square, respectively. This may have indicated that the the compass and carpenter square was split in two to draw their own respective diagrams after the Han dynasty, whereas according to the "Zhou Bisuanjing" era, both circles and squares were drawn using the “gong” shaped carpenter square tool). If this interpretation is valid, the shaman was also a mathematician during the Shang and Zhou dynasties, and the most important intellectual. Being able to understand and the heaven and earth, one can become a wise man and also a saint.

Note: KC Chang, Qingtong Huichen

Pace of Yu  

Tao Tie Symbol

During the Shang Dynasty, the basic motif carved on bronze artifacts was the tao-tie. It does not represent any spirit, as it is constantly changing; in fact, it cannot be regarded as an expressive image. Sarah Allan believes the tao-tie is a meaningful image. The major feature is the wide open eyes. The parts are made of the different animals used for sacrificial ceremony. The wide open mouth implies a passage leading to another world. The items used for offering are being selected.  Tao-tie represents opposition of two sides, neither one thing nor two things together. It is the illusion of another world.

Note: Sarah Allan, Shape of the Turtle

Feline Worship in Chavin Culture

Feline Worship in Shang Culture

In Mesoamerica, the theme of a man-tiger combination first appeared 1200 - 300 BC before the rise of the Olmec civilization. The image of the jaguar is quite prominent throughout Olmec culture, as it constitutes an important religious characteristic, which can be viewed throughout sculptures in the Olmec culture.

Chinese civilization and American civilizations are actually the descendants of the same ancestors, from different locations and times. KC Chang called this entire cultural background "the Mayan-Chinese Culture Continuum.” The geographical scope of this continuum covers the entire Old World and the New World. Their time dates back much further than the origin of Chinese civilization, or the Mayan civilization, and at least as early as the Upper Paleolithic Period.

Based on this point of view, the Paleolithic ancestors, their culture, in particular the level of development of the arts, ideas and ideology, far exceed how we view them from limited archaeological data. As such, we often underestimate the level of their culture.

20,000-30,000 years ago when most of the Indigenous groups passed through the Bering Strait from Asia to the Americas, they brought along a culture with unexpected richness. This extended to the New World and became known as  "the Mayan-Chinese culture continuum. Its core element comprised of "sorcery and shaman culture". When viewing the world, they divided it into different levels, and the shaman interchanged between the different levels. They engaged in this communication, some aides and tools: various law , which may include a gourd, alcohol, drugs, a variety of animals and a heaven-earth pole.

20,000 to 30,000 years ago, people journeyed across the Bering Strait to the New World. During this process, they were said to have brought over a variety of cultural background. From this rich basis of culture, similar societies were formed at different places and different times. This included the Bronze Age civilization that occurred two to three thousand years ago in China, the Mayan civilization in Mexico, as well as other similar civilizations.

Note: KC Chang, Qingtong Huichen

La Venta Altar Number 4 (Olmec)

Simuwu Square Ding Tripod (Shang)

Tiger eating a man, wine vessel (Shang)


It was strange enough that jade should have been so treasured by the Aztec and Mayas, as dearly as by the Chinese, but even stranger that on both sides of the Pacific, jade beads or cicadas should have been placed in the mouth of the dead; and astonishment turned to conviction when one learned that in all these civilisations the jade corpse-amulets were sometimes painted with the life-giving colour of red cinnabar or haematite.”

Note: Joseph Needham, Lu Gwei-Djen Trans-Pacific Echoes and Resonances; Listening Once Again

Olmec culture carving with cinnabar

Unearthed skulls painted with cinnabar found in the tomb of the Lord of Sican in Peru

Sculptures with cinnabar unearthed in Sichuan’s Jinsha Ruins

Tumi (Axe)

Used in rituals, the tumi not only represents the King’s (Emperor) rights, military power and law, but also the formation of a certain regulations,  and reflected the hierarchy to a certain extent under the monarchy.

The jade celts used in rituals originated from the axe.

In the Olmec culture of Mesoamerica, the use of stone axes were prevalent in rituals. It was especially used in sacrificial ceremonies and often served as a symbolic tool used by animal deities. It was very important in serving as a connection between human and god. The deification of axes has reached an unprecedented level.

Olmec style jade celts

Henan Anyang Houjiazhuang tomb number M10001, where sacrificed humans were found to be buried without limbs.

Sacrifice of human heads found on the walls of the Lord of Sipan

Peru Tumi axe

Yin/Shang axe

Fusang and Sun Worship

In the far east of the world, there was the Fusang tree from which the ten suns rose; in the far west, the Ruo tree on which they set. Beneath the earth was water; above sky. But what was the shape of the cosmos in the minds of the Shang kings and their diviners?

Note: Sarah Allan, Shape of the Turtle

Fusang Image in Mayan Palenque Temple, Mexico

Ten Day Fusang Tree at Sanxingdui, China

“Ya” Shape

The “ya” symbol represents the center of the universe; Two stone carvings are found in an important ruin, Chalcatzingo, of the Olmec culture in Mexico. The stone carvings depict zoomorphic figures with a mouth wide open representing the door between the worlds of the living and the dead. The opening of the mouth divides the boundaries between heaven and earth while the four corners facing inward allow space for four respective trees. The ya shape represents a cosmic diagram for the Olmec people with a big mouth and boundaries of heaven and earth in the four corners. Moreover, the trees assist in traversing between heaven and earth known as the four "cosmic trees”. This picture, the earth is square, but at each corner there are four trees, resulting in an inverted corner and creating a “ya” shape. In looking back at the “ya” shape, it raises a question: Did the “ya” shape from the Shang dynasty also form this way? Regarding Zong Miao Ming Tang that contains four cosmic trees, either “ruo tree”, “jian mu”, or “fusang”, were there indents because of these trees? In other words, is it because the Zong Miao Ming Tang had four trees, which resulted in the “ya” shape?

Note: KC Chang, Qingtong Huichen

“Chacana Symbol-Tree of Life”

(Picture from Aztec and Maya by Fejervary-Mayer)

Olmec Chalcatzingo stone carving relic

Mayan “Ya” shape carving

Chinese Western Zhou Period “Ya” Shape Tomb

Bolivia Tiwananku “Ya” shape pyramid

Bolivia Tiwanaku “Ya” Shape stone carving

Ancient Incan Civilization, “Ya” shape decoration pottery

Chinese Sanxingdui tao tie symbol relic

Chinese Sanxingdui bronze ware with tao tie symbol

Ancient Incan gold ornament with tao tie symbol

Olmec civilization  man-feline sculpture

Olmec civilization feline stone sculpture

Olmec style jade celts