Ba (Chinese: 巴; pinyin: Bā; literally: "a pictograph for 'snake', linguistically meaning 'cling' and 'handle'") was an ancient state in eastern Sichuan, China. Its original capital was Yicheng (Enshi City), Hubei. Ba was conquered by Qin in 316 BC. The modern minority Tujia people trace some of their origins back to the people of Ba.
Ba, often described as a loose confederation or a collection of chiefdoms, consisted of several loosely affiliated independent clans who recognised a king. The Ba clans were highly diverse, being composed of multiple ethnicities. Archaeological evidence shows that the Ba people relied primarily on fishing and hunting, with low levels of agriculture and no evidence of irrigation.
Ba originally included territory in the Han Valley and had its capital at Yicheng, Hubei; however the ascendance of Chu pushed Ba westwards and further into the Sichuan Basin. Chu expansion also forced Ba to move its capital several times. According to the 4th century CE Chronicles of Huayang by Chang Qu, capitals or administrative centers of Ba included Jiangzhou (Chongqing), Dianjiang (Hechuan District), and Pingdu (Fengdu), with its final capital at Langzhong. During the Warring States period, Qin, Chu and Shu, all more powerful states, shared a common border with Ba.
The earliest evidence of human settlement in the region is found at the Heliang site near Fengdu and is dated to 15,000 years ago. A neolithic site found at Daxi dates from 5000 to 3000 BC while a late neolithic site (c. 2000 BC) was found at Zhongba in Zhongxian.
According to Book of the Later Han, the founder of the state of Ba was Lord Lin (Chinese: 廪君). In this account, there were originally five clans: the Ba, Fan (樊), Shen (瞫), Xiang (相), and Zheng (鄭), and they organized a contest to determine who would be the chief:
The clans did not yet have a leader, but simply worshiped the ghosts and spirits, and so they made a pact: whosoever could throw a dagger and have it lodge in a particular stone crevice high up a cliff would be chief. Of all the competitors, only a son of the Ba Clan, Wuxiang, was able to achieve the target, and when he did so all present sighed with admiration. Again they made a competition, giving each competitor a rustic boat and swearing, "he who keeps himself afloat [on these rough waters] shall be chief!" Again Wuxiang prevailed, while all the other boats sank. So they made him chief, calling him Lord Lin.
Lord Lin led the people to settle in Yicheng in present-day southwestern Hubei near Sichuan. The first Ba centre in Sichuan was Peiling (also called Zhi), reputedly the burial ground of the earliest Ba kings. The Ba absorbed other tribes it encountered, such as the Pu (濮), Zong (賨), Ju (苴), Gong (龔), Nu (奴), Rang (獽), Yi (夷) and Dan (蜑) tribes, therefore Ba is in reality a confederation of different groups. The Pu for example were a widespread tribe ranging from Henan to Guizhou and referred to as the Hundred Pu (百濮) due to their variety, and the Ju was a state in north central Sichuan, while the Dan were said to live on water, and the Rang were a people from the southeastern part of the Ba state known for their cliff burials.
Mentions of a "Ba country" appeared in Shang dynasty oracle bones from the 13th century BC where the king of Shang contemplated attacking the Ba. The state of Ba may have aided the founders of the Zhou dynasty in its overthrow of the Shang at the Battle of Muye in 1046 BC. However, Ba's first definitive appearance in recorded history occurred in 703 BC; the Zuo Zhuan records that Ba took part in a joint military operation with Chu against Deng. Although Chu sometimes encroached on Ba territory, Ba shared a complex relationship with Chu, with strong trade and marriage ties. Chu also employed many Ba mercenaries as soldiers in its own army. This practice sometimes caused problems for Chu; in one instance, Ba mercenaries employed by Chu rebelled and besieged the Chu capital in 676 or 675 BC.
In 316 BC, Ba and Zu allied with Qin in to invade Shu. However, after the successful conquest of Shu, Qin immediately turned on its two allies and captured the last Ba king. The Ba state was extinguished and converted into a Qin commandery. Unlike its management of Shu, Qin allowed the Ba elite to retain direct rule and did not force large-scale migrations of Qin people into Ba territory. The Ba elite would later be marginalized through a policy of divide and rule.
The tiger was an important part of Ba mythology, with the white tiger being held in highest esteem. According to legend, the first king of Ba, Lord Lin, transformed into a white tiger upon his death. Artifacts from Ba archaeological sites often employ tiger motifs. Archaeological evidence also suggests the Ba people may have practised human sacrifice, which History of the Later Han indicates was made to the white tiger spirit of Lord Lin.
Warfare played an important role in Ba society. Their warriors were often employed as mercenaries by other states; they played a role in the defeat of Xiang Yu by Liu Bang (later Emperor Gaozu of Han), and later served the Han dynasty.
Weapons were prevalent in Ba grave goods, some with distinctive curved blades. Other distinctive features of Ba culture are their boat-shaped coffin burials, and they used Ba-style bronze drums (錞于, similar to Đông Sơn drums), topped with the figure of a tiger, to communicate in battle. As in other states of ancient China, they made beautiful bronze dings or sacrificial tripods, sometimes with writing on them.
The Ba people were known for the musical abilities and gave the Chinese a distinctive dance style and music that was popular for centuries. The dance, called Ba Yu (Chinese: 巴渝, later renamed the Zhaowu, Chinese: 昭武) dance, was first brought to prominence by Emperor Gaozu of Han, who enjoyed their war dances. Large-scale performances of the dance involved the brandishing of various weapons to the accompaniment of drums and songs in the Ba language. It remained popular through the Tang dynasty and spread as far as Central Asia.
The Ba-Shu culture developed writing systems whose symbols appear to be unrelated to Chinese characters. Three Ba–Shu scripts have been found on bronzeware, none of which have been deciphered. One apparently pictographic script was used to decorate weapons found in Ba graves in eastern Sichuan. The second script is found in both western and eastern Sichuan, on weapons, a belt buckle and on the base of a bronze vessel. Some scholars believe this script to be phonetic, pointing to similarities between some of the symbols and symbols of the later Yi script. The third script (possibly also phonetic) is known only from an inscription on the lid of a bronze vessel found in a grave in Baihuatan, Chengdu.