Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Western Han Nanyue King's Tomb Museum 西汉南越王博物馆 – Guangzhou, China
Are you a museum traveler? I am, and you might consider me a bit awkward since unlike girls in general, I prefer going to museums instead of malls. Yes, indeed my hobby is a little bit extraordinary.. haha.. Every time I asked my friends to visit a museum, they would refuse with various excuses. They were not interested to go there for they regarded museum as a boring place where there are only ancient artifacts and no entertainment at all (oopps… correct me if I’m wrong guys.. hehe). Is it 100% true? I don’t think so. Although museums display ancient things, they offer another side of entertainment to those who have special taste for history and culture. It is the place where you could see directly ancient stuff and catch a glimpse of past history.
In summer 2009, I took my mom and my brother to visit a museum since I believe they were the only people willing to accompany to visit “museum”.. haha.. That museum did not look strange to me since I had passed it several times whenever I took public bus to go to Guihuagang, the wholesale center of bags. Each time I passed it, I wondered what that red building really was. After I searched on the map, I found out that that red building is actually a museum called the Western Han Dynasty Nanyue King Museum. Mmh.. what a long name for a museum.. The admission fee to the museum was only 12 Yuan.
Situated at Jiefang Bei Road, Guangzhou, the Western Han Dynasty Nanyue King Mausoleum Museum is the largest Han tomb and museum that keeps the most ancient funerary objects coming from Lingnan area. Setting up in an area of 14,000 square meters, the museum is listed as one of the 80 most famous museums in the world that has 10 exhibition halls. The museum was erected at the steep slope of Xianggang hill with the tomb of the king placed at the center of the museum, which has been the witness of Guangzhou’s 2000 years history. The tomb is hidden 20 meters underground and made up of 750 huge stones with colorful murals. The inhabitant of the tomb was Zhao Mei, the second king of Nanyue Kingdom (206 B.C.-24 A.D.) and the grandson of Zhao Tuo from the Qing dynasty who unified the whole region. The king named himself emperor Wen and established his kingdom capital at Panyu.
The museum was opened to public in October 1989, and is well known for its well-preserved tomb, abundant relics from the Western Han Dynasty and elegant architecture. It combines two exhibition buildings with the well-preserved tomb as its main attraction. The lost tomb keeps a lot of valuable things for which it had been persistently searched since at least 1800 years ago. When it was finally unearthed by chance in 1983 during the construction of the China hotel, the people were filled with great excitement. The tomb is the only intact tomb that has not been plundered.
The museum exhibits 11,645 relics including the relics from the tomb and the ceramic pillows donated by Mr. Yeung Wing-Tak. Over 1,000 pieces of cultural relics including mostly bronze ware and terra cotta featuring the culture of Nanyue were excavated. Among relics found were paintings, gold and silver drinking vessels, musical instruments, ivory, weapons and pieces of blue glass. During the excavation, the body of the emperor was found dressed in a green funeral outfit. The skeletons of the 15 courtiers including concubines, guards, cooks, and a musician, who were buried alive with the emperor as part of the funeral ceremony to serve him in the afterlife, were also discovered. In addition, excessive luxurious burial items, mostly jade and bronze objects, were also found around the emperor’s body. The items consist of 23 seals of which three are gold, three sets of musical instruments, gold and silver vessels and a chariot. Another valuable finding is the imperial seal with the name “Zhaomo” or “Emperor Wen”, which shows that the king considered himself equal to the Han ruler. The museum also displays three sets of bronze serial bells, thirty-six bronze vessels, thirty-six bronze mirrors, and three gold seals that represent the ancient Nanyue culture. The oldest and largest folding screen in China is also here along with the world’s oldest bronze patterns for textile sampling. There are also various styles of pottery pillows and porcelain pillows from the Tang Dynasty, Yuan Dynasty and the Ming Dynasty, and other cultural relics representing Chu culture of south China, the Bashu culture of southwest China, and the Hun culture from the northern grassland.
Besides Chinese artifacts, foreign articles like pieces of relics from Iranian and Hellenistic Central Asian regions were excavated. A Persian silver box found in the tomb is the earliest imported product. Other foreign articles discovered included five African elephant trunks, a silver box featuring Western Asian silver wares, bronze incense burners and frankincense from Southeast Asia. All these findings prove that since the time of Nanyue kingdom or even earlier, Guangzhou had started developing a marine trade with Persia and other countries along the eastern coastal fringe of Africa. From the excavation, it was found out that Guangzhou was the starting point of marine silk trade.
The museum does not only display antiques but also often holds various exhibitions to present the development of human civilization from different regions. Nowadays, the museum has become the center of educational place to learn the history of Guangzhou. There are also videos played inside the museum telling the process of the tomb excavation presented in Mandarin, Cantonese, Minnan Language, English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish.
Two giant relief sculptures are engraved on the red sandstone walls of the museum, portraying Yue people holding snakes, dragons and tigers. There are also two lion statues standing sentinel at the gate. The architecture and the decorations reflect a combination of Middle China’s Han culture and Southern China’s Han culture.
As we entered the museum, we went directly to see the tomb of the king. We needed to climb staircases to the third floor. The third floor is an open space and the tomb is located in the middle.
An alley that leads to the emperor’s tomb
Majestic view of the museum from outside
Dated back 2000 years ago, the tomb is the earliest large-scale painted stone-chamber stone ever found. The tomb was constructed using 750 huge stone labs with colorful murals, having a complex design like Zhao Mei’s palace, which is mainly characterized with two main halls and several smaller chambers. The tomb is 10.85 meters in length and 12.43 meters in width. It has a flat top which is over than 2000 years old and is the oldest mastaba in the entire Lingnan area. There are a total of 7 rooms, divided into two sections by stone doors: three front rooms and four back rooms with a clear division of front chamber, east and west wing rooms, the main coffin chamber, east and west side rooms, and a back storage chamber. The body of the king was placed in the middle of the back part.
Here is the display of stones used to build the tomb.
The tomb is hidden 20 meters underground and made up of 750 huge stones with colorful murals.
The chamber has short doors that tall people have to bow their head to be able to explore the whole site.
The design of the museum looks magnificent from outside. This building is part of the whole museum that keeps the lost tomb.
After exploring the tomb, we went to the museum. The museum has a rich collections of the relics found inside the tomb. The first part of the museum we visited was the main exhibition building. The hall is divided into five sections including “Gold Seals of Emperor Wen”, “Treasures in the Main coffins room”, “Articles of Sacrificial Persons”, “The Masterpieces from the Western Chamber”, and “Musical Instruments and Cooking Utensils”.
A big wooden board explaining a brief introduction to the museum
I actually forgot what this chest is… Can someone tell me?
Out of the excavated things, the most valuable findings are the jade-silk garment and the golden seal. Jade work is the most important finding among the antiques found. The jades were used for ceremonies, funerals, decorations and practical usage. The ones found in the tomb are the first collection of jades from the Han Dynasty. In the ancient Chinese history, seals were commonly used but they were made of bronze, jade or crystal. However, the one found in the tomb was a golden seal, which is very unique.
The most impressive relic kept in the museum is the silk-jade garment made up of 2,291 pieces of jade. Most jade garments are connected by gold, silver or copper, but the one inside the museum is connected by silk, which is the only jade garment of its kind in the world. There is no other jade garment connected by silk thread ever recorded in the history book. The structure of the silk jade garment has typical style of buttons, which shows the early development of jade garments and the development of Nanyue culture. The silk-jade garment was specially designed for the emperor’s corpse and put on the king’s body when he passed away. It stretches 1.73 meters in length. The ancient Nanyue people had a custom to dress the dead in jade to keep the body intact for just like the ancient Egyptians, they also believed in the afterlife. Out of the tens burial garments found in China, the one kept in this museum is the earliest one. When it was found, the garment was scattered on the ground that it took the archaeologists almost three years to gather the whole pieces. Alongside the burial suit, other jade ornaments were also found around the king’s body, indicating that at that time jade worship and luxurious burial ritual were very important.
This lacquer screen was found in the east of the main coffins room. Unlike other screens found for burial purposes, this screen is meant for everyday use instead. At the time of excavation, the wood frame had already rotted off, however, 658 gilded bulb nails and some paint were found. Through some restorations, the specialists finally managed to restore the screen to its original shape. Uniquely structured, the screen has two doors in the middle and the crossbeam on top of it was decorated with pheasant feathers and carvings of double-faced animal head. The boards were painted with cloud pattern in red and black colors.
Another part of the museum is the room that specially exhibits ceramic pillows. There are 200 ceramic pillows donated by Hongkong collector, Mr. and Mrs. Yeung. Dated back to the Tang and Yuan dynasty, the pillows were made by local artisans with decorations from nature and everyday people’s lives.
One of the most valuable findings is the golden seal of the Emperor Wen. The seal has an inscription “Administrative Seal of Emperor Wen”. It was found lying on the chest of the king. The seal has a square form with 3.1 cm by 3.1 cm in size and it weighs 148.5 grams, making it the largest golden seal ever found of the Western Han period. The seal was the king’s official seal. The knob of the seal has a dragon shape with a hole under the arching dragon to get through silk ribbon. During the period of Qin and Han dynasties, all seals must be made of white jade with hornless dragon shaped knob and should be 2.7 cm by 2.8 cm in size. However, the Nanyue King’s seals broke that rule as we know that Zhao Mo’s grandfather overstepped the authority of the Qin Emperor and made himself as the King of the Nanyue Kingdom.
Out of the 1,000 excavated relics, 200 were jade ware. The jade ware was largely used for decorative purposes. Jade ornament that has dragon and phoenix patterns was found on top of the king’s right eye. The face of the jade was divided into two parts, with the inner ring pierced with a flying dragon and the outer ring with a phoenix and its luxurious tail surrounding the outer ring.
This drinking vessel was chiseled into rhinoceros horn shape. According to the belief, a wine cup made of rhinoceros horn could dissolve poison. Artisans then carved the jade into the shape of a rhinoceros horn although jade does not dissolve poison.
In the ancient time, “Jie” was used to convey orders and messages for military and diplomatic purposes. The body of a “”jie” was usually made in the form of human, dragon or tiger. This bronze “jie” was made in the shape of a tiger with tiger stripes on its body. In the middle of the body is an inscription saying “The King’s Orders to Muster Troops”.
This dancing statue was made of gray jade. The figure shows a woman with a hair done in bun dressing in a long sleeved skirt and dancing with one arm hiding to her back and the other waving toward above the head.
The museum has a collection of over 400 ceramic pillows, with over 200 pillows were donated by Mr. and Mrs. Yeung Wing Tak. The pillows come from different times starting from the Tang Dynasty until the present time, with the majority produced during the Song and Jin Dynasties. The pillow in this picture has a shape of a child holding a lotus leaf. The lotus leaf formed the shape where the head was to lie on.
This pillow was originated from Chanzhi in Shanxi province. On top of the tiger where the head was to lie on is a painting of a bird relaxing in grass. The local people worshipped tiger and believed it had the power to drive away evil.
This jade pendant has a diameter of 10.6 cm, an aperture diameter of 5.2 cm, and thickness of 0.5 cm.
The picture on this wall depicts the men in the ancient time who played musical instruments to entertain the emperor.
The ancient musical instruments found in the king’s tomb. According to the belief, these instruments were needed to entertain the king in the afterlife.
The wall is engraved with pictures of the ancient Yue people
Outside the museum
From outside, we can see the museum has a unique architecture with a pyramid-shaped glass in the middle.
During the period of Nanyue Kingdom, small replicas of servants as shown in the picture were created to be buried along with the dead emperor. This is in accordance with the belief that those servants would serve the king in the afterlife.
If you are a museum traveler who has a great interest in Chinese history and culture, this museum is a place you must include in your travel list. I believe you will find many interesting relics there and it will open your eyes to see how advanced the ancient Chinese civilization was.
Personal experience and additional information from other online articles