"Mawangdui" treasures on show at Museum of History
More than 100 valuable relics unearthed from aristocratic Han tombs at Mawangdui and other historical sites of the ancient Changsha kingdom will be on show at the Hong Kong Museum of History from tomorrow (February 10) to May 3.
Entitled "Legends of Luxury and Elegance: Lifestyles of the Han Nobility", the exhibition is jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Hunan Provincial Museum, and organised by the Hong Kong Museum of History. Featuring a fine selection of bronze vessels, lacquerware, textile products, jade ware and silk books, the exhibition provides a comprehensive insight into the vibrant diversity of Han culture 2,000 years ago, from dietary culture and the collection of manuscripts to concepts of well-being and health, fashion and beauty.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the exhibition today (February 9), the Deputy Director (Culture) of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Chung Ling-hoi, noted that the exhibits on display include an early silk book on health and medicine in China, exquisitely crafted textile products, as well as a variety of dining vessels and vanity tools, which will give visitors a glimpse of Han aristocratic lifestyles.
"The Western and Eastern Han dynasties (206BC - AD220) witnessed a robust economy and rapid development of thought and culture. The workmanship was also sophisticated, which was reflected in the extravagant daily utensils the nobility used. The excavation of the Han tombs in Mawangdui offered exceptional insights into the social life of the early Han. Discovered in the 1970s, the Han tombs at Mawangdui are among China's most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. The relics provide a wealth of resources for research into the material civilisation and artistic development of the Han dynasty," Mr Chung said.
In 202BC, Liu Bang (the first Han emperor) named Wu Rui the first king of Changsha and bestowed upon him land that extended over Changsha, Yuzhang, Xiangjun, Guilin and Nanhai. Linxiang (the present-day city of Changsha) was chosen as the kingdom's capital. After his death, Wu Rui was succeeded by Wu Chen, Wu Hui and Wu You among others. Li Cang was appointed by the imperial Han court as the prime minister of the Changsha kingdom to assist the kings. The three Western Han tombs discovered in Mawangdui between 1972 and 1974 were occupied by members of Li Cang's family, including Li Cang (Marquis of Dai) himself, his wife Xin Zhui and their son. The arrangement and layout of burial objects in the marquis' tomb not only point to the exceptional wealth of the Han nobility and their indulgence in luxurious material enjoyment but also embody how the Han people envisaged life after death.
As agriculture developed and industry and commerce flourished during the Han dynasty, its food culture was characterised by a wide variety of ingredients, an abundance of food types, exquisitely crafted utensils and sophisticated cooking methods in a diversity that was unprecedented in Chinese history. Lacquer craftsmanship had undergone rapid development since the Western Zhou dynasty (c.11th c-771BC), and lacquerware gradually replaced bronze vessels as the preferred dining vessels of the Han nobility. A lacquer dish painted with a cat pattern, a lacquer tray with a cloud pattern and a painted lacquer cosmetic box unearthed from Mawangdui are just a few examples of the delicately crafted lacquerware of the period. The inventory of burial objects lists popular dishes of the time, while the abundance of fruit, cakes and meat discovered reveal that the Han people had a particular preference for fresh seasonal foods.
Fascination with and belief in immortality were prevalent during the Qin dynasty (221-207BC) and continued into the Han period. The nobility were preoccupied with their health, and, with no little encouragement from alchemists, personal well-being became a popular trend among all walks of life. The pottery incense burner unearthed from the tomb of Xin Zhui contains fragrant reed and galangal, confirming that the Han people burned herbs to sanitise their homes. The silk book "Yangsheng Fang" (Prescriptions on Maintaining Health) and the bamboo book "He Yinyang" (Harmony of "Yin" and "Yang" ) address issues of pursuing good health through sex, while the silk book "Daoyin Tu" (Physical Exercise Chart) marks the beginning of the meditative and breathing exercises of "qigong".
The Han people quested for long life. However, when they did come to the end of their life, they wished that their glories could transcend death and that their wishes left unfulfilled on earth could be realised in the after-world. The burial objects and layout of the noble tombs at Mawangdui and of the royal tombs of the Changsha kingdom exemplify the Han people's belief that death was a continuation of life. A T-shaped painting on silk unearthed from Mawangdui portrays death set against the universe and conveys a desire for resurrection; the silk painting "Chema Yizhang Tu" (Drawing of the Guard of Honour) depicts a grand excursion in which the tomb occupant is escorted by carriages, horses and a guard of honour. A lacquer coffin with a painted heavenly pattern shielded the tomb occupant from the din of the earthly world. Burial objects such as painted wooden figurines, wooden replicas of ivory tusks, clay "yincheng" and "jinbing" (gold currency) replicas were placed in the tombs for the occupants to enjoy in the afterlife, and they help viewers visualise scenes of affluence at the mansion of the Marquis of Dai.
The clothes worn by the aristocracy reflected the Han people's aesthetic values and fashion culture. The year-round wardrobe unearthed from Xin Zhui's tomb contains large quantities of silk and gauze that have stood the test of time and remain amazingly colourful and charming despite being more than 2,000 years old. The lacquer cosmetic box with nine small trays, the wooden comb and the fine-toothed wooden comb also found in the tomb are examples of the fashionable vanity tools used by Han noblewomen. The openwork jade tablet with an animal pattern and the jade "bi" disc carved with three phoenixes and a hexagonal pattern discovered in other archaeological sites exemplify the exceptional jade crafting techniques developed in the Han dynasty.
The private scholarship that had flourished during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods (770-476BC) all but died out during the Qin dynasty when Emperor Qin tried to exert control over people's thoughts by "burning the books and burying the scholars". However, a large number of silk and bamboo books have been discovered in the Han tombs at Mawangdui, reflecting the emphasis on literacy in this period and the developing trend among the Han nobility to own private libraries. The collections in the tombs cover a broad spectrum of scholarship, including philosophy, history, astronomy, calendar, geography, military affairs, medicine and fortune-telling, revealing the many interests of the tomb occupants and the value they placed on their literary acquisitions. The contents of the silk books also reveal the thriving academia of the early Han, which nurtured multiple schools of thought. The topics include "Zhouyi" (The Book of Changes), a history of the Spring and Autumn Period, a study of Huang-Lao thought, as well as books on astrology and fortune-telling, medicine and prescriptions, health, ritual healing and horse-judging.
To enhance viewers' appreciation of the exhibition, a series of lectures have been organised. On February 20, a lecture introducing the exhibition will be given by the Museum of History's Assistant Curator, Mr Ray Ma Man-kwong. Another lecture, "Social life of the Han Aristocrats: From the Perspective of Unearthed Cultural Relics" by Dr Lai Ming-chiu, Associate Professor, Department of History, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, will be held on March 13. And "Tomb Pictorial Images and Burial Culture of the Han Dynasty", to be given by Dr Marianne Wong Pui-yin, Senior Tutor of the Chinese Civilisation Centre, City University of Hong Kong, will be held on March 20. The lectures, conducted in Cantonese, will be in the museum's Lecture Hall from 3pm to 5pm, with free admission. Seats are available on a first-come-first-served basis. For details, call 2724 9082.
The Museum of History is located at 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. On Chinese New Year's Eve, it will be closed at 5pm. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays) and the first two days of the Chinese New Year. Admission for the museum is $10 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Admission is free on Wednesdays.
For details of the exhibition, please visit the Museum of History's websites at http://hk.history.museum or call 2724 9042.
Ends/Tuesday, February 9, 2010
The tomb of Mawangdui yielded five wooden figurines of musicians in an ensemble made up of two "yu" pipers and three "se" zither players. This set of figurines offers a microcosmic representation of a performance that would typically have entertained the tomb occupant while she was alive. These figurines not only exemplify the highly advanced carving techniques prevalent in the Han dynasty, but also bear testimony to the lifestyle, costumes and burial customs of that era.
The two-tiered lacquer cosmetic box with nine small trays unearthed from Xin Zhui's tomb is an example of the fashionable vanity tools used by Han noblewomen. This set of boxes would have been used to store cosmetics and cosmetic tools. The box consists of three parts - a lid and two tiers. Nine small trays were found in the chiselled slots of the bottom tier, and they contained cosmetics, rouge, silk powder pads, a comb, a fine-toothed comb and a needle case.
The T-shaped painting on silk unearthed from Mawangdui (replica) was a banner used to summon and guide the soul during the funeral and then buried with the deceased. From top to bottom, the painting is divided into three sections: the heavenly world, the human world and the underworld. This painting conveys a desire for resurrection, with the Marquise of Dai continuing to live after her funeral in her eternal home in the earth.
The remains of Xin Zhui, the Marquise of Dai, were discovered in the inner coffin in Tomb 1 at Mawangdui. At the time it was discovered, the body was 1.54 metres tall and weighed 34.3 kg. After more than 2,100 years in her underground tomb, the Marquise's body was very well preserved and even retained a certain degree of moisture. The soft tissue under the skin was still tender and elastic and the joints were relatively mobile. The condition of her corpse is virtually unparallelled in the history of preservation. Pictured is a figure of Xin Zhui.
The exhibition, "Legends of Luxury and Elegance: Lifestyles of the Han Nobility", was opened today (February 9) at the Hong Kong Museum of History. Viewing a figure of Xin Zhui, the Marquise of Dai, are (from left) the Deputy Director of the Hunan Provincial Museum, Mr Li Jianmao, and the Deputy Director (Culture) of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Chung Ling-hoi.