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Exhibition reveals facets of mysterious ancient Dian

One hundred and eighteen spectacular artifacts that unveil the mystical culture of the ancient Dian Kingdom of Yunnan will be on display at the Hong Kong Museum of History from tomorrow (November 10) to February 21, 2005.

Featuring an array of bronze relics selected from the collection of the Yunnan Provincial Museum, the "Hunting and Rituals: Treasures from the Ancient Dian Kingdom of Yunnan" exhibition gives visitors a glimpse of the material culture, everyday life, military and religious activities, as well as arts and crafts of the Dian Kingdom.

The exhibition was jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Yunnan Provincial Museum and organised by the Museum of History.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the exhibition today (November 9), the Deputy Director (Culture) of Leisure and Cultural Services, Miss Choi Suk-kuen, noted that the exhibition aimed to introduce to the visitors the history and culture of Dian kingdom of Yunnan. It was also hoped that the exhibition would motivate and strengthen the cultural interflow between Hong Kong and the Mainland, the Yunnan province in particular, and further carry forward the national heritage and promote the cultural prosperity of both places.

"Yunnan has been settled by multiple tribes since the ancient time, which leads to an orchestra of unique and colourful cultures, as exemplified by the Dian culture. Though the kingdom has long gone, the dedicated efforts in archaeological excavations over the years contribute the reconstruction of the distinguished Dian culture," said Miss Choi.

The ancient Dian Kingdom was established in the southwest of China - the Dianchi area of Yunnan today. It reached its peak development from the Warring States period (475-221 BC) to the Western Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 25). The kingdom declined in the late Western Han dynasty and was eventually absorbed by the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220). The reign of the kingdom lasted more than 500 years.

As the Dian did not have a written language and only incomplete accounts of its history can be found in ancient historical records, people know very little about this kingdom. In 1995 and afterwards, however, extensive excavations of the Dian burial sites led to a series of important discoveries including the gold seal of the Dian king and over 10 thousand bronze objects. The discoveries vividly outline different facets of the ancient Dian culture.

The unearthed relics show that agriculture was quite developed in the Dian kingdom, while hunting was still a popular activity. Many Dian bronzes are decorated with hunting scenes. Hunts came in varied forms -- hunting parties going after ferocious beasts, deer hunters on horseback or men fighting animals with bare hands -- showing extraordinary passion of the Dian people for this activity.

Dian people believed "every living thing has a spirit". Religious rituals were highlighted by killing of oxen and humans, as well as musical performances. These scenes often appear in engravings on buckles and cowrie containers. Ox piercing ceremonies were often hosted by sorcerers. Oxen were offered to the gods and killed in a bloody and arousing manner. Today, many ethnic minorities in the Yunnan province still perform sacrificial rituals. Oxen are slaughtered in much the same way as they were in the time of the Dian kingdom.

The Dian way of life was very colourful. A culture with exotic ethnic costumes, jewellery, architecture and traditions, the Dian kingdom was a vivid example of repetitive exchanges and integration of diverse tribal cultures.

A remote kingdom in the southwestern outback, the Dian kingdom had peculiar art styles. In Dianchi, diverse tribal characters and cultures came together. This ethnic blend gave rise to sophisticated and manifold art styles. For this reason, Dian bronzes are unique in their designs and artistic features, often reflecting cultural influences of the northern prairies, South China, Southeast Asia and even Central Asia.

Among the 118 relics on display, 21 items are classified as First Class National Treasures including the only bronze coffin from the Chinese Bronze Age preserved intact, a realistically portrayed bronze table with figurines of tiger and oxen, jade costume of the Dian king and bronze house model with human figurines. Meanwhile, the bronze cowrie container with four oxen and gilt horse rider and the bronze cowrie container with battle scene decorated with human and animal figurines are also spectacular masterpieces of the Dian Culture.

Admission for the "Treasures from the Ancient Dian Kingdom of Yunnan" is $10 with a half-price concession for full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. There will be no free admission on Wednesdays.

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 Christmas Eve, the museum will close at 5pm. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays) and the first two days of the Chinese New Year.

For details of the exhibition and related activities, visit the Museum of History's website at or call 2724 9042.

Ends/Tuesday, November 9, 2004
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