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Rites and music of ancient China featured in exhibition

More than 100 pieces of bronze ritual and musical wares and weapons of superb craftsmanship revealing the social and spiritual lives of the Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties will be displayed at the Hong Kong Museum of History from tomorrow (February 14) to May 14.

Jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Henan Museum, and organised by the Hong Kong Museum of History, the "Ancient Chinese Civilisation - Treasures of the Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties from Henan Province" exhibition provides a glimpse of various aspects such as rites and music, warfare, clothing, food, housing and transportation of the most important chapter of Chinese civilisation.

Speaking today (February 13) at the opening ceremony of the exhibition, the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Thomas Chow, said the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties were the development period for Chinese culture. In the past, the history of Xia dynasty was still shrouded in mystery. It was not until 50 years ago that the large-scale archaeological excavation of Erlitou site in Yanshi city, Henan province provided important clues for tracing the history of the Xia culture. With the unfailing effort of the archaeologists of these several generations, the histories of the Shang and Zhou dynasties were well developed and the blanks of the historical record have been filled.

"China is described as 'a nation practising rites and music'. The system of 'rites and music' is a symbol of sophisticated development of the civilisation in the Central Plains. The bronze ritual, musical and jade wares on display are the proven examples of the ritual and musical cultures of ancient China," Mr Chow said.

"Rites" specified people's behaviour and "music" inspired people's minds. A system of rituals began to form in the Xia and Shang dynasties and was perfected in the Zhou dynasty.

In Western Zhou society, the social system was based on kinship incorporating the patriarchal clan and feudal, hierarchical and hereditary systems, to build an order with different social strata. "Zhou Li" (rites of "Zhou") recorded stipulations on various institutional systems and rites. Through these regulations, the spirit of "rite" stipulated various aspects from state institution to personal costume, architectural style of building and even behaviour of people.

Music was an important part of the ritual system, which strictly stipulated the number of instruments and the performance etiquette to be used for offering sacrifices, court gatherings and shooting rites.

Based on the ritual system of the Shang dynasty, ritual objects of the Zhou dynasty appeared in groups. The bronze "ding" tripod, "zhong" bell and "gui" food vessel were core objects. "Lieding" and "bianzhong" were arranged in groups with successively decreasing sizes in the temple setting, accompanied by a set of "gui" of the same size.

Although the Xia, Shang and Zhou tribes had different geographical origins, the three dynasties named after them had similar characteristics including the types of agricultural products and livestock, clothing, architecture, burial customs as well as the religious practise of using oracle bones for divination. Utensils and vessels used in the three dynasties had common characteristics. Pottery vessels were characterised by tripods with typical cooking vessels like the "ding", "li" and "yan". Bronze was used to make food and drink utensils as well as weapons, and most importantly, ritual wares in various unique styles. Bronze vessels were the indispensable ritual objects of the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties. Due to their massive sizes, numerous varieties, beautiful patterns and exquisite craftsmanship, these bronze wares are stunning and became the symbol of ancient Chinese civilisation.

The era between the late Western Zhou and Warring States periods also witnessed the prevalence of jade in adornment. Various kinds of jade ornaments emerged during this period. Besides individual jade pendants, "zhuyupei" (multi-jade pendants) made up of various kinds of jade was also a fashionable ornament. In the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties, the significance and function of the jade pendant was not only for its beautiful appearance, but also for its symbolism of a gentleman with high moral standards.

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. The museum will be closed at 5pm on Chinese New Year's Eve and is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays) and the first two days of the Chinese New Year.

Admission for the "Ancient Chinese Civilisation" exhibition is $10 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. No free admission on Wednesdays.

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

Ends/Tuesday, February 13, 2007
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