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Relics from China a cultural experience

The 20th century witnessed the emergence, growth and maturity of Chinese archaeology. To introduce the major achievements of Chinese archaeology over past decades, the "Major Archaeological Discoveries of China in Recent Years" exhibition will be held from tomorrow (July 25) until September 24 at the Hong Kong Museum of History.

On display are 120 sets of cultural relics, spanning from the Neolithic period to the Qing dynasty, excavated from more than 20 important archaeological sites in nine provinces. Highlights include exquisite bronze objects, pottery figures, lacquerware, carved jade ornaments, Buddhist relics, as well as rarely seen gold and silverware.

The exhibition, one of the signature programmes to celebrate the 10th anniversary of HKSAR, is jointly presented by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

The exhibition was opened today (July 24) by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Tsang Tak-sing; the Secretary General of the Liaison Office of The Central People's Government in the HKSAR, Mr Zhao Guangting; the Deputy Director General of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, Mr Zhang Bai; the Director of the Art Exhibitions China, Mr Luo Bojian; and the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Thomas Chow.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Mr Tsang said that most of the exquisite relics on display had never been seen in Hong Kong before. Some of them were the most important archaeological artefacts of their kind so far discovered and had a history of more than 5,000 years.

"Not only witnessing the glorious history of our motherland, these precious artefacts are also a testament to the development of Chinese archaeology. Through this exhibition, people will be able to acquire a deeper understanding of Chinese history and culture as well as the progression of Chinese civilisation," Mr Tsang said.

The exhibition is divided into four sections: The Origins of Chinese Civilisation, The Splendour of the Imperial Tomb Finds, The Delightful Charm of the Tang Dynasty and Underwater Treasures.

Excavated from the Neolithic site at Lingjiatan in Anhui province, the jadeware, including a jade dragon and a jade eagle, are displayed in The Origins of Chinese Civilisation section. They exemplified the progression of civilisation in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River some 5,500 years ago. The vessels on display, including a bronze ding tripod with animal mask design and a hand-shaped bronze object, excavated from the Anyang Yin Ruins in Henan province, in addition to the Western Zhou (Ca. 1046–771BC) bronze hoard such as a bronze "Lai" pan basin and a bronze "Shan Wu Fu" jar discovered in Mei county, Baoji city, Shaanxi province. They are solid proof of the highly civilised Shang (C.16th–11th c. BC) and Zhou (c.11th c.–256 BC) cultures. Among the relics excavated, bronzeware bearing inscriptions has made immense contribution to the "Xia-Shang-Zhou Chronology Project".

Meanwhile, archaeological finds, including a lacquered dou saucer with phoenix and lotus design and lacquered winged figure, at Chu Tomb in Tianxingguan, Hebei province, dating back to the Warring States period (475–221 BC), offered invaluable insights into the cultures and religions of the ancient state of Chu, as well as the impact of Central Plain civilisation onto the Yangtze River Region.

The government of the People's Republic of China has enacted a policy to protect historic mausoleums. Efforts have been mainly put into the burial pits of the emperor's mausoleum and the tombs of fief lords. In 1974, terracotta army excavated from the Mausoleum of Qinshihuang in Shaanxi province astonished the world. More new discoveries were found in recent years including terracotta civil officials, terracotta acrobats and bronze birds. The relics are all of significant value to the study of court life and mausoleum institution in the Qin (221–206 BC) and Han (206 BC–AD 220) dynasties. Highlight exhibits featured under The Splendour of the Imperial Tomb Finds section include a stone helmet, a terracotta figure of a baixi acrobat and a bronze crane.

Archaeological discoveries such as a gilt bronze "Zhaoji" bath basin and a pottery dancer at the tombs of Chu Princes of the Western Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 25), a jade burial suit sewn with silver threads of this period of time as well as a gold headdress and a yellow brocade robe with dragon design discovered from the tombs of a feudal lord in Jiangxi province dating to the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) shed new light on imperial life at the time, giving vivid illustration of the socio-economic development and the level of craftsmanship.

The Tang dynasty (618–907) marked the climax of cultural exchange between East and the West. The capital Chang'an (Xi'an today) was a metropolis with a significant Hu – a northern tribe – population. The Tang cultural relics, excavated from the southern suburbs of Xi'an, are displayed in The Delightful Charm of the Tang Dynasty section. The sarcophagus panels found in the tomb of Yang Hui at Jingbian county in Shaanxi province are apt illustrations of the resplendent, colourful style of Tang art.

The exhibition also features valuable Buddhist cultural relics. A gilt bronze Buddha on dragon stand and a jade Sudhana, excavated from the crypt of Leifeng Pagoda in Zhejiang province fill gaps in Chinese archaeology, yielding pictures of crypts at pagodas of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907–960). The discovery also provides crucial information for the study of crypts and the burial institution for Sarira – the remains of the Buddha – in the Tang and Song (960–1279) dynasties, the structural differences between crypts in southern and northern China, and the passing on of artistic styles and craftsmanship.

Underwater Treasures elaborates the investigation works of historical wreck sites along the coast and salvage cultural relics in detail. The salvage of "Nanhai No. 1", which sank in the Song dynasty (960–1279) in Guangdong province was one of many successful operations. The porcelain pieces recovered, such as a dish with leaf vein design in bluish white glaze, a ewer with handle and six flanges in bluish white glaze and a ewer with handle and animal mask design in bluish white glaze recovered from the wreck, are of high artistic value, and are immensely important to the study of the "Maritime Silk Road" of the Song dynasty.

During the salvage of "Wanjiao No. 1" in Fujian province, Jingdezhen porcelain from the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) was discovered. The exhibition showcases a wide variety of porcelain, which is all in a good state of preservation, thus providing a testimony to the prosperity of marine trade along China's southeastern coast in the Qing dynasty.

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. It is closed on Tuesdays except public holidays. Admission to the "Major Archaeological Discoveries of China in Recent Years" exhibition is $20 from Thursday to Monday, and $10 on Wednesdays. A half-price concession is available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, full-time students and people with disabilities.

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

Ends/Tuesday, July 24, 2007

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