China museums

Tracing the Tracks of History

Changsha Mawangdui Han Tomb Cultural Relics Exhibition Hall









Changsha Mawangdui Han Tomb Cultural Relics Exhibition Hall


Mawangdui Han Tomb in the Hunan Provincial Museum

The external appearance of the exhibition hall built to display and preserve relics excavated from Mawangdui Han Tomb in the Hunan Provincial Museum

This museum is located in Hunan Province and the tombs and objects that it exhibits date back 2,000 years. Exhibited here are some 3,000 objects from three separate tombs containing the senior Minister of the State of Chu, his wife, and son. The articles excavated from the tomb have been highly important in researching this very wealthy and sophisticated southern-Chinese culture.

The first room of the Museum exhibits lacquer ware, bamboo and wooden objects, agricultural implements, musical instruments, military implements, wooden figures, silk woven articles and clothes, in addition to three large coffins, together with their covering paintings, books, bamboo slips, and so on. Among the lacquers excavated from the #3 tomb are cups, saucers, boxes,kettle,tables, screens, and a variety of other objects, totaling some 500 pieces altogether. Among them, most were items of daily use for the lady Xin Zhui while she was alive. These objects had been buried for 2,000 years, and yet are as freshly colored and complete today as when they were new. The #1 tomb produced 48 bamboo cases in which all kinds of agricultural products, fruit, meat, Chinese herbal medicines and so on were packed. Wild game predominated among the varieties of meat. Both #1 and #3 tombs produced a large amount of silk material and these were analyzed by authorities and included such weave types as sha, luo, jiun, min, qi, and so on, all of which has great value for the research of ancient Chinese textiles. Ancient Chinese describe silk fabrics as 'thin as dragonfly wings, light as fog' and two pieces excavated from #1 tomb, one weighing 48 grams, the other 49 grams, live up to that description.

Western Han tombs in Mawangdui,Hunan Province. Brocade paitingsBrocade paitings
A piece of "riding clouds embroidery"unearthed from Western Han tombs in Mawangdui,Hunan Province.
Brocade paitings unearthed from #1 tomb in Mawangdui,Changsha.

The family that was entombed in this place was aristocratic. They listened to music in particular, for the musical instruments excavated from the tomb included lutes, bells, flutes, and bi. The bi is an ancient Chinese stringed instrument and the one excavated from #1 tomb had 25 strings. The instruments provide important historical material for researching ancient Chinese music.

The occupant of Tomb #3 was a military general. Many weapons were excavated from this tomb but there were also some twenty varieties of books, including altogether some 100,000 characters. Among the books were volumes one and two of 'Laozi,' and the Spring and Autumn Annals, and so on. The earliest volumes of most of these had long since been lost, so the recovery of these early texts has tremendous scholarly value. Among the written materials, a map is a particular treasure as it reflects the quite sophisticated early Chinese under?standing of geographic drawing.

The inner coffin of both Xin Zhui s and her son's coffins was covered with a T-shaped piece of painting, which in ancient times was called a mingsheng. On these pieces of fabric were extremely fine paintings. The conceptual layout of the painting on #1 tomb's fabric was a tripart division into heaven, the human realm, and under the earth. The colors of the painting are fresh, the strokes are fluid and this is considered a masterpiece among ancient art.

Black lacquer coffins.
Black lacquer coffins.

Before the Western Han period, China practiced a two-layered coffin system, by which there was an inner and outer coffin. Since Xin Zhui was married to very high rank, she used a four-layered kind of coffin. The inner coffins were painted. The second layer of the coffin was the most beautiful with black background painted with scenes of heaven including strange spirits and peculiar animals floating about.

In the second exhibition room one can see the 2,000-year-old female corpse excavated from #1 tomb. All kinds of measures were adopted during her burial, including burying the coffin very deeply and sealing it tightly so that the coffin lacked oxygen as fuel for bacteria. The corpse therefore still had hair, its joints were limber and the soft organs were still soft. At the end of 1972, medical research was carried out on the corpse. The blood-type of the lady was A-type; during her lifetime she suffered from both lung and heart disease.

corpse of the tomb owne tomb

The well preserved corpse of the tomb owner(Xin zhui)of #1 tomb.

A visit to this Mawangdui Exhibition Hall will allow the visitor to understand an aristocrat's life at the time of the western Han dynasty. Not only can one see the actual artifacts, but one can begin to understand the politics, economics, cultural and scientific technologies of the time. It is as though one were reading an encyclopedia on the Western Han period.

Address: Hunan Province, Changsha City, Dongfeng Road, #3

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