Tomb treasures tell afterlife tales
The ancient Chinese kings two millenniums ago had a human side too, and their yearnings for a joyful life and afterlife transcend time.
An original exhibition of tomb treasures recently unearthed in China’s Jiangsu province will be presented at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco on Feb 17, revealing how the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24) courts sought to glorify their stature in this life and the next one through rare artworks and artifacts.
The exhibition, titled Tomb Treasures: New Discoveries from China’s Han Dynasty, will showcase more than 100 artifacts excavated between 2009 and 2011 from an imperial tomb that survived more than 2,000 years underground in the coastal heartland of classical Chinese culture.
The royal burial goods, which have never be seen in the US, reveal the unbridled luxury, technical innovations and courtly romance of the Han elite, such as delicate jade body suits sewn with gold threads, exquisitely decorated coffins, ingenious “smokeless” lamps, silver and bronze banquet utensils and ritual bell sets that still ring.
The Han Dynasty, like the Roman Empire, forged one of the most powerful, advanced civilizations of the ancient world. The Han people took death like being born, hoping to bring their valuable objects to the next life.
At the tomb site in Dayunshan Mountain, Xuyi county, there were three main tombs and 13 accompanying tombs and nine burial pits, where a great number of exquisite items made of bronze, silver, gold, and jade were recovered.
“In addition to luxuries, royals surrounded themselves with domestic wares that surprise us with their intimate portrait of private life during the Han dynasty,” said Fan Zhang, curator for Chinese art at the Asian Art Museum.
“We have everything from a large silver basin for taking baths, to a working stone latrine with an arm rest, to a boldly designed ceramic urinal — we even have two hollow bronze phalluses,” Fan said.
Featuring the lifestyles and private pleasures of the Han nobility, Tomb Treasures will be organized into three thematic areas.
The exhibiting room — “Everlasting happiness without end” — will feature the luxurious life and palatial entertainment of the Han elites, where visitors can learn more about their daily life, meals and pastimes, and experience the music and dance of the court.
Entering the next room themed “Eternal life without limit”, visitors can explore ancient ideas about the afterlife and the worship of jade as well as search for immortality in a tomblike atmosphere.
In the third room themed “Enduring remembrance without fail”, the Han courts’ private life and intimacy will be revealed. Visitors can uncover the long-lost love affairs and explore secrets from the innermost chambers of men and women fascinated by pleasure.
“This exhibition underscores how connected we really are to the past, that we share the same passions across time and culture,” said Jay Xu, director of the Asian Art Museum and exhibition co-curator.
A sculpture recently unearthed from a Han Dynasty tomb in Jiangsu province will be on display at an exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.