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The Elegant Life of Han Dynasty Aristocracy - "Changsha Mawangdui Cultural Relics Exhibition"

By OGP Reporters / Members Contribute File Photos

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The Mawangdui Han Tomb is considered a great discovery in Chinese history because it is one of the largest, best-preserved, and most content-rich Han tombs ever discovered, known as the "Treasury of Han Art." The three tombs of Mawangdui have yielded over 3,000 precious cultural relics, with most of them being well-preserved.

The Han Dynasty was an important period in Chinese history, spanning from 206 BC to 220 AD. It was a time of unity and stability, as various feudal states were brought together under one rule. The Han Dynasty saw significant achievements in culture, technology, and art, such as Han poetry, music, and painting, and its economy and trade were prosperous. Handicraft production and commercial activities developed rapidly during this time. The government also pursued a policy of expansion, promoting trade and prosperity. Additionally, the opening of the Silk Road allowed Chinese silk products to be exported to Western countries, leaving a profound historical impact on culture in the following centuries.

Collectors and scholars of Han Dynasty history who are obsessed with ancient art will not miss the opportunity to visit the "Han Wuji - Changsha Mawangdui Cultural Relics Exhibition". Alternatively, you can also visit the Han tombs in Mawangdui, Changsha City, Hunan Province to view the remarkable treasures of the Han Dynasty.

The Han Dynasty Mausoleum in Changsha's Mawangdui is an ancient tomb site located in the southwest of Changsha City, Hunan Province, China. This tomb complex was built in the early Western Han Dynasty, and the most famous tomb within it is the Mawangdui Tomb No.1, which belonged to an unknown individual but is believed to have been a member of the family of Empress Bo, the consort of Emperor Wen of Han.

The Mawangdui Han Tomb is considered a great discovery in Chinese history because it is one of the largest, best-preserved, and most content-rich Han tombs ever discovered, known as the "Treasury of Han Art." The three tombs of Mawangdui have yielded over 3,000 precious cultural relics, with most of them being well-preserved. Among them, over 700 brightly colored lacquerware items represent the pinnacle of ancient Chinese lacquerware craftsmanship; silk clothing and embroidered treasures akin to those described in Western literature corroborate records of a "Silk Country"; dozens of books on silk, silk paintings, and bamboo slips are referred to as the "Underground Library of 2,200 Years Ago"; and the 2,000-year-old "Lady of Dai" corpse, which is still moist and supple, is an amazing example of corpse preservation and has become a representative specimen of the wet mummification process, earning the name "Mawangdui Corpse." The unearthed cultural relics from the Mawangdui Tomb reflect the high achievements of ancient Chinese civilization, showcasing the economic, astronomical, geographical, historical, philosophical, artistic, medical, and other accomplishments of the Han Dynasty. It is a historical witness of ancient Chinese civilization and a treasure trove of world civilization. Its excellent preservation, diverse artifacts, exquisite craftsmanship, and rich cultural heritage are unprecedented, presenting us with a magnificent social panorama of the Western Han Dynasty and leading us to experience the splendid history of Han civilization.

1. The Non-Decaying Body of Lady Xin Zhui, the Tomb Owner

The outermost layer of the four-layered coffin in Tomb 1 is a solemn black lacquer plain coffin without any decoration; the second layer is a black ground painted coffin, with complex and varied cloud patterns painted in golden yellow on the black background, interspersed with 111 monsters or immortals, with imaginative patterns and bold lines; the third layer is a vermilion ground painted coffin, with many auspicious patterns depicted in various colors such as green, brown, and yellow on the red background, with a total of six dragons, three tigers, three deer, one phoenix, and one immortal. Compared with the outside coffin, this coffin is magnificent; the innermost coffin is covered with black lacquer, decorated with silk and embroidery on the outside.

A well-preserved female corpse, the body of the tomb owner Lady Xin Zhui, was unearthed from Tomb 1. Over 2,100 years old, her body is intact, with moist skin, some joints still movable, clear visible blood vessels, and elastic soft connective tissue, similar to fresh corpses. It is neither a mummy nor a waxed or peat-bog corpse, but a special type of body that does not decay, a miracle in the field of anti-corrosion studies, and an unprecedented non-decaying wet corpse in the world's archaeological history. Subsequently, such ancient corpses were named "Mawangdui Corpse".

2. Double-layer Nine-Son Lacquer Chest

The Nine-Son Lacquer Chest is an ancient storage container typically used to hold books, cultural relics, and treasures. This double-layer chest is 1.08 meters long, 0.44 meters wide, and 0.63 meters high. It consists of two interlocking lacquer boxes, each with nine small compartments, totaling 18. Each compartment contains a lacquer box, which according to research, holds a series of exquisite cultural relics and handicrafts, including lacquerware, jade, gold, silver, and bronze items. The nine sons refer to the nine legendary sons of the Yellow Emperor in ancient Chinese mythology: Changyi, Shengcai, Qiumou, Haowen, Zhuren, Xiude, Anmin, Liqi, and Mingmu. They symbolize nine different qualities and merits, and thus have broad applications in ancient art, literature, and etiquette.

3. The T-shaped Silk Painting from the No. 1 Han Tomb

The T-shaped Silk Painting was found covering the lid of the brocade-decorated inner coffin in the Han tomb. It was used as a "flag" that led the way for the funeral procession and expressed the desire of the tomb owner to ascend to heaven. It is the earliest single painting from the Han Dynasty discovered to date. The ground is made of a single layer of fine silk, which appears brown in color. The painting is T-shaped, with a wide top and narrow bottom, measuring 2.05 meters in length, 92 centimeters in width at the top, and 47.7 centimeters in width at the end. The content of the painting can be divided into three parts, representing heaven, the human world, and the underworld. The top depicts the heavenly landscape of mythical legends. The middle depicts the life of the tomb owner during his lifetime. The bottom portrays the underworld landscape of mythical legends. The entire painting is harmonious with nature, rich in color, magnificent and elegant.

4. Silk Texts of the Han Dynasty

The most famous artifact found in the Han tomb at Ma Wang Tui in Changsha is the "Silk Texts of the Han Dynasty" or the "Ma Wang Tui Silk Texts", a collection of 28 silk texts totaling over 9200 fragments. It is considered to be one of the most complete ancient silk texts in the world and an important material for studying the social, cultural, historical, and literary aspects of the Han dynasty. The entire collection is made of silk and covers various fields including history, philosophy, literature, and medicine. The silk texts are divided into six categories: "The Six Arts" (Yi, Music, Archery, Charioteering, Calligraphy, and Mathematics), "The Masters" (Confucian, Taoist, and Legalist works), Military Classics, Mathematics, Medicine, and Maps. These texts cover a wide range of topics, including politics, military affairs, economics, and law, providing valuable insights into the Han dynasty's political, military, economic, and legal systems. Due to the completeness and richness of their content, the Ma Wang Tui Silk Texts are an important treasure for Chinese literature and historical research.

5. Painted Wooden Figurines - Musician Figurines Playing Wind and String Instruments

Painted wooden figurines are a type of colored wooden figurines found in the tombs of the Han Dynasty in ancient China. These wooden figurines were commonly used to decorate the tombs of Han Dynasty nobles as burial objects. Musician figurines playing wind and string instruments are a type of painted wooden figurine that depict the art of music. They are typically three-dimensional and lifelike depictions of musicians, each holding their respective instruments such as the flute, pipa, zither, and drum. In the Han Dynasty, these instruments were considered symbols of elegance, culture, and high society, making the painted wooden figurines one of the most precious artifacts found in noble tombs.

In addition, the gold and silver ware in the tombs also reflect the living standards and cultural and artistic levels of the aristocratic class at that time, and are also outstanding representatives of the metalworking level in the Han Dynasty. The Daihou family was a big clan in the Han Dynasty, and their burial objects were also magnificent. From them, you can feel the people's exploration and understanding of the universe, nature, and life at that time.


- Minhang District Museum: Exhibition period is from March 3rd to May 3rd, open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 to 16:30 (last entry at 16:00).

- Changsha Mawangdui Han Tomb: Open all year round, from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9:00 to 17:00 (last entry at 16:30); closed all day on Mondays (except for national holidays) and on Lunar New Year's Eve.

- Admission is free.


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