Artifacts bringing ancient China to life
Musical instruments, a hotpot, sex toys and a pedestal toilet ... burial objects from ancient Chinese kings' tombs express their yearning for a joyful life and afterlife.
An exhibition of tomb treasures recently unearthed in China's Jiangsu province will be presented at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco from Feb 17 to May 28, 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 artwork and artifacts.
The exhibition, titled Tomb Treasures: New Discoveries from China's Han Dynasty, will showcase more than 160 artifacts made of ceramic, lacquer, precious metal and priceless jade.
Most of the works on display have never travelled outside of their home museums in Central China. The exhibits come from the looted mausoleums of the Jiangdu Kingdom at Dayun Mountain, only excavated in 2011, and royal tombs of the Chu Kingdom in Xuzhou, first uncovered in 1995.
The Han Dynasty, like the Roman Empire, forged one of the most powerful, advanced civilizations of the ancient world. The Han people looked on death as being born again, and were intent on taking their treasured objects to the next life with them.
"This show is about life, expressions of love and the
pursuit of happiness, pleasure and longevity," said Jay Xu, director of the Asian Art Museum and co-curator of the exhibition. "It's not only the life we are living now, but also the afterlife. Chinese believed death was merely an initiation into the afterlife."
"These underground palaces were furnished to provide everything the deceased would have needed to continue their grand existences - visitors will not only appreciate the innovation of the artistry and craftsmanship on display, but the very human aspirations they represent," he said.
The exhibition highlights include jade burial suits, lacquer coffins, exquisite lamps, ritual bells that still ring, as well as latrines, urinals and two hollow bronze phalluses designed to be worn.
An extravagant jade burial suit was made up of hundreds of "fish scale" tiles and sewn with gold threads thought by the Han to guard against decay. Only a handful of these suits have ever been discovered.
The romantic silver belt hooks, excavated from the tomb of a female consort, were made of two interlocking pieces bearing the auspicious inscription "forget me not" and fit together in perfect harmony to literally become one for all eternity.
Ingenious bronze "smokeless" lamps represent not only the Han people's technical innovation but also the royals' nightly pastimes.
Also on display is a set of real ritual bells, which were vital to state ceremonies and ancestor worship rituals. A replica set of chimes will be played by members of the San Francisco Center for New Music every third Sunday.