Remains of a short reign

Updated: 2015-12-22 08:15

By Wang Kaihao(China Daily USA)

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Marquis Haihun was dethroned as monarch in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24). He was emperor for just 27 days. But the excavation of a well-preserved tomb that could contain his remains is offering some stunning insights into life in ancient China, Wang Kaihao discovers.

An ancient state in Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi province, has recently begun to reveal its full face.

After a five-year archaeological project involving China's top research institutions, experts are also learning more about Marquis Haihun, a dethroned monarch of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24).

 Remains of a short reign

Two archaeologists clean a bronze vessel unearthed from the excavation site of royal tombs of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24) in Nanchang, Jiangxi province. Guo Jing / For China Daily

 Remains of a short reign

Archaeologists clear the upper layer of the main coffin. Guo Jing / For China Daily

 Remains of a short reign

A jade seal with Liu's surname inscribed. Photos by Guo Jing / For China Daily and Wan Xiang / Xinhua

 Remains of a short reign

An unearthed bronze animal. Guo Jing / For China Daily

 Remains of a short reign

Hoof-shaped ingots are found at the tomb site. Guo Jing / For China Daily

 Remains of a short reign

Bronze lamps resembling wild geese with fish unearthed from the excavation site. Wan Xiang / Xinhua

 Remains of a short reign

A jade pendant unearthed from the tomb. Guo Jing / For China Daily

Mention of the emperor is found in Book of Han compiled in the first century AD, and more details have started to emerge as archaeologists investigate the main coffin found in a tomb.

Marquis Haihun was the title given to Liu He (92 BC-59 BC) after he was dethroned.

Liu's reign lasted for only 27 days, the shortest among Western Han monarchs, and he lost his throne because of his debauchery and licentious lifestyle.

Nevertheless, he was allowed to reside near Boyang Lake and the title of marquis remained with the family for three generations.

Though archaeologists are still not sure if the tomb they discovered belongs to Liu, and will release final conclusions at a news conference on Christmas Day, one discovery makes it likely that the tomb is his.

Archaeologists scouring the area found a jade seal with Liu's surname, according to Xin Lixiang, an expert who is leading the team studying the coffin and its contents.

The graveyard, where the tomb was found, covers 40,000 square meters.

Approximately 10,000 cultural relics, including gold, bronze, and jade artifacts were unearthed in the area. Of these, more than 6,000 were found in the coffin chamber.

More than 200 gold ingots (used as currency in those times) and copper coins, roughly weighing 10 tonnes, were dug out.

"The find reflects a trend of showing off wealth," says Wang Zijin, a history professor from Renmin University of China focusing on Han Dynasty.

"It could also be a reflection of a prosperous economy in the area at the time."

During the time of Marquis Haihun many people from the north of China migrated to areas along the Yangtze River and the economy of the south gradually began to boom.

Meanwhile, one thing that has got members of the public interested is the find of 10 ding - bronze caldrons symbolizing high social status.

The cauldrons indicate that the tomb belonged to a person who was of higher social status than a regular noble.

The bronze vessels also have two characters nan and chang inscribed on them.

The vessels are thus the oldest artifacts found with characters using the city's current name.

Nearly 3,000 pieces of well-preserved bamboo slips, which were used to keep records were discovered.

A portrait of Confucius was also found in the tomb - one of the earliest ones of the philosopher.

The discovery of such a large quantity of well-preserved artifacts will also probably give a new impetus to the handicraft industry.

Xu Changqing, director of Jiangxi Provincial Archaeological Research Institution, says: "The large amount of gilded ware, lacquer ware, bronze vessels decorated with gold and silver, and musical instruments shows us the superb craftsmanship and techniques in the Western Han Dynasty."

But Professor Wang adds that the articles also reflect the Han nobles' artistic tastes.

The discovery of the remains of the caterpillar fungus could also change people's understanding of medicine in those times.

And ancient China's food culture is also under the spotlight based on some of the cooking vessels that were found.

For example, some bronze artifacts resemble a hotpot and distillation equipment.

Wang also says: "The quality of the artifacts can also be a crucial criterion in judging the prosperity of a society."

The archaeological excavation of this site began following a tomb-robbery case in 2011.

One of the retrieved gold articles following that robbery indicated that the tomb under attack belonged to a top official, possibly an emperor.

As Wang says: "If local villagers had not reported the matter in time and archaeologists had not worked hard, the cultural relics would have been scattered and relevant academic research would have been hampered due to a lack of information."

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Shi Xiaofeng contributed to this story.

Remains of a short reign

(China Daily USA 12/22/2015 page8)