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Shaanxi History Museum

                   Shaanxi History Museum

A huge treasure house and a big Xian China attractions

 

Shaanxi History Museum was open to the public on June 20th, 1991, the first large modern museum ever built in China. It is considered to be one of the two best museums in our country. The museum is pretty appealing to visitors from the outside for its massive complex was built in the unique architectural style of the Tang dynasty, simple and elegant very much like the Tang Royal Palace some 1.300 years ago. What makes the museum even more attractive is its rich collection of the ancient artifacts. Housed in the museum are over 375,000 cultural relics found in the last five decades in Shaanxi province which is well known as China's “Huge Hidden Treasure House”. Among them, 18 pieces/groups of artifacts are classified as the national treasures and another 762 pieces/groups of artifacts as the national first-class cultural relics. The artifacts of the museum are characterized by the beautiful bronze vessels, pottery figurines in various styles from different dynasties and a unique collection of gold and silver ware of the Tang dynasty. The Shaanxi History Museum is especially renowned for its collection of the Tang murals which can be visited only on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday afternoons by special requests. The museum occupies an area of 70,000 square meters with a construction space of 55,663 square meters. Open from Tuesday to Sunday are three exhibition halls where over three thousand artifacts are on display. All the exhibits are arranged  chronologically so as to give visitors a general idea of the social developments of China over thousands of years. This is in China the only museum showing the Chinese history from the pre-age time all way down to the last dynasty of Qing.

 

The First Exhibition Hall

The first exhibition hall displays Chinese history from the pre-age time of 1.15 million years ago to the Qin dynasty of 206 BC. The first thing you are going to see is the map of Shaanxi Province. Geographically, the whole province can be divided into three parts: the northern Loess Plateau, the middle Guanzhong Plain and the southern Qin-Ba Mountains. Xi'an, the capital city of Shaanxi province, is located in the middle part. It enjoys quite a geographical advantage: being well protected by two natural defenses such as the Yellow River to east and the Qinling mountains to the south. These two natural defenses made it quite difficult for anyone to threaten the emperors either from the east or the south. Particularly the mountains form along the eastern border some precipitous defiles, easy for defense and difficult for offence. That is why there was then a famous military saying: “A defile well guarded by one person can hardly be invaded by ten thousand people.” At that time, nobody was strong enough to challenge the emperors either from the west or the north. Being a safe place for the emperors to live was one of the reasons why Xian was picked up as the national capital from the 11th century BC down to the 10th century AD, for almost two thousand years.

 

It was in the early 1960s that we found 38 miles southeast of Xi'an the remains of the pre-age Lantian Man which is believed to live here about 1.15 million years ago. The Lantian Man is even earlier than the well-known Peking man of 700,000 years old. Shown in the first glass case are the fossils of Lantian Man and the stone tools found on the site. Over the years, the homo erectus of Lantian Man gradually evolved into home sapiens known as Dali Man which existed here some where around 200,000 years ago. The remains of Dali Man have been found in today’s Dali county 65 miles northeast of Xi’an and a small part of them is on display in the museum.

 

Next is a large model which shows us one primitive settlement of the Neolithic age between 6, 000 to 10,000 years ago. Up to now, more than a dozen such primitive settlements have been found around Xi’an since 1953 and therefore, Xi’an is known as the centre of China’s Neolithic culture. We can see from the model that the settlement was built close to the river, typical for most of the settlements of that age, for the convenience of fishing as well as water-fetching. The dwelling houses are of two types: semi-underground square houses and round-shaped houses which look exactly like the African dobby. The whole settlement was surrounded by a big defensive moat for the protection of the villagers against wild animals and any potential enemies. It is from the graves excavated at the cemetery that we learnt something about the burial system in which men were buried with men and women with women, especially women were buried with more funeral objects than men. This means at that time, women were considered not only independent from, but also more important than men were. That’s why Chinese anthropologists believe strongly that such a primitive settlement belongs to the matriarchal society. A large number of potteries have been found from these primitive settlements and a small portion of it is on display. Amazingly, those pottery made here 6,000 years ago look pretty identical to the ones made by the native American Indians, thus providing quite a convincing proof to the theory that those native American Indians actually migrated from Asia to North America and then all way down to South America. That is why you can find a very strong similarity between these two cultures. Other archaeological discoveries, such as the millet seeds and the animal pen, tell us that 6,000 years ago, our ancestors had already started agriculture and domesticating animals, so that they could stay in one place for a long time and didn’t have to travel often for food like the nomads.

 

The archaeological findings from the above have proven that Xi'an is one of the main birth places of the Chinese civilization. The middle part of Shaanxi province called the Guanzhong Plain is considered to be China’s first “Bread Basket” due to the ideal climate of being warmer and having a lot more rain than it is today. Therefore, this is where our ancestors started first and this is where they created the brilliant Chinese civilization.

 

Exhibited in this section is a small collection of the jade carvings of three or four thousand years old. The jade was carved into different shapes and was used for worship, for decoration and for funeral purposes. This means Chinese people started treasuring jade a long time ago and still do today. That’s why jade has become a very important part of the Chinese culture.

 

Here we come to the Western Zhou dynasty which was the first one to make Xi'an the national capital from the 11th century BC to 770 BC. The Western Zhou was the last of the three slave owning dynasties in the history of China. The Zhou people were originated in the west of Shaanxi province. With the fertile soil and suitable climate, the Zhou people started agriculture a long time ago and had become pretty advanced in farming when their dynasty was established. Therefore, during the Western Zhou dynasty, agriculture had already replaced the animal husbandry as the main source of food. The farming tools were first made of wood and bone and later, of bronze. The Western Zhou dynasty witnessed the golden age for bronze vessels of which a large number has been found in Shaanxi province. This museum boasts to have a wonderful collection of the bronze vessels on display. The bronze vessels can be classified into three categories: ritual, cooking and drinking.

 

 

The characteristic of the bronze vessels is that the outside was cast with the same pattern of Tao Tie, a ferocious Chinese legendary animal with its two round protruding eyes and the inside was inscribed with Chinese characters which can be deciphered by today’s linguistics. This is why the bronze vessels are extremely valuable today because of the age as well as the fact that they provide precise written information for the study of the Zhou and the dynasties before.

 

Here is huge tri-pot used as a cooking vessel. The writings inscribed on the inside may tell us a very interesting story. Such a bronze tri-pot was also used as the symbol of power and authority. This is a pottery water pipe used for the sewage. One side was made smaller than the other side so that it could be easily joined with another water pipe. It tells us at that time people built an underground sewer system for the capital city of the Western Zhou dynasty in today’s southwest of Xi’an.

 

Here is another small piece of bronze cooking vessel made with four legs. It is quite unique since most of the objects, big and small, were all cast with three legs instead of four and the reason was that it was not easy for the craftsmen to well proportion four legs at that time. So the making of this four-leg bronze cooking vessel marks a great progress in the metallic industry.

 

This is a group of drinking vessels used either as wine containers or drinking cups. The drinking cup, standing on three legs, is a beautiful piece of that time given the kind of technology they had. What you are looking here is a reproduction of a burial site found southwest of Xi’an. The burial site tells us about the funeral system of the Western Zhou in which the slaves and horses were buried alive for the Kings and the nobles, who believed strongly that the slaves would be their servants in the afterlife. We have found on the skeletons of slaves the shackles and handcuffs. From the bone position of the mouth, you could tell that the slaves were still yelling for help when they were thrown into the pit and buried. Such a brutal practice lasted for almost 1,200 years from 16th century BC to 221BC and fully reveals the brutality of the slave owners.

 

Music has been always a very important part of our life and in the Western Zhou dynasty, our ancestors used all their intelligence to make with limited materials music instruments as good as they could. Stone and bronze were both used for making the music instruments and exhibited here is a set of bronze chime bells. They were cast into different sizes with different thickness so that they sound differently when beaten by a bronze hammer. We have learnt by studying carefully these chime bells that three thousand years ago, our ancestors had already had the knowledge of five full notes and a half note. It means even today we can play these chime bells for the modern music.

 

Before the introduction of the metal coins, the sea shells were used in the early Western Zhou dynasty as currency.

 

Here is a model showing us the typical structure of the royal tombs built in the Zhou dynasty in which the custom was that as soon as someone succeeded to the throne, the construction of the tomb started right away regardless of the age and continued until the last day of the emperor came. As a result, all the royal tombs had been built differently in terms of the size and the number of treasures. In the ancient times, the Chinese emperors believed strongly in the afterlife described very much like this one. Therefore, the emperors gave great attention to the construction of their tombs and tried to bring everything they had for this life into the afterlife. That’s why we believe that many emperors’ tombs had been built to be a miniature of the capital city or even the empire they ruled through their life. Naturally we can come to the conclusion that today’s archaeological findings in this history museum can give us a vision of what mattered to the emperors and their culture hundreds of thousands of years ago.

 

In the early Western Zhou dynasty, the craftsmen still followed the style of the previous Shang dynasty in making the bronze vessels, which were usually made heavy, thick and with complicated designs. It was a few decades later that the Western Zhou craftsmen gradually formed their own style and started making the bronze vessels light, skillful and with simple designs. More and more new style vessels were made to replace the old style ones. Exhibited here is a beautiful piece of bronze vessel made as a wine container. Shaped in an ox with a baby ox standing on the lid, the wine was poured in from the top and came out of its mouth. Its tail and one of the forelegs were used as handles. We’ve learnt from so many drinking vessels that our ancestors of the Western Zhou dynasty were party people and they drank a lot of rice wine. Of course, those “party people” were mainly the kings, princes, dukes and the rich slave owner. The common people, especially the slaves, though they created all the social wealth, didn’t have any part of that for their life and were even absolutely forbidden from using the bronze vessels.

 

By 770 BC, the Western Zhou dynasty was ended by a rebellion because of its brutality and corruption. This is actually the cycle which went over and over through the history of China: all the dynasties were established by force and eventually, whether lasting for a few decades or a few hundred years, were overthrown by force, not even a single peaceful transformation of power ever occurred. After over five hundred years of political turmoil and warfare, China was reunified again by the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty, the first feudal dynasty established in the Chinese history. The Qin dynasty lasted for only 17 years from 221 BC to 206 BC, a short-lived, but very influential dynasty in the history of China for most of its political and social systems and institutions were followed by the later dynasties. In another word, we can say that China’s political and social structures remained almost the same from the Qin of 221 BC to the Qing of 1911. Its influence went to such an extent that beginning from the Qin dynasty, the rulers of all the dynasties started calling themselves the “Emperor”, created by Shi Huang Di who believed that only such a title was worth of all his great achievements.

 

In order to consolidate his control of the country, Shi Huang Di completed the construction of the Great Wall and unified Chinese currency, weights and measurements and the written language. He even built a nation-wide highway system of the same height and width. By doing all these things, Shi Huang Di is believed to lay a firm foundation for China to develop for two thousand years. Yet, on the other hand, he is also considered to be one of the worst tyrants in the history. One was that, because of his dislike of Confucianism, he ordered his soldiers to search nation-wide for all the Confucian books to be burned and captured 460 Confucian scholars who were all buried alive. The other was he treated his subjects ruthlessly by carrying out many huge projects and levying heavy taxes. For example, he employed one million people for the construction of the Great Wall and three-quarters of a million people for the construction of his tomb. That was about one-tenth of the population of China during the Qin dynasty. Meanwhile he hired many other people to build grand palaces so that he could enjoy as much of this life as he could. All the people were forced into this kind of slave labor and were barely fed enough to survive. As a result, the common people of the Qin dynasty had great hatred towards the ruling class and started to revolt against the Qin dynasty as soon as Shi Huang Di died in the July of 210 BC. Four years later in 206 BC, the Qin Empire collapsed.

 

Regardless of its short life, the Qin dynasty was surely one of the most sophisticated dynasties in the Chinese history. This bronze piece with sharp ends was used to connect the wooden components for the buildings. Bronze making technology was highly developed in the Qin dynasty. Here is a small collection of the Qin bronze weapons found on the site of the life sized terra-cotta army. Though they had been buried for over two thousand years, many of the bronze weapons were found with the metallic luster, sharp and lethal, thanks to the fact that they were coated with a very thin layer of chrome, quite an advanced technology invented by the Chinese in the Qin dynasty some two thousand years ago. This map demonstrates the highway network built in the Qin. Started from Xi'an, the national capital, the highway went to the north where the Great Wall was, to the east coast, to the Yangtze River in the south and to the west of today’s Lanzhou, a huge project of that time providing great convenience for travel and transportation. Here are the Qin weights and measurements with the imperial edict to tell people that they were the standard to be used for the unification of the systems. Before the Qin unified China, all the seven major states issued their own currencies, different from each other in terms of weights and styles as shown in this glass case. Shi Huang Di decided to abandon the other six kinds of money and used its own currency as the standard one, a round coin with a square hole in the middle which had been in circulation in China till the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911 as well as in some of the neighboring countries like Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Burma. Another thing Shi Huang Di standardized was the written language which has enabled the whole nation to communicate in the written form, if not orally since we speak hundreds of different local dialects. Pottery making reached its highlight during the Qin dynasty and the typical example is the life sized terra-cotta army. Exhibited in the museum are twelve terra-cotta warriors and horses and a reproduction of the wooden chariot. You still can see some of the original colors well preserved on this kneeling archer. In addition to the pottery figurines, some life sized bronze water fowls were made and found at a burial site which was built to be the imperial garden for his afterlife.

 

The Second Exhibition Hall

The Second Exhibition Hall is focused on the Western Han dynasty. The Western Han dynasty came into being after a short period of warfare. Learning a great lesson from the downfall of the Qin, the Han emperors became pretty kind and humane in the way of ruling the country, especially the Third Emperor Wen Di and Fourth Emperor Jing Di, who were considered to be the best rulers of the Western Han dynasty. They governed the country by following a very famous principle of Daoism: “Wu wei er zhi”, meaning “Do not do anything in order to govern”. Their administrations are referred by the Chinese historians as the famous “Administration of Wen and Jing”. The first few emperors of the Western Han didn't carry out many huge construction projects and didn’t levy heavy taxes from the common people as in the previous Qin dynasty. Therefore, they laid a solid foundation for the Western Han to flourish for 200 years.

 

Nothing of the capital city, called Chang’an at that time, has been left in today’s Xi'an, yet, the construction material such as the Han tiles and bricks exhibited in the museum and particularly the archaeological findings of the royal palaces all indicate that Chang'an was built with many grand palaces, handicraft workshops, markets for both domestic and international trade and a huge royal garden called “Shang Lin Yuan”. It is believed the population of the capital city had already reached to about 250,000.

 

Agriculture was given great attention by the ruling class for they realized whenever there was a famine, there was likely to be a revolution. Many canals were constructed for irrigation in the Guanzhong Plain and iron farming tools were used to improve the efficiency. Row-planting had been invented in the Western Han dynasty as shown by this picture. It was like something revolutionary in agriculture at that time because this method could allow the farmers to rotate the land for different crops in different years to achieve a greater productivity and was convenient as well for irrigation at the time of drought.

 

Pottery making remained popular in the Western Han dynasty though they abandoned the custom of making life sized figurines because it was so costly. Beginning from the Han dynasty, all the potteries, human figures, animals and other daily necessities, were made miniature and the typical example is the hundreds of thousands of pottery figures and animals found at Yang Ling Mausoleum of Emperor Jing Di. The pottery figures, averaging two feet in height, were dressed originally in beautiful silk clothes and had wooden arms. That’s why they were all found nude and armless in 1988. These small pottery figures were found from eighty-one trenches and  twenty-four pits built around and near the burial mound of the emperor’s tomb and each one of them was made to represent a specific government bureau.

 

Here is a set of six porcelain jars. It continues to be a controversy among historians and archeologists as when the line was crossed from proto-porcelain to proper –porcelain. Some people argue that porcelain production started in the Han dynasty because of such a discovery while some other people disagree, believing it only started in the Tang dynasty around 618AD.

 

The Western Han dynasty witnessed the mass production of iron and its technology had become quite mature. Therefore, bronze making became relatively less important as it was before. However, many daily objects like drinking vessels, water containers and cooking vessels were still made of bronze and the most famous ones were the bronze mirrors. They were made with beautiful designs on the back and well polished on the front side from which people could get clear reflections. The bronze mirrors were used in China for quite a long time before the invention of the mercury ones. It shows us the kind of polishing technology developed at that time. This is an amazing piece of art work, an incense burner. The top part was made of bronze and it was supported by a silver pole in the shape of a bamboo. The bronze lid was made like the mountains with tiny holes in between. Therefore, when the incense was burnt, the smoke came out of those holes, very much like a natural scene: mist around the mountains.

 

Jade continued to be treasured in the Han. You can see in the museum a small collection of the jade animals and the jade “bi”, a round flat piece of jade with a hole in its centre used for ceremonial purposes in ancient China.

 

This large model shows us the famous “Silk Road” which started around 100BC from Xi'an, the very starting point in the east and went as far as to the Caspian Sea in today’s Iran for 4,000 miles. It was first started by a Han official named Zhang Qian (see the statue of Zhang Qian) who went west to look for allies for the Western Han to defeat the enemy. Later on, merchants traveled along the route to trade. The Chinese-made silk was shipped to the central Asia and the foreign products like cotton, walnuts, grapes, pomegranates, etc, were taken back to China. The Silk Road played a very important role linking China with central Asia. The journey along the Silk Road was long, difficult and sometimes dangerous since the travelers had to cross the deserts, the mountains or got robbed and even killed by the bandits.

 

The Western Han saw the invention of paper making, one of the four great inventions by the Chinese people. The picture shows the process of paper making in the Western Han dynasty and a few samples of the Han paper are displayed in the glass case. Not like today’s paper which is made of wood pulp, the Han paper was made of plant fibers. The plants were first burnt and steamed, then they were put into a water pond and the workmen would dive a screen into the water pond to get a deposit on the screen. After that, the screen was taken out to peel off the deposit and a piece of paper was made.

 

Here is a bronze oil lamp shaped into a goose with a fish in its mouth. The oil lamp is quite unique not only because of its shape, but mainly because of its function. The body and the neck of the goose were all made hollow. When the oil lamp was lit, the smoke would be exhausted into the hollow body so that the oil lamp was smokeless. In the middle part of the neck, there was a joint which allows the top part to be taken away to let the smoke out and then to joint together with the body for the next use.

 

Like other dynasties, the ruling class of the Han dynasty eventually lost its energy and they became so greedy and corrupted. The common people were left with no option but to start another revolution to overthrow it. After having lasted a little bit more than four hundred years, the Han dynasty, the Western Han (202BC—24AD) and the Eastern Han(26AD—202AD) collapsed. From 220AD onward to 581AD, it was a period of great political turmoil and warfare. During such a long time of 360 years, China was constantly ravaged by the civil war among the local warlords. Separatist warlord regimes were established one after another, yet, many of them lasted for only thirty or forty years and just a few managed to survive for a bit more than half a century. For the civil wars were mostly engaged in the north where China's political and economic centers were, many common people had to flee away from the north down to the south. They brought with them the advanced farming know-how to develop the south which, with better climate, gradually replaced the north as the main food supplier in the following several hundred years. As many people moved down to the south, there were also minority people who migrated from further west and north into the central part of China and mixed with the local Han people. Nobody today can tell you where their ancestors were from originally since they have been totally assimilated by the Han. However, based on some of the family names used today, people could get some information about which minority nationality they belong to. China was then a big “melting pot”.

 

Religions became popular during this time. Buddhism was introduced to the Chinese as early as in 24AD, the end of Western Han dynasty and Daoism, a native Chinese religion, was founded around 100AD during the Eastern Han dynasty. Both of them have exercised great influences over Chinese people in many aspects for the last two thousand years. This is a map showing us the traveling routes between China and India. This is a big bronze statue of Buddha of 400AD.

 

The Third Exhibition Hall

By 581AD, the Sui emperor put an end to the division of the country and unified China again. However, because of its brutality, the Sui dynasty lived for only 37 years. One thing done in the Sui dynasty was the construction of the Grand Canal. Though built originally for the emperor’s leisure and control of the country, it nevertheless played a very important role linking north and south of China and used as a major water way for the transportation of food from the south up to the north.

 

The Sui dynasty was replaced by the Tang dynasty which lasted for 289 years from 618AD to 907AD. The Tang dynasty is considered to be the most glorious and prosperous dynast in the history of China. Everything such as literature, art craftsmanship, trade, etc, was developed to the top level, they were not surpassed by, not even equal to by the later dynasties. It was the golden age because of its prosperity as well as its openness to the outside. The Silk Road was reopened for foreign trade and cultural exchanges and the traffic along the Silk Road was much busier than it was during the Western Han dynasty. A large number of foreign traders, the Arabians and the Persians came to China for trade. The ruling class and the common people welcomed the foreign traders and foreign cultures into China from the central Asia. They purchased foreign products, listened to foreign music, drank foreign fruit wine, dressed foreign clothes and some foreigners were even made the imperial officials. Being the national capital, Chang'an (today’s Xi'an) was China's first city opened up to the world in the history.

 

Please take a look at this map. It shows how the city looked like at that time. The city proper was divided into 108 blocks by pretty wide and straight streets, the layout of the city was like a chess board. A city wall was built to protect the city and the length of the wall was close to 60 miles. That should give you an idea how big the city was. The population of the city was estimated to be over a million people. Based on these facts, we can say it was probably the largest city in the world 1,300 years ago. Grand palaces, such as the Daming Palace, the Xingqing Palace and many others were built in the city, as a result, many foreigners called Chang’an a Palace City. Unfortunately, the whole city was flattened by a half-century long civil war at the end of the Tang dynasty in 907 AD, you find in today’s Xi’an none of those royal palaces or anything other than the two pagodas: the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the Small Wild Goose Pagoda. Today, it is only from the Tang murals and some construction materials that we can learn about the architectural style of the Tang dynasty. (See the picture on the wall)

 

Exhibited here are the farming tools, the plough with a sharp share invented in the Tang was much more efficient than any of such farming tools before. As shown in the two pictures on the wall, it could be pulled either by two oxen or one ox instead of a whole line of people or animals. In this way, a lot of labor was freed of farming. When such a plough was introduced a few hundred years later to Europe, it contributed a great deal to the industrial revolution. Fixed to the shaft was a wooden box which held the seeds, therefore, both ploughing and planting could be done at the same time by one person and the seeds were planted in great order instead of being spread out in the fields. Thanks to the advanced technologies and farming tools, agriculture was so well developed to ensure the long-lasting prosperity of the dynasty.

 

The Tang dynasty saw the height of silk production. The map on the wall tells us where silk was produced at that time. In the early Tang dynasty, silk was mainly produced in the north in today's Hebei and Henan provinces while in the late Tang, the south replaced the north as the largest silk producer. Silk was produced by the official workshops as well as private producers who could even pay tax to the government with silk instead of money. The gorgeous patterns and colors of the silk found from the Tang tombs, especially the silk found in 1987 at Fa Men Temple, demonstrates the highly developed technologies in weaving and dying.

 

In this museum, visitors can see one of a few best collections of the gold and silver ware of the Tang dynasty. Up to now, 600 pieces of such gold and silver ware have been found in the whole nation and about two thirds are from Shaanxi province. The first 270 pieces were found at He Jia village, south of Xi’an in 1970 and the second 171 pieces were found in 1987 at Fa Men Temple to the west of Xi’an. What you see in the museum is part of the first discovery. This is a gold drinking cup with flower patterns filigreed on the outside. This is a pure gold basin, This is a silver cup with a frog at the centre. Once filled with water, it looks like the frog swimming in the cup. Here is a group of six tiny gold dragons in the running position. It was the first time ever to find this kind of running dragons in China. This is a silver kettle with a handle. It was decorated with flowers and parrots. All the gold and silver ware exhibited in the museum reveal the highly developed craftsmanship as well as the luxurious life of the Tang dynasty.

 

The pottery and porcelain making also came to the glorious time during the Tang dynasty, particularly famous for the tri-color glazed potteries and high quality porcelains. To make the tri-color glazed potteries, such as human figures, horses, camels and daily utensils, required quite a sophisticated technology which was only invented and used in the Tang dynasty. The Tang craftsmen could successfully put three kinds of glazes together on the pottery and fired it in the kiln. The glazes mixed up naturally and give a graceful appearance to the pottery. It marked a new development in the pottery making technology since the ancient times. The mass production of porcelain began in the Tang dynasty. Archeological discoveries have indicated that porcelain was produced both in the north and in the south during the Tang dynasty when porcelain making had been separated from pottery making and become an independent industry. Porcelains, like gold, silver and lacquer ware, had become an indispensable part of the household necessities. The north was well-known for the production of white porcelain as exhibited here and the south famous for the greenish porcelains, or celadon which looks glittering, translucent and moist. In 1987 at Fa Men Temple, 16 pieces of such porcelains were found and they are absolutely beautiful and gorgeous. The pottery girls of the Tang dynasty were always made plump: round face, double chins and a beer belly. They were made pretty true to life for the fashion of the Tang was: Being plump is to be beautiful. This fashion has been reflected not only by the pottery figures, but also by the murals. The girls of the Tang dynasty wore unique hair styles which required a lot of hair. Therefore, they often used the wig to make a high coiffure. Women of the Tang dynasty were lucky for they were treated much better than they were in any other dynasties. They had the freedom to do many things men did at that time such as horse–riding, hunting and playing polo games and they were not yet forced to bind their feet, a horrible custom for the Chinese girls after the Tang. This is one aspect to show us how open the Tang society was.

 

Here is a group of tomb guardians. They were often made ferocious and placed at the entrance of the tombs to scare away the evil spirits and tomb robbers. Their bodies were glazed, but not their faces since they would look too artificial otherwise. The faces were painted so that they would look a lot more scaring. Nevertheless, these tomb guardians did not work for the tombs they were supposed to guard had already been plundered. Here is another group of potteries: twelve animals beginning with the rat and followed by ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and boar, forming a forever cycle. It tells you something about the Chinese zodiac: twelve animals representing the twelve Earthly Branches are used to symbolize the year in which a person is born.

 

The bronze mirrors of the Tang dynasty had greatly surpassed those of the previous dynasties in terms of the number, variety and the craftsmanship. From the designs on the back side, such as grapes, we could see that the making of these bronze mirrors had been influenced by the foreign cultures of central Asia.

 

This is a gorgeous Tang handicraft. It was carved out of a piece of agate in the shape of the ox head. The horns in particular were so beautifully done that you can hardly believe this art work was made in the Tang dynasty some 1,300 years ago. It was used as a drinking cup. Here are a few pieces of glass ware. Chinese historians and archeologists believe that the glass production started in China during the Tang dynasty, yet, some foreign scholars disagree, saying that the glass ware found in China was in fact imported from central Asia. More such archeological findings are needed to prove which school of thoughts is correct.

 

In this section, the artifacts and the large model on display try to tell us  stories about the Silk Road of the Tang dynasty during which the Silk Road went much farther to the west and ended at Istanbul of Turkey. It was then some merchants shipped Chinese silk across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy and that is how the Italians learnt that in the far east, there was a piece of land famous for the silk. A few hundred years later in the thirteenth century AD, Marco Polo traveled along the Silk Road to come all the way to China. Many camels, both African dromedaries and Chinese Bactrian were used to travel along the Silk Road. Some of the pottery figures don't look Chinese; they actually represent the foreigners who came to China 1,300 years ago. Beginning from the Tang dynasty, Chinese porcelains were another important item to be shipped to the west. The Silk Road did play quite an important role promoting the economic and cultural exchanges between China and foreign countries.

 

Finally, we come to the last four major dynasties in the Chinese history: the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing. Beginning from the Song dynasty in 960 AD, Xi’an was no longer used as the national capital, only an important local strategic post in the west. Though the city was rebuilt again, it was never built to be what it was alike during the Tang dynasty. Since none of the emperors of the last four dynasties ever lived or buried here, we don’t have many artifacts exhibited in this museum. What visitors can see is just a small collection of the archeological discoveries: some potteries and mostly the porcelains from the last four dynasties. Here is a group of small pottery figures of the Ming dynasty. They were made to be the burial objects and found in 1990 in the south of Xian by a group of farmers when they were digging a well. Originally, the pottery figures all held something in their hands and are believed to be the guards of honor for the king. This is a magic tea pot. It is magic because the tea pot doesn’t have a lid and the water is poured in from the bottom hole. When turned upright, the water comes out from the mouth without any leaking at the bottom. It absolutely demonstrates the wisdom of the working people in the ancient times.

 

Next is some porcelain from the last four dynasties. As you can see, the later it was, the more colorful the porcelains were and the better quality, showing the progress of the glazing technology in those four dynasties.

 

Last section of the museum displays some Buddhist statues, actually a reproduction of the main prayer hall of a Buddhist nunnery in the southeast of Xi'an.

 

Before you walk out the exhibition hall, there are two more maps: one of them is the map of Shaanxi province on which all the important archeological and historical sites are marked, showing how rich Shaanxi province, the middle part Guanzhong Plain in particular, is in the ancient cultural relics. The other map marks the locations of the emperors' tombs of Han and Tang dynasties. Up to now, none of them have been excavated yet. Though many of them have been plundered in the last one or two thousand years, we believe there will be lots of treasures to be found from the tombs in the near future and most of them will be found by accident as before. Since nobody knows exactly what and where the treasures are, maybe in the tombs or maybe out of the tombs, there will be more and more surprises to be uncovered in this area, a truly “Hidden Treasure House”.

 

 

The Vault of Mural Collection

Shaanxi History Museum houses a beautiful collection of about 500 murals of the Tang dynasty, the only exhibit in the whole nation. All the murals have been found since early 1960s from the Tang tombs around Xian. It was the funeral custom of the Tang that the royal tombs were painted with colorful pictures which depict vividly the court life of the royalties at that time. The paintings were done on a thin layer of plaster applied to the wall and the pigments used were made of minerals so that the colors would last forever. As a matter of fact, the colors on the paintings were found bright and fresh though they were done around 700 AD, 1,300 years ago. So far archeologists have found murals in 60 tombs and excavated 20 of them for the murals. The exhibition room is specially built with temperature controlled and the lights have no ultraviolet so as to well preserve the valuable Tang murals. Among the 500 murals, 5 pieces/groups are classified as national treasures and another 69 pieces/groups as the first-class cultural relics.

 

As soon as you walk into the exhibition room, the first thing you can see is a sectional drawing of the tomb for Prince Yi De, a grandson of Empress Wu Zetian, the only woman emperor in the history of China. The sectional drawing shows the structure of the tomb: it is 300 ft long from the entrance all the way down to the rear chamber where the coffin was buried. The wall on the both sides of the passage way was covered with murals. On the drawing, the black parts represent the shafts which were built not only for ventilation and taking the dirt out, but also to symbolize the social status, the more shafts, the higher the social status. Prince Yi De’s tomb has been so far the largest in size and highest in status among all the Tang tombs excavated. Next, you can see a map which marks the location of the Tang tombs where the murals are found.

 

Here are four pictures taken at the excavation site. The pictures show us the process of peeling off the murals in the tomb. First, the vegetable gum is spread on the mural to glue a piece cloth so as to keep the mural from cracking. Secondly, the archeologists use a hand saw to cut the mural into smaller pieces since some of them are pretty big. The following step is to take the mural as thick as one centimeter off the wall and a wooden frame is attached to the back to reinforce the mural. After the mural is sent to the museum, archeologists spray evenly some warm water on the mural to melt the peach gum in order to take off the cloth and did some repairing work, and then the mural is ready for preservation in the museum. At the moment, the technology for preserving the original colors on the murals is not quite mature and that is why the Shaanxi History Museum has not exhibited any of the murals to the public. The museum has been working with the Italians to jointly build a special exhibition hall in the near future where the Tang murals can be shown to the public.

 

This is a polo-playing mural found in the tomb of Prince Zhang Huai, the third son of Empress Wu Zetian. The original mural was about 27ft long and depicts a vast scene of a polo game being played by two teams of altogether 20 people. The mural was cut into 5 smaller pieces during the excavation and this part is the best of the whole picture. We can see from this part that all the horses are running pretty fast with all their four legs up in the air. The two teams, one dressed in white and the other in black, are scrambling for the ball in the middle. One player of the white team is turning around and trying to use his stick to get the ball. This mural demonstrates that polo was a very popular sport in China during the Tang dynasty after it was introduced to the Chinese from Persian. According the historical records, the polo game was played by men as well as women. Archeologists have uncovered the Tang polo playground here in Xi’an. This polo mural was painted right at the entrance of the tomb and the red line at the bottom shows the ramp that leads down into the burial site.

 

Found opposite of the polo mural is a hunting mural which is 27ft long, the same size of the polo mural. It was cut into 4 smaller parts and first part is small with only three people who are actually the vanguards of the whole hunti, , ng , team. They are leading the way and, one of them is looking back to make sure they don’t lose the main body. On , the second part, there is a group of people. The first person is very special because the horse he is riding is an Arabian horse, a lot bigger than the rest of horses, indicating that he probably is the prince. Beginning from the Tang dynasty, those big Arabian horses were imported to China from Central Asia, particularly a special breed of horses which have exceptional red perspirations. The rest of people follows the boss closely and carry the weapons like bows, arrows, swords as well as their pets. Two of them hold in the arms the skinny Persian dogs and another two have the falcons resting either in the hand or the shoulder. There is also a snow panther and a cheetah, both were given as tributes by the foreign traders from India and Persia and were trained as pets in the Tang dynasty. People love their pets so much that they even make a silk cushion to let the pets sit on. The riders on the side carry the royal banners with four stripes. The stripes on the banners indicate the status as well and the highest number at that time was five stripes. The third part is the supplying team which carries the iron bowl and charcoal for the picnic in the field. They use the dromedary for the iron bowl and the Bactrian for the charcoal. On the way back, the camels are used for carrying the preys.

 

“Protocol” is the famous mural of Receiving Foreign Guests from the tomb of Prince Zhang Huai. There are six people on this mural: the first three from the left side are the Chinese officials of Hong Lu Si, a government bureau of the Tang dynasty, like today’s Office of Foreign Affairs. So we can say that they are diplomats. The other three are visiting guests: the one standing in the middle with a red coat is believed to be from Istanbul of Turkey. The one next to him is either Japanese or a Korean. The last one is from the northeast of China, a very cold place and that’s why he wears a heavy jacket and a fur hat. The Tang artists used their brushes to skillfully and vividly demonstrate facial expressions and the innermost thoughts of the six people. The three Chinese officials, being the hosts, look extremely calm and relaxing and talk among themselves. It is probably a discussion as how to receive their distinctive guests coming from afar. The other three, being the guests, they don’t know whether they are going to be well treated or not. Particularly the Turkish guy stands very close the Chinese official and reveals on his face the eagerness as well as the anxiety to know the result of the discussion. The Japanese, or the Korean, is just waiting there with patience and is worried at all. The last one is pretty interesting. He is kind of shy and humble and a few steps away from the rest of the group. This mural is so far the best to show us the exchanges of friendly visits and cultures between China of the Tang dynasty and the foreign countries.

Visiting the Tang murals is really a special treat you can get from the Shaanxi History Museum. These murals are extremely valuable for they provide accurate pictorial information for the study of the Tang dynasty in terms of lifestyle, culture and architecture. (Written by Liu Jun)

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Attractions of Xian


  1. Foping Nature Reserve for Giant Pandas
  2. Xian Ox Culture and Ceramics Museum
  3. North Square of Big Wild Goose Pagoda
  4. Changqing Nature Reserve
  5. Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
  6. Chenlu Ancient Town
  7. Maoxian
  8. Xian
  9. Zhaoling Mausoleum
  10. Yong Le Gong Temple
  11. Qianling Mausoleum
  12. Mausoleum of Yellow Emperor
  13. Han Yangling Mausoleum
  14. Shaanxi Foping National Reserve
  15. Famen Temple
  16. Xian Ancient City Wall
  17. Shaanxi History Museum-II
  18. Bell & Drum Towers
  19. Banpo Museum
  20. Qin Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses
  21. Shaanxi Grand Theater
  22. Peasant Painting Exhibition Hall in Huxian
  23. Huxian Farmer's painting
  24. Tang Dynasty Art Museum
  25. Great Mosque
  26. Hui Nationality
  27. Islamic Religion
  28. Qianling Mausoleum
  29. Hukou Waterfalls
  30. Yan'an Pagoda
  31. Shaanxi Delicacy
  32. City God Temple in Sanyuan
  33. Xingqing Palace
  34. Daming Palace
  35. Blue Dragon Temple
  36. Feiyuan Museum
  37. Mount Hua
  38. Shaanxi History Museum
  39. Anwu Village
  40. Welcome Ceremony at the Ancient City Wall
  41. Luoguantai Shrine
  42. Han Maoling Mausoleum
  43. Han Yangling Tomb
  44. Yao Zhou Kiln Museum
  45. Qujiang Pool
  46. Xian Museum
  47. Xian High Tech Industries Development Zone
  48. The Silk Road
  49. Small Wild Goose Pagoda
  50. Forest of Stone Tablets
  51. Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuangdi
  52. Xianyang
  53. Fuping Ceramic Art Village and Fule International Ceramic Art Museum
  54. Huaqing Hot Springs
  55. Banpo Village Museum
  56. Han Changling Mausoleum
  57. Big Wild Goose Pagoda
  58. Daming Palace National Heritage Park
  59. All Day Mall of the Great Tang Dynasty
  60. International Horticulture Exposition 2011 Xian
  61. Drum Tower
  62. Bell Tower
  63. Xingjiao Temple
  64. Bell Tower
  65. Mt.Hua
  66. Pit No.3 of Terra Cotta Army
  67. Pit No.2 of Terra Cotta Army
  68. Pit No.1 of Terra Cotta Army
  69. Dim Sum Delicacy
  70. Tomb of Princess Yongtai
  71. Bronze Chariots and Horses
  72. Tang Paradise

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