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Past Exhibits

King Wu Ding and Lady Hao: Art and Culture of the Late Shang Dynasty
King Wu Ding and Lady Hao: Art and Culture of the Late Shang Dynasty
  • Dates: 2012/10/19~2013/02/19
  • Gallery: Exhibition Area II 1F , Library Building
    (Open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM)

Exhibit Info

King Wu Ding and Lady Hao of the late Shang dynasty (ca. 13th-11th c. BCE) serve nowadays as an exemplary couple in the history of Chinese rulers. Their story, however, did not come to light until the twentieth century, more than three millennia after they lived.

Wu Ding was the 23rd king of the Shang dynasty and lived around 1200 BCE. Textual records indicate his uncle, King Pan Geng, had moved the Shang capital to Yin (modern Anyang, Henan). After the reigns of King Xiao Xin and Xiao Yi, Wu Ding finally came to the throne. Ruling for 59 years, he demonstrated concern for the people while respecting and recruiting virtuous and capable people for his administration, paving the way for the heyday of the Shang dynasty. As a result, he was later posthumously entitled "Gaozong," meaning "Lofty Ancestor," and praised in history as a leader of dynastic revival. Wu Ding as he appears in historical texts was regarded as a model for the enlightened ruler found in later Confucian thought. His story from antiquity, however, had always been considered a part of folklore among modern scholars, that is, until archaeological excavations shed light on the glory of the Shang dynasty.

Starting in 1929, the Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica began a series of large-scale excavations in the area of Xiaotun and Houjiazhuang at Anyang in Henan on the former site of the Shang capital of Yin. In the process, Shang royal tombs and foundations of ancestral halls were uncovered, finally providing irrefutable evidence confirming the existence of the dynasty. Furthermore, Tomb 1001 at the royal graveyards at Xibeigang in Houjiazhuang has been deduced as even being that of Wu Ding himself. In June of 1936, an oracle bone pit (YH127) was also discovered, its excavation yielding more than 17,000 turtle plastrons and animal bones. On them were engraved a large number of characters, many of which turned out to be records of divinations ordered by King Wu Ding for sacrifices, battles, and even matters related to daily life, both large and small. Not only does the information in the inscriptions accord with the Shang royal genealogy as recorded in "Annals of Yin" in Records of the Grand Historian from the Han dynasty, it also turns out to be a wealth of data for understanding Wu Ding as both a person and a king, allowing us to observe his religion, politics, life, and world view in society at the time. It also provides a glimpse at how Wu Ding became "Leader of the Shamans" in the Shang world of shamanism. These oracle bone inscriptions, marking the dawn of a verifiable history of the Shang dynasty at Yin, reveal the maturity of a writing system pointing to an even longer history of Chinese characters.

Lady Hao was a favored consort of King Wu Ding. Although not recorded in later historical texts, records of Lady Hao found on oracle bones had already made a name for her by the end of the Qing dynasty. In oracle bone inscriptions, Lady Hao appears as a mother, a priestess, and even a battle leader. In 1976, the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences conducted a study at the Yin palace hall ruins at Xiaotun and made a miraculous discovery of the undisturbed grave of this legendary lady. The tomb yielded a great number of exquisite grave goods, testifying to the authority, standing, relations, and period style of Lady Hao. Many of the bone, jade, and bronze items are of unusual form, also providing important indicators for the technology, craftsmanship, and artistic developments during Wu Ding's reign.

This exhibition gathers together the essence of cultural objects excavated from the ruins of Yin by the Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica and the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences along with treasured bronzes from the Henan Museum. In addition, the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada and the National Museums Scotland have generously loaned two precious oracle bones. Led by the inscriptions on oracle bones, this exhibit presents a continuous narrative in five sections about the story of King Wu Ding and Lady Hao, the glory of the Shang dynasty, and the rich vitality of Chinese writing.
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