This year, as we stand at the turn of the century and look forward to a new millennium, we have an excellent opportunity to look back at the wealth of Chinese culture from two millennia ago during the golden age of the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). During the rule of Emperor Wen and Emperor Ching of the Western Han, the state of Ch'ang-sha flourished south of Lake Tung-t'ing along the middle Yangtze River valley in the Hsiang River basin. Further south, in the Pearl River basin area of Canton, was the state of Nan-yueh. Excavations from sites in these two states have yielded a wealth of material, revealing a splendor that must have rivaled the northern Han capital of Ch'ang-an.
In 1972, Ma-wang-tui Tomb 1 was discovered at Ch'ang-sha in Hunan. The occupant of the well-preserved tomb was the wife of Li Ts'ang, the Marquis of Tai and Prime Minister of Ch'ang-sha. Along with her corpse, more than 1400 funerary goods were found, including statuary figures, lacquer goods, textiles, and large banners. Dying at around the age of 50, she had outlived her husband (in Tomb 2) and her son (Tomb 3). Buried after 168 BC, the sophistication of her tomb allowed her body to remain in a remarkable state of preservation. Encased within four layers of coffins and sealed in a sarcophagus, the tomb chamber was filled with more than 5000 kilograms of charcoal, which was then sealed in a layer of white clay about 100 centimeters thick. This made an airtight structure that not only kept out insects and mold, but also was impervious to water and plant roots. As a result, many details of the corpse were incredibly preserved.
At the end of 1973, a smaller tomb was found in a layer below that of the wife of the Marquis. The seal of charcoal and clay, similar to that of Tomb 1, had unfortunately been broken. The occupant of the tomb was her son, who died sometime after the age of 30. One of the funerary goods was a wooden slip, which gives the date of early 168 BC. The layering of the tombs suggests that she died slightly later than her son, whose tomb included more than 1700 funerary goods. In addition to textiles, lacquer objects, and weapons, perhaps the most precious items were more than 30 texts, which were written in the period from the eve of the unification of China by the First Emperor of Ch'in (231 BC) in the late Warring States to the first 20 or 30 years of the early Han. Most of them had long been lost and date earlier than Ssu-ma Ch'ien's Records of the Grand Historian, thus making them even more important.
Tomb 2 belongs to the Marquis of Tai himself and is located about 30 meters west of Tomb 1. Discovered in early 1974, it had already been robbed and looted several times a thousand years ago. As a result, the remaining objects were found disturbed and in a state of poor preservation. Among the several hundred items, the most important are three seals, which identify the Marquis. Besides the seals, most of the other objects are made from lacquer. Relatively few ceramic and bronze goods were found in the tomb. Thus, we know that, in 193 BC, Li Ts'ang was enfoeffed as the Prime Minister of Ch'ang-sha by the king. At that time, his wife was about 26 and his son about 6. Serving for 8 years, he died in 186 BC. His son died 19 years later, followed by his wife.
The Hsiang River flows north towards the Yangtze River. East of the river are the burial grounds for the Prime Minister of Ch'ang-sha, while to the west are those of the royal family of Ch'ang-sha. In 1975, the tomb of Concubine Ts'ao was discovered near the Hsiang River. Dating from the middle Western Han (140-49 BC), more than 300 artifacts were recovered, including objects made of bronze, iron, inlaid gold, jade, minerals, lacquer, and ceramic. Then, in 1993, the burial grounds of the Ch'ang-sha royal family were discovered. The main tomb belonged to a queen from the clan of the Ch'ang-sha king Wu Jui and included three funerary pits. Although robbed many times in the past, still more than 2000 artifacts made of such precious materials as gold, silver, lacquer, and jade were found.
Co-existing along with Ch'ang-sha was the state of Nan-yueh in the Pearl River basin to the far south. Chao T'o, the founder of Nan-yueh, was originally a general under the Ch'in who unified the south. With the fall of the Ch'in, he established the state of Nan-yueh in 203 BC with the capital at what is now Canton. Five generations of kings ruled Nan-yueh for a total of 93 years. Not until 111 BC was it finally vanquished by the Han. In 1983, the tomb of Chao Mei, the second Nan-yueh king, was discovered in Canton. More than a thousand objects were excavated, including a jade suit, armor, seals, jades, gold and silver objects, bronzes, ceramics, lacquer objects, and silks. Furthermore, in four excavations from 1975 to 1997 in downtown Canton, the foundations of the Nan-yueh palace and the royal ponds were discovered.
The National Palace Museum is proud to present a loan exhibition of cultural artifacts from the museums of Ch'ang-sha and Canton. Including 115 sets of objects with a total of 252 individual pieces, this special exhibition is being presented from September to February in celebration of the new millennium and of Chinese culture from two millennia ago. These objects correlate in date to the Han dynasty, the first golden age of China following unification under the preceding Ch'in dynasty, and they bear witness to the glory and sophistication of Chinese culture during this period.