Title: Introduction

Modern historians typically refer to the Three Dynasties of the legendary Hsia as well as Shang and Chou (ca. 19th century-221 B.C.E.), as narrated in ancient books, when they speak of the "Classical Age" in Chinese history. From the Three Dynasties period into the Ch'in and Han dynasties (221 B.C.E.-220 C.E.), Chinese civilization underwent enormous change. Politically, there was the end of feudalism and the emergence of the fountainhead of the imperial system. Socially, the strict hierarchy was crumbling in the face of increasing egalitarianism. Ideologically, studies especially catering to the nobility broadened to a wider, richer pool of knowledge to which all scholars could contribute. Finally, the Confucian school of thought ultimately prevailed and was endorsed by the government. Culturally, the era still placed focus on the practice of rites and ceremonies for the spirits, but it also represents the last gasp in the use of bronze ritual objects as cultural symbols. Replacing them were various objects of daily life that highlighted the utilitarian, pluralistic, and lively aspects of the people. From a broader perspective, such "traditions" that persisted and survived to impact the ensuing development of Chinese civilization actually originated in the Ch'in (221-207 B.C.E.) and Han (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.) period. Indeed, it was truly a pivotal time of transition from the "classic" to "tradition".

The gallery for this exhibit is divided into two areas devoted to aspects of material and spiritual culture. It attempts to use artifacts from these two dynasties from the Museum collection to produce a lucid explanation of the essential features of Ch'in and Han culture, as well as the unique features of the artworks themselves. During the Ch'in and Han, bronze and jade objects were still considered valuables reserved for the upper echelons of society; but glazed pottery and lacquerware were also seldom used by ordinary people. Gray pottery is what appeared among the belongings of the vast number of people in society, either for use in daily life or as funerary accompaniment. Amidst these objects of a myriad media and materials, the decorative motifs on them were intricately linked to religion and beliefs, symbolizing and formulating the spiritual culture of the Ch'in and Han dynasties.

In the section on "Material Culture", exhibit items include artifacts that have survived from the lives of people in the Han dynasty. They depict the many facets of life and manifest the material culture at the time. Vessels for cooking (such as the "ting", "tseng", and "yen"), containers for drinks (such as "tsun", "chung", "hu", and cups), water vessels (such as "chien" and "p'an"), oil lamps for illumination, "po-shan" censers for burning incense and fragrance, and weights in the shape of various animals were all some of the necessities of everyday life. The sword, knife, seal, jade ornaments, and bronze mirror carried by a gentleman also enriched the material culture of people in the Han dynasty.

From the variegated threads of traditions that sprung from the Spring and Autumn (770-476 B.C.E.) as well as Warring States periods (475-221 B.C.E.), people of the Ch'in and Han adopted a systematic and eternal view of the cosmos, one that substantiates itself in the form of decorative motifs found in works of art. Such are presented in the display area here on "Spiritual Culture". The prevalence of images, such as the phoenix and dragon, as well as the Four Spirits, is a reinforcement of the belief in the Yin-yang and Five Elements. Cloud scrolls and astronomical signs, as well as mountains of the immortals, auspicious beasts, winged figures, and the Queen Mother of the West, aptly demonstrate a perception of the cosmos as well as their notions of life and death. In expressing these views of a more abstract nature, such auspicious inscriptions as "everlasting happiness" and "filial descendants" reflect a focus on both the present and the afterlife.

In conclusion, rooted in a cultural foundation as such, the Ch'in and Han dynasties initiated what was thereafter known as the "Glorious Age of the Great Han", rivaling the Roman Empire of the West in terms of influence and greatness. These indeed were the two most powerful states of the East and West at the time.