CHINA HERITAGE NEWSLETTER China Heritage Project, The Australian National University
ISSN 1833-8461
No. 5, March 2006


Briefs | China Heritage Quarterly


At the end of March 2006, the underground mausoleum housing the fourth emperor of the Western Han dynasty, Liu Qi, who ruled as Emperor Jingdi (r.156-141BCE), and his empress, was opened in Hanyang, located 20km north of Xi'an. Hanyang Mausoleum, part of which has been reconstructed to become an underground museum, covers approximately 12 sq km. The Hanyang Mausoleum Museum displays tens of thousands of objects, including the coloured terracotta warriors and a variety of animal figurines found in the tomb. Hanyang Mausoleum is one of the largest ancient tombs of the Western Han Dynasty ever discovered, and, to date, more than 260 auxiliary tombs belonging to other imperial family members, nobles or officials have been unearthed in its vicinity.


With the return of warm weather in March this year, restoration work resumed at the Norbulingka Palace in the western suburbs of Lhasa. Norbulingka was built in the middle of the 18th century to serve as the summer palace of the Dalai Lamas. The palace is one of three ancient heritage sites in Tibet undergoing major restoration. The other two are the Potala Palace, the winter palace of the Dalai Lama, and Sakya Monastery. This large restoration project began in June 2002, with funding of RMB330 million provided by the Chinese central government. Both the Potala and Norbulingka palaces have been inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. The restoration project at the three sites is expected to be completed this year.


Construction work on the Anyang-Linzhou expressway through difficult geological terrain led to a decision to relocate the 1,300-year-old Ciyuan Temple in Hengshui, near Linzhou, which lay in its path. The project, which began on 9 March 2006, entailed moving the superstructure of the three main buildings of the temple complex, Daxiong Hall, Sanjiaotang Hall and Wenchangge Pavilion, on tracks to a new site 400m away, without dismantling the buildings. Nine other buildings as well as the temple's wall, brick floor, steles and other sections will be dismantled and reconstructed at the new site. The temple gate will also be restored. The project is being carried out by the Henan Provincial Ancient Architecture Research Institute. The temple is small in scale, measuring only 75m in length and 30m in width, but it is regarded as having great historical and architectural value, because it combines a balance of elements of Buddhism (Tianwang Hall and Daxiong Hall), Taoism (Patriarch Hall and Guangong Shrine), and Confucianism (Wenchangge Pavilion). Sanjiaotang (Three Teachings Hall) highlights the coexistence of the three religions in the one temple complex. Ciyuan Temple was first built in the Zhenguan reign (627-649) of the Tang dynasty.


On 17 March 2006, Xinhua News Agency reported the unveiling by Xi'an municipal officials of the plan to preserve the city's unique character over the next few years. The release of the Development Plan of the Xi'an City Wall Scenic Area envisages renovations of the city's ancient walls and moat, as well as the restoration of heritage housing and streets. The long-term renovations are expected to continue for the next fifteen years and to be completed by 2020.


On 16 March 2006, China Daily reported that Minister of Culture Sun Jiazheng announced that China expects more of its intangible cultural heritage items to be included on the protection list of UNESCO in the future. To date China has Kunqu Opera, the art of guqin music, the Uygur Muqam and, together with Mongolia, Mongolian long-tune folk songs listed as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. "This can far from satisfy our needs", Sun was quoted as saying. Yet UNESCO has previously stated that when the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage comes into force in April 2006, no more items will be added to the list, and those items already proclaimed as "masterpieces" will be incorporated into a newly-created Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Sun made these comments at the conclusion of a month-long exhibition of examples of intangible cultural heritage items, such as craftsmanship, festival rituals and languages, at the National Museum of China in Beijing. The exhibition was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, and sought to highlight the release on 5 January 2006 of the first list of Chinese intangible cultural heritage properties, running to 501 items selected from 1315 nominations by the Ministry of Culture. The list includes genres and forms of literature, music, dance, drama, folk arts, traditional medicine and national customs from all over China, although it does not encompass as many categories as originally promised by Zhou Heping, Vice-Minister of Culture, in October 2004 at a conference on ethnic and folk culture preservation held in Beijing.

The exhibition, which opened at the National Museum of China on 12 February 2006, attracted more than 100,000 visitors during its first ten days.


On 10 March 2006, CCTV began screening a ten-part documentary on the Silk Road produced in cooperation with Japan's NHK in 2005. The first episode of the series titled The New Silk Road (Xin sichou zhi lu) highlighted the recent spectacular archaeological discoveries in 2003-2004 at the Xiaohe site in the western Taklimakan Desert of Xinjiang, and the first appearance on film of the remarkably well preserved mummy of a young woman found at Xiaohe provided an arresting opening to the series. The excellent footage of sites such as Beziklik, Tashkurgan, Jiaohe, Dulan and Karakhoto, where major new excavations and conservation work have been conducted over the past decade or so, revealed how much our knowledge has increased since the original series titled The Silk Road was made by CCTV and NHK twenty-six years ago. The impressive new documentary cost more than RMB30 million to produce.

On 28 February, China Daily reported that Korea's Samsung Group had donated 150 million Japanese yen to the Tokyo-based Foundation for Cultural Heritage and Art Research for the preservation of Silk Road cultural heritage sites and items. The foundation then presented the money to China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage, to use it to train technical staff in the techniques of preserving eight categories of Silk Road cultural heritage (ancient architecture, ancient civil engineering projects, archaeological sites, ceramics, frescos, metal, paper and textiles). One hundred individuals working in cultural heritage protection organisations along the Silk Road in Xinjiang, Qinghai, Ningxia, Gansu, Shaanxi and Henan, especially young and middle-aged specialists, will be selected for the training program.


The question of making a number of traditional festivals public holidays was among the topics discussed at the annual meetings of both the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing in March this year. On 13 March 2006, NPC delegate Ji Baocheng, who is also president of China Renmin University, formerly known in English as Chinese People's University, told a press conference that he had proposed, for the third year running, government recognition of Chinese New Year's Eve, Qingming Festival (All-souls" Day), Dragon Boat Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival as official public holidays. Over the past two years his proposals have increasingly gathered support among sections of the media and the general public, many perhaps wanting to counter the trend among young Chinese to observe Valentine's Day and other more commercialised foreign holidays, and his views were further endorsed by the Ministry of Culture's listing of a number of traditional festivals as items of China's intangible cultural heritage just before the annual government meetings got underway. Spring Festival (Chunjie), or the Chinese New Year, is the only traditional festival that is also a national public holiday.


Yinxu, discovered in 1899 in Anyang, Henan province, was once the capital of the Shang dynasty, and the discovery there of "oracle bones", the popular English term for inscribed animal bones and tortoise shells used in divination, revolutionised knowledge of the origins of Chinese writing. At the beginning of March 2006, it was announced that the proposal to construct a large museum, to be called the China Characters Museum, near the Yinxu site won final approval from the State Cultural Heritage Administration. The new museum will be built in the vicinity of the Yin Ruins Museum. According to the plan, the characters museum will cover an area of 168,000 sq m, with 30,000 sq m of exhibition space. The museum is expected to be completed within five years, at a cost of RMB300 million. The decision to build a "national characters museum" came after a proposal submitted in March last year by twenty-five members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

On 12 March 2006, at a forum discussing the Yinxu site held in Beijing, Jin Suidong, secretary of the Anyang municipal committee of the Communist Party of China, announced that he expects Anyang to be listed by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage site later this year, if the World Heritage Committee recommends that it be listed when it meets in July.

A spectacular archaeological discovery at Sanyangzhuang village under the jurisdiction of Anyang municipality was also announced to the media at the beginning of March. Workers dredging the Xiao River in Neihuang county discovered ruins of Han dynasty farm buildings a month earlier. When the river was diverted to protect the find, another two courtyards and a tomb of the Han dynasty were revealed. The eventual discovery of an intact village, covering an area of 9,000 sq m including an ancient road, the walls of courtyards, toilets, orchard remains, fields, cart tracks and remains of farming and animal husbandry, which had been inundated when the Yellow River dramatically changed course, has been hailed in the media as "a Chinese Pompeii". To date, at least seven courtyards have been unearthed. This is the first discovery of its kind in China, and will provide archaeologists for the first time with valuable information for studying Han dynasty agriculture and rural life, for which little material evidence is available at present.


In the last week of February, nearly fifty experts on the Great Wall of China attended a conference in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, to discuss a ten-year project to obtain basic information about China's great wall systems, to map out specific protection plans, and examine areas where urgent protection and restoration work is required. The conference was held under the auspices of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

At the conference, Zheng Lansheng, an official with the Gansu Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau, announced that a comprehensive survey of the remains of the ancient great walls in Gansu province would be conducted later this year. A detailed plan, outlining the methods, objects and scope of the Gansu survey, is currently being finalised. The province has become China's "pilot" for the preservation of the great walls. The plan envisages using various remote sensing, as well as aerial, telemetric and archaeological technologies to get an overall and accurate report on the current condition of the walls in that province. The plan will be submitted to the State Administration of Cultural Heritage for approval before it is carried out.


The Chang'an City Excavation Team of the Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences announced the results of its October-December 2005 season of excavations at the Han dynasty Changle Palace site, located in the Weiyang district of Xi'an, according to a Guangming Daily report of 17 January 2006.

The ruins of Changle Palace have been excavated by the team over several seasons in the 2002-2004 period, during which time archaeologists tackled loci nos. 2, 4 and 5 at the site. However, the most recent excavation, at the no. 6 locus, is the most extensive to date. Archaeologists unearthed a large drainage system, covering an area measuring 72m by 32m, which is situated in part of a proposed new housing estate. The drainage system originally serviced the north-western area of the raised foundation platform on which Changle Palace once stood. The no. 6 locus also contains the remains of several rooms and a corridor of the palace, as well as an 8m deep well. The plumbing system comprises two sink ponds and lengths of round and pentagonal ceramic piping which connects the two courtyards from which it once drained rainwater. The sink ponds once collected debris, thereby preventing the drains from clogging.

Changle Palace in the Han dynasty was the residence of the empress dowager, and locus 6 was located close to the centre of the palace complex, the audience hall (qiandian) where the empress dowager conducted affairs of state and performed ceremonial duties.


A well-preserved Ming dynasty village in Guizhou that had long evaded the cultural heritage trawl recently came to the attention of local conservationatists, Xinhua News Agency reported on 18 January 2006. The village, named Baojiatun, is located in Anshun city, 75km from the provincial capital Guiyang and 60km from Huangguoshu waterfalls, China's largest. The village preserves the ancient architecture and other items from more than six centuries ago. The village is older than the two listed "cultural heritage" villages discovered in southern Anhui—Xidicun and Hongcun.

Residential buildings in the village, built for military purposes in 1369, are laid out in an octagon in conformity with the Eight Trigrams of Zhouyi (The Classic of Change). The well-preserved remains of an irrigation system constructed in the Ming dynasty were also found.

The village women still dress in robes of an ancient style, said to be similar to those worn by Empress Ma, wife of the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty, (see note 7 of the Editorial in this issue) Zhu Yuanzhang. An ancient form of martial arts predating that of Shaolin boxing from Songshan in Henan is still popular in the village, as is a form of local martial Nuo opera. The discovery of the village has been brought to the attention of the Ministry of Construction and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, and a group of conservation experts has been called upon to draft a plan to help the village retain its ancient heritage.


The traditional cultures of the Miao, Shui, Bouyei, Dong and other ethnic groups of mountainous Guizhou are threatened by collectors and tourism, according to a report in the 18 January 2006 issue of China Daily.

The Miao, also known as the Hmong, number around 7.4 million, according to the 1990 census, and inhabit Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan and the Guangxi-Zhuang Autonomous Region. Miao communities are also found on Hainan island. The culture of the Miao is exemplified by ornate costumes and silver apparel, which is described by Lei Xiuwu, a research fellow with the Ethnology Research Institute of the Southeast, as a "vital and tangible record of the long and eventful past" of the Miao. The Chinese archaeological and textual record indicates that Miao apparel which features buffalo horn and bird motifs has a history of nearly two millennia. The costumes of the Miao people in Guizhou's Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture are regarded as being the most splendid and refined of all Miao costumes. The most elaborate is the "hundred bird costume", the best-preserved example of which is over three-hundred years old and is held in a local museum at Yueliang Mountain in the prefecture. Yueliang Mountain straddles the border of Congjiang and Rongjiang counties, and more than 93 per cent of the 11,000 people in Rongjiang are of the Miao minority. Miao folklore states that the ancestors of the Miao descended from birds, once worshipped by local people who still refer to their houses as "nests'.

Such traditional costumes are displayed to best advantage at the Guzang festival, which is celebrated on the eighth day of their fourth lunar month, around mid-May, when the Miao gather to offer sacrifices to their ancestors and cultural heroes. The Miao sing, play reed pipes and bronze drums, and perform traditional dances. During a recent visit to the area, representatives of the World Tourism Organisation commented that these ethnic cultural resources were "assets of Guizhou's tourism industry'. However, tourism, exemplified by the high-end collector of textiles and costumes, has resulted in an outflow of costumes and apparel, which often take many years to make. As a result some of the best examples of Miao costume can now only be seen in foreign museums and private collections. The skills required to make such clothing with its ornate embroidery are also now disappearing, and the younger generation of Miao are often tempted to sell the costumes for cash, while local dealers make it morally easier for travellers to purchase costumes and silver ware from intermediaries.

Wu Dahua, president of the Guizhou University of Nationalities, suggested that a strict law to protect minority and folk cultural heritage should be laid down as soon as possible. Although the Guzang Festival of the Miao people of Leishan county, Guizhou province, was included as item no. 467 on the List of China's Intangible Cultural Heritage Properties, and the Miao silver apparel of Leishan and of Fenghuang county, Hunan province, were jointly included as item no. 389 on that list, such listings only reinforce the value of cultural items, if there is no concomitant protective legislation.

In January 2003, the Guizhou provincial government enforced the Guizhou Ethnic and Folk Culture Protection Regulations, but these do not distinguish between tourism souvenirs, genuine folk arts and crafts, and highly valuable heirlooms and heritage items.

Handwritten books in the hieroglyphs of the Shui nationality are another cultural item of Guizhou attractive to collectors or simply snapped up as souvenirs by tourists. Local researchers are also desperate to prevent the market in these items resulting in another outflow of irreplaceable objects. However, the trade in these thrives and many rare Shui books are being sold on the market.

There are few laws or regulations governing the cultural heritage market and, given the lack of government funds to collect items, the low income level of these ethnic groups ensures that the trade will continue.

One solution to the problem of preserving ethnic cultural heritage is the creation of "eco-museums" within ethnic villages. Su Donghai, a researcher at the National Museum of China, has been actively promoting this concept pioneered by the late Norwegian anthropologist John Gjestrum. "Eco-museums" are communities where people live in traditional ways but with improved living standards that enable them to continue to do so. Economic well-being creates pride in the local culture, and encourages innovation within the culture rather than the wholesale adoption of an external culture. Four "eco-museum" projects have been set up with Norwegian funding in Guizhou province since 1996, to maintain the cultural heritages of the local Miao, Bouyei, Dong and Han ethnic groups. Another six "eco-museums" are currently under construction, five in the mountains of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region to preserve cultures of local Dong, Yao and Zhuang ethnic groups, and one in the grasslands of China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to keep the traditions of Mongolian nomads alive.


On 15 January 2006, Xinhua News Agency's Taiyuan office reported the discovery in Hengshui town, Jiangxian county, by the Shanxi Provincial Archaeology Institute of the remains of a small, ancient state dating back nearly 3,000 years, not recorded in historical documents. The existence of the state, called Peng, is revealed in inscriptions on bronze vessels excavated in two tombs of the Western Zhou dynasty (1100-771 BCE). The owners of the two tombs have been identified as the ruler of the state, Peng Bo (meaning Earl of Peng) and his consort. Li Boqian, director of the Archaeological Research Centre of Peking University, told a recent archaeological conference in Beijing that the discovery of the Western Zhou graves in Hengshui is the most important archaeological discovery since the excavation of the graves of the Marquises of Jin, another state of the Western Zhou Dynasty, in Quwo county, also in Shanxi province. The newest finds will enable archaeologists and historians to better understand the history of the Western Zhou dynasty and its domain.

More than eighty tombs have been excavated at the site in Hengshui, with the tombs of Peng Bo and his wife being the largest. The couple were buried side by side with a large number of funerary objects, including bronze ritual vessels, carriages and jade items.

One of the most important finds in the graves is the remains of the pall (huangwei) that once covered the coffins. The decomposed pall is still a vivid crimson and phoenix motifs can still be discerned. This is the first Western Zhou example of a pall ever unearthed, an item associated with aristocratic burials and previously only known from Zhou ritual texts.

A total of sixteen bronze ritual items, including ding, gui, zun, zhi, pan, jue and you, were unearthed from the two tombs (see China Heritage Newsletter #3 for a discussion of bronzes). Five examples of bronze serial bells of the yongzhong type were also found. Two bronze ding vessels were found in Peng Bo's tomb, but there were three in that of his wife. This is unusual in Chinese burials of kings and consorts, but perhaps reflects the high status of Peng Bo's wife's parents. Four of the ritual bronzes bore inscriptions, totalling 230 characters in all.

Six sets of decorative pendant plaques fashioned from bone, agate, jade and glass were discovered, and the jade huang component in the set is of the highest quality and workmanship.


The Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences staged a forum on 10 January 2006 in Beijing to nominate the top six archaeological discoveries of the previous year. The forum was presided over by Liu Qingzhu, director of the institute.

Although the institute has held these forums since 2001, this year's forum highlighted the professional differences of opinion between archaeologists under the institute's auspices and those under the State Administration of Cultural Heritage regarding the evaluation of archaeological projects. Last year's selection by a panel under the State Administration of Cultural Heritage of the ten major archaeological discoveries of the previous year was challenged by many professional archaeologists, including those from the institute, largely because of its failure to include Peking University's excavations at the Zhou dynasty Zhougongmiao site in Shaanxi in its selection (see China Heritage Newsletter #2 Articles for details of this controversy).

This year the Institute of Archaeology pre-empted the State Administration of Cultural Heritage by issuing its own list of the top six archaeological finds in China in 2005. Liu Qingzhu, director of the Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, described 2005 as "a fruitful year for Chinese archaeology, with a large number of significant discoveries being reported".

The Institute's top six discoveries are:

1. 10,000-Year-Old Skeleton in Western Beijing

The discovery of a 10,000 year-old skeleton at a site in western Beijing was selected as the most important discovery because it "offers new clues about human development in northern China in the early neolithic period". The excavation of the Donghulin site, located in Zhaitang town, in the Mentougou district of western Beijing, filled the archaeological gap between Upper Cave Man, a type of primitive man who lived in the late-palaeolithic period between 30,000 and 20,000 years ago and whose fossil remains were found in 1933 at Zhoukoudian in western Beijing, and Peking Man, the more spectacular discovery at Zhoukoudian whose remains date back over two hundred thousand years. The Donghulin site was jointly excavated by archaeologists from Peking University and the Beijing Municipal Institute of Archaeology.

An ancient grave and remains of houses were found at the site, as well as stone implements, earthenware articles and bone items, and a large number of bones of deer, pigs and other animals. Decorated mussel shells were also discovered, revealing that Beijing at that time had a warm climate and plentiful water resources. The well-preserved grave contained an occupant with flexed legs, accompanied by burial items including a small stone axe and a shell necklace. Chipped stone implements were found in the lower stratum of the site.

The Donghulin site was discovered in 1966, but the grave and living areas are of vital importance in research on the lifestyle, dietary habits and social organisation of these early humans.

2. Pot with Phoenix Motif

The discovery of a pottery jar stamped with the design of two flying phoenixes, estimated to be 7,400 years old, at a neolithic site in Hunan province has been seen as significant for the light it might shed on ancient Chinese religion and the evolution of the phoenix image, about which there has been so much speculation over many decades. The jar with the paired phoenix motif was discovered by the Hunan Provincial Archaeology Institute, excavating a Gaomiao neolithic culture site near Yanli village, Chatou township, Hongjiang, Hunan province.

The find has startled archaeologists because the motif is much finer and older than a similar example found on an ivory dish unearthed many years earlier at the Hemudu neolithic site in Zhejiang province, dated at between 4000 and 7000BP.

The phoenix motif unearthed from the Gaomiao culture site in Hunan suggests that the original model for the phoenix may have been the peacock. The find is important for shedding light on the development of prehistoric religion among cultures of the Yangtze River valley.

3. Inscriptions on Royal Bronzes

The inscriptions on bronzes found in a group of 3,000-year-old tombs of the Western Zhou dynasty (1100-771BCE), unearthed at Hengshui village in Jiangxian county by archaeologists from the Shanxi Provincial Archaeology Institute, are also cited as one of the most important archaeological discoveries of 2005 (see above). The bronze ritual vessels found in tombs M1 and M2 indicate that the tomb occupants are possibly the ruler of the state and his consort. The inscriptions total more than 230 characters and these will be important for research on the Western Zhou period.

4. Iron Knife Discovered in Xinjiang

At 3,000 year old graves on the banks of the Keriya river near Liushui village in Yutian county, Xinjiang, archaeologists in 2005 were surprised to discover copper knives, arrowheads and bracelets, but especially an iron knife. Iron was not commonly used in the Yellow River valley until centuries later, during the Han dynasty (206BCE-220CE).

5. Mound Tombs in Jiangsu

In 2005 archaeologists from the Nanjing Museum, working in a river valley running through Jurong and Jintan counties, Jiangsu province, discovered forty terraces on which they uncovered 233 tombs, generally dated to the Zhou dynasty (11th century BCE- 221BCE). The finds, which totalled more than 3,800 pieces, included beautiful examples of proto-porcelain and well-designed earthenware. A number of burials in the valley were housed in boat-shaped coffins. The terraces (tudun) have long attracted archaeological interest, but it was not until last year that archaeologists undertook an excavation of them. The new discoveries are expected to shed more light on the little known history of the Yangtze River valley during the Zhou dynasty.

6. Gate of Tang Dynasty Palace

The gate of the Daming Palace of the Tang dynasty, estimated to be 1,300 years old, is ranked as another of the most important finds of the past year, because it extends our knowledge of what was, in its day, the most extensive palace in the world. The Gate, named the Danfeng Gate, or Vermillion Phoenix Gate, is the largest Chinese imperial palace gate discovered to date. The gate, which unconventionally has five entrances like the famous Tian'anmen Gate, was built in 662 and served as a site for major imperial ceremonies.


The announcement of the discovery of ancient human remains at a quarry in Sai Kung, in eastern Hong Kong, has extended the history of human habitation in the special administrative region back 30,000 years. Previously, the earliest human remain found in Hong Kong were believed to be between 6,000 and 7,000 years old. Steven Ng, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Archaeological Society, announced that irregularly-shaped stone tools indicated that they were made by palaeolithic humans at some date ranging from 35,000 to 39,000 years BP.


On 11 January 2006, an exhibition displaying some of the finest examples of ancient Chinese and Japanese calligraphy opened at the Tokyo National Museum. The exhibition, jointly supported and sponsored by the Tokyo museum, the Shanghai Museum, Asahi Shimbun and Asahi TV, presented 190 masterpieces for public appreciation, including Wang Xizhi's Sangluan tie held in a Japanese imperial collection for more than a millennium, as well as masterpieces from the Shanghai Museum by Wang Xianzhi (Yatou Wan Tie), Su Shi, Mi Fei, Huang Tingjian, Cai Xiang, Zhao Mengfu, Dong Qichang, Bada Shanren and Zheng Banqiao, as well as the finest extant version of Chunhua Ge tie.

Masterpieces by Japanese calligraphers, including Kukai, Ono no Tofu, Hon'ami Koetsu and Ryokan, made up half of the display. Fujiwara no Kozei's Poems of Bai Letian (that is, the Tang poet Bai Juyi), dating from the Hei'an period, exemplified the shared culture of the displays. The exhibition entitled "Twin Peaks: The Finest of Chinese and Japanese Calligraphy" ran to 19 February.


The Chinese government is supporting a bid for traditional Chinese medicine to be included on UNESCO's world intangible cultural heritage listing, the People's Daily reported on 9 January 2006. China's State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine has initiated its work on a proposal and is expected to submit its official application to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) within the year. Sources from the Administration say that China will propose traditional Chinese medicine as an ensemble, including the traditional medical systems of the Han nationality together with those of the Uyghurs, Tibetans, Mongols and other nationalities. Such a bid should prove difficult, as the separate medical traditions have only attempted some integration in recent years. The State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine has been preparing its heritage bid since 2003.


On 11 January 2006, Xinhua reported the preliminary excavation by archaeologists in Shaanxi province of what might be the remains of the mortuary grounds surrounding the grave of Qin Shihuang's grandmother. The walled burial ground, which contains a large grave with four sloping entrance passageways surrounded by twelve ancillary tombs, as well as the remains of what is supposed to be a shrine and a sacrificial pit on its southern flank, was discovered in July 2004 in the grounds of the Finance and Economics College on the northern slopes of the Qinling hills in Xi'an. Recent excavation work there has focused on a horse and chariot burial pit designated K8. The pit has been found to contain the remains of a carriage and the equipage of six horses, suggesting that the interment conformed to the ritual formula of a "six-horse carriage for an emperor" (Tianzi jia liu). Archaeologists have also unearthed gilded silver and bronze horse bridle items. The tomb seems to have been robbed in recent times, but some items, including a jade bi disc with a grain pattern, were recovered. This announcement was made only one day after Shaanxi government cultural relics departments announced the results of a Sino-German survey conducted in 2005 of the remains of the "royal chapel" (qingong, lit. "palace sleeping apartments") at the Tang dynasty Zhaoling mausoleum outside Xi'an. The survey determined that the royal chapel comprised a series of connected buildings that were "palatial" in dimensions. Zhaoling, said to be the mausoleum of the second Tang dynasty emperor Taizong, Li Shimin, is located 20km north-east of Liquan county seat under the jurisdiction of Xianyang city north of Xi'an. Zhaoling is the largest of the eighteen mausolea in the Tang dynasty "Valley of the Kings" on the Guanzhong plain, as well as being the mausoleum with the greatest number of ancillary burials. The royal chapel was where the imperial descendants and leading officials made sacrifices to the deceased emperor and his nearest kin, and here clothes and utensils were arranged for the emperor's use. Tomb attendants inhabited the apartments of the royal chapel, and they maintained a daily schedule as though the emperor were still alive. The chapel site was surrounded by a 3m thick wall enclosing an area measuring 38m from east to west and 301m from north to south. The chapel comprised three groups of structures arranged from north to south.

This recent survey, using ground radar and magnetic resonance testing, is a small part of a larger remote sensing documentation project using satellite imaging with high resolution of the Emperors" Mausoleums on the Guanzhong plain. This long-term project has been undertaken by the Shaanxi Provincial Archaeology Institute, and two institutes from Mainz—the University of Applied Sciences and the Roemisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum.

The German public will be able to see a computer-aided display of the interior of the as yet unopened Zhaoling Museum developed by Chinese and German scholars from the Technical University of Darmstadt at an exhibition titled "Xi'an: Imperial Power in the Afterlife" to be staged from 21 April to 23 July 2006 at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn.


Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province, has formulated a new plan to protect its historical buildings. The city, with more than 3,100 years of urban construction history which also served as capital for 13 dynasties, has a large number of ancient buildings, ruins and relics, China Daily reported 10 January 2006. Rapid economic development over the past two decades has resulted in the demolition of traditional residential houses in the city.

Heritage protection plaques have now been placed on dozens of houses by the Xi'an municipal government, in an effort to ward off developers. More importantly, the plan, which will cost RMB50 million yuan, includes a restoration program. The protected residential houses were built in the late-Qing and early-Republican period.


Xinhua News Agency reported on 12 January 2006 that archaeologists have discovered 117 Han dynasty cultural relics in ten brick chamber tombs during construction of the Beijing stretch of the south-to-north water diversion project. Three kilns of the Han dynasty and six earth graves of the Ming-Qing period were also unearthed. The unearthed funerary goods included a small bronze knife and a bronze mirror, as well as typical pottery funerary figurines, including a dog and other farmyard animals. The discoveries were made by archaeologists working under the auspices of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Cultural Heritage in Nanzheng village in Beijing's Fangshan district, 80km of which are traversed by the project.

At least twelve sites with significant archaeological remains have been identified in the area through which these new water channels will pass, according to an announcement by the Beijing Administration of Cultural Heritage on 10 January. These include: significant Han dynasty and Liao-Jin period remains at Dingzhuangwa; an ancient cemetery with more than fifty identified graves at Yanshang; Zhou-Han material at a 400sq m site at Fenzhuang; a Yuan dynasty tomb at Zhugezhuang; three kiln and workshop sites believed to date to the Han dynasty in Dayuan; and Eastern Han dynasty brick tombs in Guogezhuang.


The discovery of an early-Qing dynasty family temple stele recording the settlement of a refugee of the Taiya nationality from Taiwan in a village outside Dengzhou, Henan province, was reported by Xinhua News Agency on 12 January 2006. The parents of the Taiya native, whose unusual transliterated name of Monawadanxieguoxi is recorded in the stele, were killed by Dutch invaders, and he subsequently joined the resistance forces of Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga). After Zheng's death in Taiwan and the outbreak of civil war there, Monawadanxieguoxi crossed to the mainland with some of his fellows, landing first in Fujian and then later travelling to Beijing, before moving to the Dengzhou area of Henan. More than seven hundred of his ancestors now inhabit several villages around Dengzhou, and his exploits are recorded in The Gazetteer of Dengzhou.


Although religious customs in China are not classified, to date, as cultural heritage items, the government of the Tibetan Autonomous Region announced, on 12 January 2006, its adoption of rigid rules banning photography and media reports on sky burial, a traditional Tibetan burial custom entailing the exposure of bodies of the deceased on remote mountain tops for vultures to devour, according to China Daily. The government regulations represent an effort to better protect and show respect for the special ritual burial that has prevailed in parts of Tibet for more than ten centuries.

According to the provisional administration's rules on "sky burial" released by the Tibet autonomous regional government, outsiders are not allowed to gather to watch the burial process; photos, video recording, and all other forms of reporting on the traditional custom are strictly forbidden.

The new provisional regulations, the third of their kind issued in the past two decades since 1985, underscore the fact that sky burials are a Tibetan custom protected by the national laws. To better protect the vultures, creatures sacred to Tibetans, the firing of guns, the blasting of mountainsides, and quarrying in areas adjacent to burial sites are also prohibited. Responding to the call of local residents and shamans, the bodies of those who die of poisoning or infectious diseases are not allowed to receive celestial burials, the provisional rules state. The rules and regulations emphasize for the first time that those who perform celestial burials, a special group of Tibetans, should be esteemed as professionals, and that no discrimination should be directed against them. The autonomous regional government has made a decision to offer financial aid to senior people who perform the burial and those who fall short of having sufficient income, according to an official in charge of social welfare with the regional civil affairs department.

Statistics from the department show that there are a total of 1,075 celestial burial sites and approximately one hundred officiators across Tibet. About eighty percent of Tibetans still prefer celestial burial, a practice observed for hundreds of years, acknowledged Basang Wangdu, director of the Nationality Research Institute of the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences.

Celestial burial is one of the three principal ways that Tibetans traditionally return their deceased compatriots to the earth. The two others are cremation and water burial. Though the Chinese central government built a modern crematory in Tibet in October 2000, it is not favoured by local Tibetans. The first Tibetan cremation was carried out on 2 January 2001. Celestial burial is closely related to the Buddhism practiced in the Himalayan region. The spirit of the dead is believed to leave the body at the moment of death on its way to reincarnation, and the corpse is fed to birds of prey, or sacred vultures, as a last token of charity.

In the two previous official orders, the autonomous regional government imposed penalties on uninvited outsiders participating in the rituals and photographers recording the burial. The Tibetan regional government removed nine quarries and stone processing plants from Sera Monastery, a leading burial site on the northern outskirts of Lhasa, in 2004, and earmarked RMB one million yuan for its renovation.

Priority was also given to the protection of local burial sites and monasteries during China's landmark construction of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, the highest in the world. The 1,956km railway stretching from Xining in Qinghai to Lhasa, is regarded as an engineering success, with rail lines passing through mountain passes at an altitude of 5,000 meters and tracks covering a 550km long stretch over permafrost.


Xinhua News Agency's Shijiazhuang office reported on 9 January 2006 new discoveries at the extensive palaeolithic site in Hebei province's Nihewan basin. According to archaeologists, the most recent excavations of the 4th, 5th and 6th cultural layers at the Maquangou locus at Nihewan push back evidence of human habitation at the site, by 80-100,000 years, to 1.75 million years BP. The first three cultural layers were excavated between 1992 and 2001, and then the third layer was dated to 1.66 million years BP using geomagnetic instrumentation.

Between July and November 2005, archaeologists working under the auspices of the Hebei Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau discovered the three underlying strata, at depths of 2.1m, 6.5m and 7.3m respectively, and these were found to contain animal bones and stone chips, several of which showed evidence of human processing. A spokesman for the archaeological team stated that it is still impossible at this stage to comment on the cultural content of the discoveries.


On 6 January 2006, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Taihe Dian, the most magnificent and important of the Three Halls (Sandian) on the southern end of the north-south axis of the Palace Museum, better known as the Forbidden City, was closed for extensive renovations. Taihe Dian, where the business of imperial government was once conducted, is not scheduled to be reopened to the public until the end of 2007. The two other halls, the Hall of Complete Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony, will remain open. These renovations are part of a major project that began in 2001, when only 250,000 square meters, or thirty-eight percent of the area covered by the palace were open to the public. The first stage of renovations was completed in December 2005, and the area opened to the public was extended to 300,000sq m, with the installation of state of the art exhibition space in Wumen Gate (where a collection of costumes is being prepared for display), the Western Wing of Taihe Men (housing an exhibition of guard of honour paraphernalia), the Western Wing of Taihe Dian (displays of musical instruments and palace weaponry), Wuying Dian (paintings and ancient books), Xianfu Gong, Tongdao Tang (displays of Ci Xi and the events of 1900-1901), Lijing Xuan (exhibition on the life of Puyi), Yonghe Gong (an exhibition of concubine life in the Qing dynasty), Chengqian Gong (bronzes), Yanxi Gong (ancient calligraphy and paintings and the ancient ceramics centre) and Jingren Gong (special exhibition of donated objects).

Other areas about to be opened are Wenhua Dian (ceramics), the Eastern Wing of Taihe Men (equipage and carriages and palace administration), the Eastern Wing of Qianqing Palace (imperial weddings), and the Western Wing of Qianqing Palace (imperial birthdays and other celebrations).

When Taihe Dian finally reopens in 2007, the area open to the public will be further increased by twelve percent to embrace nearly 400,000sq m, half of the original palace's total area. The Imperial Palace is China's most popular tourist attraction, drawing seven million visitors a year.


Further evidence documenting the origins in China of agriculture, and of riziculture in particular, may be forthcoming with the discovery by archaeologists last year in Period III remains at the Shangshan site in Zhejiang province of grains of rice tentatively dated to 10,000 years BP. The Shangshan site is located along the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, and is described by Sheng Danping, director of the Pujiang County Museum, in the 5 January issue of People's Daily, as an intermediate site or "link" between the earlier cultures of the mid Yangtze valley region, notably represented by the sites of Wannian-Xianrendong (in Jiangxi) and Yuchanyan (in Hunan), and later sites of the lower Yangtze—Yuyao-Hemudu and Xiaoshan-Kuahuqiao. Conventionally, the Hemudu site is described by prehistorians as the oldest place in China where evidence, dating back to 7,000 years BP, of the practice of riziculture has been found, but there are regular press reports of discoveries of older rice grains at Hemudu and many other sites in southern and central China. Local archaeologists have not yet determined whether these most recently discovered rice grains are "cultivated " varieties.


Chinese archaeologists discovered thirteen tombs dating back more than 1,700 years in Shuangliu county, Sichuan province, and unearthed a large number of pottery figurines and utensils recently, according to a Xinhua News Agency report of 5 January 2006. Located in the Huangyang township, the thirteen tombs line side to side in descending order from the top to the bottom of a 5m high slope. The three tombs at the top of the small plateau are the largest, each measuring 15 meters in length, 2.6m wide and two meters in depth.

Archaeologists discovered that the earth around these tombs was pounded, and were surprised to see that tomb bricks were carved with fine patterns of strings of beads, a well as rhombus and phoenix motifs. The tombs are believed to have belonged to one family with high social status in the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220CE), judging by the size of the tombs, the building materials and the funeral objects they were found to contain. Apart from a red pottery horse and other pottery item, archaeologists also unearthed a brick, measuring 50cm square, decorated with paintings of typical buildings of the Eastern Han. Such bricks were used to decorate tomb chambers and are usually only seen in tombs. Illustrated bricks and stones are of great significance for studying social life and beliefs of the Eastern Han dynasty, and this example provides visual evidence for studying funeral rituals in the Sichuan area during the Eastern Han.


Archaeologists in Inner Mongolia have unearthed graves dating back more than 2,200 years in Horinger County and excavated a large number of artefacts, according to a Xinhua News Agency report of 31 December 2005. The graves, contemporary with the Warring States period (475-221BCE) in China proper, were excavated at the ruins of the ancient Tuchengzi city between April and December 2005 by the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Regional Archaeology Institute. The dead were interred in both extended and flexed positions, some dorsal. What is noteworthy is that archaeologists found five tombs with many bodies buried randomly together. One of the graves contained more than fifty bodies, and ninety-six percent of the deceased in these tombs were males, aged around twenty-five and believed to have been craftsmen or soldiers. The latter possibility is suggested by the fact that some of the bodies had been either decapitated, lacked some limbs, or had obvious wounds inflicted by knives or arrowheads on the chest or head.

Archaeologists also discovered a large number of bronze swords and daggers in the graves. The discovery indicates that the graves date from a period of internecine warfare.


Xinhua News Agency reported from Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province, on 4 January 2006, that the provincial cultural relics bureau had announced the discovery of a "subterranean Great Wall" complex running through Yongqing, Xiongxian and Bazhou counties. The "subterranean Great Wall" complex is in fact a network of concealed military roads running through trenches, which are not mentioned in ancient literature and which preliminary surveys reveal to have connected an area extending for 1300sq km. The reports suggest that these defences were built during the Northern Song dynasty to counter threats from the Liao state.


Guangming Daily reported on 4 January 2006 that in the course of recent construction work at the moat and wall of ancient Liye city in Hunan province, archaeologists found more than fifty inscribed slips dated to the Qin dynasty, at a site only 50m away from where more than 30,000 slips were found in June 2006. Scholars are examining the slips in an attempt to determine what relationship this find has with the earlier discovery, and whether the slips belong to the same historical period.


On 3 January 2006, Xinhua News Agency reported the results of the excavation in Hubei of the tomb of Zhu Dong, the Ming dynasty Prince of Yingjing, the 23rd son of the founder of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang. In the eastern and western side-rooms off the main chamber of the tomb, located in Zhongxiang, Hubei province, the excavators found six decomposed coffins that had once housed six females, the gender of whom was identified from remaining dental material. It is suggested that these six females were either concubines (qie) or slave-girls (binyu), who were buried together with their master and his consort (fei) Lady Guo. According to historical accounts, this tomb was part of a mausoleum complex originally surrounded by red walls measuring 127 zhang in height with a main hall comprising seven bays and thirty side-rooms. The surface buildings were reportedly flattened by Japanese bombing in 1937.


On 24 December 2005, Xinhua News Agency reported the discovery of a group of more than 40 tombs ranging in date from the late Warring States period to the early Western Han dynasty in Xigucheng village in the southern suburbs of Xi'an. At the time of the report, archaeologists had excavated the five most "promising" tombs at the site, believed to have been a clan cemetery.

In several graves a number of assemblages of pottery ritual vessels were found, as well as a bronze mirror and bell and some bronze coins, but one grave measuring 6m in length and 4 m in breadth was found to contain more than ten bronze vessels. One of the bronze vessels was a "garlic bulb'-shaped vase (suantou hu), found to contain the remains of yellow liquid. The vessel, believed to belong to the early Western Han dynasty (206BCE-23CE), is approximately 30cm in height and has a long neck and round belly. Although such vessels usually contain alcoholic beverages, the liquid in this example had no smell. When poured into a glass beaker, the clear liquid was found to contain a creamy suspension. At the time of the report archaeologists had not identified the liquid.

The tomb in which it was found is believed to have possibly belonged to a high-ranking official. The cache of relics also included cocoon-shaped pottery kettles, food-cooking earthen utensils, pottery jugs, pottery cauldrons, bronze mirrors and bronze combs.


China's first cinema museum, a complex in Beijing's Qianmenwai district with 38,000 square meters of floor space, was inaugurated on 29 December 2005, to commemorate the centenary of the birth of film making in China. A joint project of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and the Beijing Municipal Government, the museum exhibits focus on movie technology and movie screenings. The museum contains twenty-one display rooms and five small screening theatres.

The museum was opened to commemorate the centenary of the birth of the Chinese movie industry, celebrated by an exhibition of more than 6,000 items. In 1905, Mt Dingjunshan was the first Chinese-made movie. Ren Qingtai (1850-1932), the owner of the Fengtai Photo Studio, employed imported technology to document a Peking Opera as a silent film. Not surprisingly, the museum is housed in what was once a major Peking Opera theatre on Dazhala (also known as Dashala'r) Street in the Qianmenwai area.


Wutai Shan, one of the four Buddhist sacred mountains in China, will apply for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage in February 2006, Xinhua News Agency announced on 30 December 2005. Located in Shanxi province, Wutai Shan is home to forty-seven Buddhist monasteries and temples, which house more than 3,000 Buddhist monks and nuns. Wutai Shan is regarded by Buddhist believers as a manifestation of the bodhisattva Manjusri.


Xinhua News Agency reported from Chengdu on 19 December 2005 that the Chengdu Municipal Cultural Relics and Archaeology Team had recently excavated seven eunuchs" tombs, dating from the Ming dynasty, in the suburbs of that city. One of the tombs was that of a high-ranking eunuch who served at the court of the Prince of Shu. The tombs were all located at a depth of seven metres below the surface of the ground. At the time of the announcement, tombs 5, 6 and 7 of the group were found to have not been robbed. The tombs contained a total of more than sixty artefacts, including typical Ming dynasty porcelain, jade belt plaques and other silver items.


In a brief item of 28 December 2005, Xinhua News Agency reported that China would "soon" stage an international symposium on Shuishu, the unique pictographic characters of the Shui ethnic group. The news agency cited as its source Pan Chaolin, a researcher of the Guizhou Institute for Nationalities. Shuishu is still in use by the Shui people, of whom 369,700 inhabit Guizhou province.


Xinhua News Agency, on 25 December 2005, reported the successful excavation by the Shaanxi Provincial Archaeology Institute of a tomb dated to the Sui dynasty (581-618CE), located near Shuicun village, Tongguan county, Shaanxi province. The tomb was found to contain 72sq m of well-preserved frescos, as well as more than two-hundred funerary objects including pottery and a stone coffin.

The tomb chamber measures 5m in height and is semicircular in shape. The walls of the chamber are painted with the images of noblewomen and the roof is painted with silver spots, signifying stars. A white belt across the ceiling is believed to signify the Milky Way.

On the side walls of the tomb passage, which is 21m long and over two meters wide, there were once murals. From what remains archaeologists could still discern forty-six processional figures, a horse and a halberd, the latter suggesting that a guard of honour or a display of regalia was also once painted on the walls.

The tomb was found to contain a stone coffin, measuring three metres in length and two metres in width, placed along an east-west alignment. The coffin is carved with celestial beings, beasts and complex patterns. Judging from the layout of the tomb, as well as from the funeral objects interred therein and the carvings on the coffin, it is believed to have belonged to a member of the imperial family. The tomb had, however, been robbed, and the valuable epitaph was missing.


On 27 December 2005, the Sichuan Provincial Archaeology Institute announced to the public its discovery of a rare bronze horse and chariot in a chamber adjacent to a tomb in Ziyang. These bronze funerary objects, the first of their type discovered in Sichuan, are believed to have been made either in the Han dynasty (206BCE-220CE) or, even earlier, in the Qin dynasty (221-206BCE). The tomb owner is believed to have been a high-ranking official or aristocrat, in light of the equestrian funerary object.


On 23 December 2006, the China Great Wall Society announced that it would undertake a comprehensive survey of the entirety of the Great Wall of the Qin dynasty beginning in April or May 2006. There are still extensive remains of the Qin wall in Gansu, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia and Hebei. The society previously surveyed the Ming dynasty Great Wall.


Xinhua News Agency announced on 22 December 2005 that the Architecture School of Shanghai's Tongji University is restoring Sangtsu Tsezung Palace, a complex of buildings in Xigaze, Tibet, built six centuries ago. Sangtsu Tsezung Palace, the oldest building in Xigaze, was the traditional residence of the Panchen Lama. Built in 1363, the main structure of the palace is more than 120m in height and resembles the famous Potala Palace in Lhasa. The palace fell into disrepair and is now on the verge of collapse. Most of the contents have been removed, but the palace foundations are still solid.


In December 2005, it was announced that a Sino-French archaeological expedition working in the Keriya River Valley in the southern Taklimakan Desert, Xinjiang, had successfully concluded its most recent season of excavations, the fifth since 1993. In the course of these explorations, the teams have looked at the remains of three ancient cities along the ancient course of the river. The earliest are the Yuansha ancient city ruins of the Western Han Dynasty (206BCE-24CE).

During the most recent season, the Sino-French team collected fine stone implements, jade- and glassware. A detailed report on the discoveries of the twelve-year long project will be published after laboratory work is completed.


On 21 December 2005, Xinhua News Agency reported from Chongqing the discovery there of "the first Yuan dynasty tomb with murals in the area south of the Yangtze River", quoting the deputy-head of the Chongqing Municipal Archaeology Institute's excavation team, Lin Bizhong.

The tomb was discovered in the course of housing construction work in Zhengxing village, Wushan county, under the administration of the municipality. The walls and ceiling of the twin-chambered tomb, which once housed a couple, were found to be decorated with images in black and red pigments of "scenes of daily life". More specifically, the walls of the left chamber depicted such gentry pastimes as playing chess, playing the qin (Chinese "lute"), receiving instruction from a tutor and appreciating a scroll painting; the right chamber, which housed the wife, was decorated with floral and faunal motifs, including peonies, a pine tree, a bird in flight and butterflies.

To either side of the inside entrance of the tomb with half metre high images of male and female attendants in Mongol dress. Because of the humidity in southern China, tombs there tended not to be decorated with murals.


On 19 December 2005, Shan Qixiang, the head of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, announced in Chengdu that the authorities in charge of cultural relics work plan to list all non-registered, non-removable and underground relics during the coming five years. After this task is completed, the protection levels required for these sites and remains will be determined by a panel of experts. China conducted two previous surveys of the nation's cultural relics, in the 1950s and the 1980s.


The Alxa Association of Folk Songs in the Alxa League, in Inner Mongolia, announced on 20 December 2005 that Mongolian "long-tune" folk songs have been approved as representative of human oral and non-material heritage by officials from both China and the Mongolian Republic. Alxa Mongolian folk songs are more than three-hundred years old, according to Gerel, secretary of the Alxa Association of Folk Songs. Since September 2003, the association has collected some 1,100 rare folk songs. The songs preserve a time-honoured pentatonic style, and are characterised by few lyrics that allow for creative improvisation.


On 19 December 2005, it was reported that Tai'an had set up an institute to study the legacy of Liuxia Hui, a sage-son of the ancient city located beside Mount Taishan in Shandong province. The city staged a conference to mark the 2725th anniversary of Liuxia's birth, making much of the opportunity to publicise the current relevance for the "harmonious society" (hexie shehui) of Liuxia Hui's philosophy of "harmony" (he).


Hancheng in Shaanxi province was a major centre during the Zhou dynasty and was later the birthplace of China's ancient historian, Sima Qian. Hancheng became the focus of media attention when the discoveries made during an excavation there, which began in April 2005 were revealed at a press conference on 16 December 2005. In the course of 2005 archaeologists discovered more than 103 graves and seventeen horse and carriage burial pits over an area of 33.3 hectares in Liangdai village, Hancheng. The team excavated one horse and chariot pit (designated K1) and three of the larger tombs (M19, M27 and M26), the best-preserved tombs of the late Western Zhou discovered in the past three decades. Two of the larger tombs had not been robbed, and they held invaluable objects for archaeologists to study.

The excavated tombs, believed to date back 2,800 years, were found to contain more than 600 bronze items, as well as rare gold, agate, jade, shell and lacquer objects. The tombs are believed to have belonged to high-ranking officials. Some of the unearthed ritual bronzes bear inscriptions which reveal that the occupant of the larger tombs was the duke of the kingdom of Rui. Prior to this discovery, textual records located this area in the contemporary state of Liang.

Gold objects are rare in Zhou dynasty burials, and the unique gold objects found here are regarded as reflecting the tastes of the occupant of the tomb in which they were found. However, they reveal a degree of gold workmanship not previously seen in this period.

The other fascinating and valuable aspect of the finds is the unearthing of a complete set of military musical instruments that would have been played on the battlefields during the Shang-Zhou period.


On 11 December 2005, Xinhua News Agency's web service reported the completion of the excavation by an archaeological team from the Ezhou Municipal Museum of an Eastern Jin tomb belonging to a married couple. The tomb in Ezhou, Hubei province, was found to contain thirty-five articles, including iron, pottery and porcelain artefacts, as well as bronze items. It is believed that the tomb was part of a nearby, as yet undiscovered, cemetery.