Showcasing a Zhejiang culture dating back thousands of years
Modern-day Zhejiang Province has developed from the ancient Yue state, dating back millennia. Today, Zhejiang still features Yue characteristics. Several relic sites have been unearthed across the province, offering clues of how the Yue people lived throughout the course of history.
Some of the Yue etiquette rules and vessels have had long-lasting influence on Zhejiang local culture throughout dynasties. An exhibition that displays Yue culture is underway at the Wulin Pavilion of Zhejiang Museum, giving visitors a chance to appreciate these rare artifacts.
Running through November 30, the exhibition has five sections stretching from the Neolithic period to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), showing 148 sets of Yue artifacts excavated by more than 40 archeological institutions and museums.
The first section mainly showcases yucong (玉琮) from the Neolithic period. Yucong, or cylindrical jadeware engraved with patterns of mythical creatures, is the epitome of Liangzhu civilization in Zhejiang. The shape symbolizes the orbits of the sun and moon in Liangzhu.
The Liangzhu Archeological Site in Hangzhou's Yuhang District contains relics dating back to 3300-2300 BC. It was the first Neolithic city unearthed along the lower reaches of the Yangtze River.
The mythical creature motif appears on many yucong from the Liangzhu Archeological Site. Archeologists think it has a religious meaning, and yucong is used as a ritual vessel in worshipping ceremonies.
The exhibition also displays yucong discovered from the Mabashixia Relic Site in Guangdong Province and Sanxingdui Relic Site in Sichuan Province. Ancestors of the two places retained the shape of yucong but replaced the patterns with their own belief totems, evidence of cultural exchanges millennia ago.
There is a yucong-shaped celadon made during the Song Dynasty (960-1127). In this epoch, such yucong-like vessels were used as wares in royal etiquette and worshipping ceremonies. Ceramic yucong testified to the production of the Zhejiang local Longquan Kiln that was under the administration and supervision of the royal court, which in return gave a boost to the development of Longquan porcelain.
During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), Yue developed into Yue Kingdom, which mainly covered the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. The exhibited bronze swords typify the Yue Kingdom and the pinnacle of ancient swordsmithing.
At the exhibition, visitors have the rare opportunity to view the national top-level treasure, the Yue King Zhezhiyushi Sword (越王者旨於睗剑).
The sword, still shining under light after 2,000 years, is made of a copper-tin alloy with high copper content. Text in an ancient style of writing called bird-worm seal script is engraved on two sides of the hilt. One side translates to "Yue King" and the other "Zhezhiyushi" (者旨於睗), the king's name.
In order to save metal for weapons, the Yue people replaced bronze ritual vessels with ceramic versions, which in turn gave rise to the development of porcelain.
The Asoka sarira pagodas also contain the aesthetics of Yue culture. The exhibition displays a number of Asoka sarira pagodas unearthed from the Leifeng Pagoda.
Standing on the Leifeng Peak of Sunset Hill to the south of West Lake, Leifeng Pagoda is a five-story tower with eight sides. As the tower opens to visitors, its underground palace is off limits.
According to historical documents, Leifeng Pagoda was erected during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period by Qian Chu, the emperor of Wuyue Kingdom (present-day Zhejiang Province) at the time.
During construction, piles of Buddhist scriptures and statues and other treasures were placed in the underground palace, where they remained for more than 1,000 years.
Emperor Qian Chu built numerous Asoka sarira pagodas, which started a trend across China. Similar pagodas were even found in Japan thanks to the monk ambassadors. According to the exhibition, most sarira pagodas were made during the Emperor Qian Chu.
A highlight is the silver Asoka sarira pagoda, which is divided into three sections. The base is embossed with Buddha and Bodhi trees, while the body is decorated with four leaves sculptured with Buddhist stories. The last section is the column.
According to historical documents, Emperor Qian Chu made this pagoda when he began building the Leifeng Pagoda.
Many of today's most well-known Buddhist relic sites in Zhejiang Province, including Liuhe Pagoda, Yanxia Grotto, Lingyin and Jingci temples, were built during this period.
The Ancient Yue Exhibition
Date: Through November 30 (closed on Mondays)
Venue: Zhejiang Museum's Wulin Pavilion
Address: Zone E, West Lake Culture Square, 581 Zhongshan Rd N.