A seat at the table of China's historical, artistic and ornamental past

"National Treasure," recently screened on China Central Television, caused quite a stir on the social network when it revealed 27 of the nation's most precious antiques.

"National Treasure,” a cultural exploration program recently screened on China Central Television, caused quite a stir on the social media when it revealed 27 pieces of the nation’s most precious antiques.

These displayed treasures, from nine museums cross the country, including Zhejiang Museum, combine the best of China’s historical, artistic, scientific and ornamental values.

Three treasures, selected from Zhejiang Museum, attracted particular attention from Zhejiang natives on the TV show, which saw influential public figures narrate the stories behind the cultural relics. Those three antiques are on display in the Wulin Pavilion of Zhejiang Museum all year around. But it is an ideal opportunity for visitors to learn about the province’s millennia-old history and ancestors’ wisdom through the exhibits on view.


Yucong 玉琮

Yucong, or the cylindrical jadeware engraved with patterns of mythical creatures, is the epitome of Liangzhu-style jade artifacts. The shape symbolizes the orbits of the sun and moon in Liangzhu culture.

The mythical creature motif appears on many types of jade and ivory articles from Liangzhu Archaeological Site, but rarely engraved on crockery and stoneware. Therefore, archaeologists considered it has a religious meaning, and yucong is used as a ritual vessel in worshipping ceremonies.

Liangzhu Archaeological Site, in Yuhang District, contains relics dating back to 3300-2300 BC. It is the first Neolithic city unearthed along the lower reaches of the Yangtze River.

Its excavations prove that ancient China could date back as far as 5,000 years, alongside civilizations like ancient India, Egypt and Babylon, which pushed forward the wheel of Chinese history nearly two millennia.

Tombs and ritual relics have been unearthed, along with jade tools and objects. Chinese jade production reached heyday during this period and stimulated the development of other crafts.

In addition, silk, ivory and lacquer artifacts were unearthed from the burial sites of the elite, while pottery was found in burial plots of poorer individuals. These burial objects epitomized the owner’s social status and wealth.

Meanwhile, a water storage system discovered there is the earliest and biggest water system of its kind ever found in the world. Historians consider Liangzhu city to be the origin and, or, the city layout of ancient China.

Liangzhu Archaeological Site is the center of Liangzhu culture. In recent decades, the same types of relics were unearthed in the Yangtze River Delta region, stretching from present-day Shanghai to the northern Jiangsu Province, which proves that Liangzhu was not simply a tribe, but a mature civilization.

This ancient civilization is the cradle of Chinese jade and agricultural culture. Today, excavations still continue as more and more new discoveries surprise the archeology field.

Ningbo bridal sedan chair

Ningbo bridal sedan chair 宁波花轿

In the ancient Ningbo area, when a family’s daughter was about to be married, they would give a dowry to son-in-law’s family. The bigger and better the dowry, the higher the status their daughter would have in the new family.

Rich families would spend a large sum of money, making or renting an impressive sedan chair to ensure their daughter’s future happiness.

The Ningbo bridal sedan chair was made in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) according to the traditional mortise and tenon technique for joining 400 pieces of wood at an angle of 90 degrees.

It takes a craftsman more than 30 years to complete and they are considered to be one of the best sedan chairs in the period. It is engraved with auspicious floral patterns, legendary stories and mythical creatures, embedded with ornate paintings on glass and carved with around 250 figures. The whole surface is painted with glittering golden and red lacquer, with tassels hanging from the top.

This is a classic “八抬大轿” — which literally means “a sedan chair that needs eight bearers to lift it.” In old times, only a wealthy family could afford such a stylish sedan chair, because the rent equals the price of 2.5 tons of rice.

On the wedding day, the bride would sit in a sedan chair and be carried to the bridegroom’s family house, followed by porters carrying her dowry. It is said that the longest procession might stretch for 10 li — 5 kilometers — when it was for the daughter of a rich family. Therefore, this tradition came to be known as “10 li of red dowry.”

Caifeng mingqi Chinese seven-string zither 

Caifeng mingqi Chinese seven-string zither 彩凤鸣岐七弦琴

A Chinese seven-string zither, or guqin, could date back to the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) when the manufacturing techniques were at their peak. During this period, the Lei family in Sichuan Province produced the best guqin, and the Lei made this one.

Historians named it “caifeng mingqi” because there were four characters engraved on it. In the Qing Dynasty, it was handed down to the great master Yang Zongji, who later carved inscriptions of praise on the bottom.

This guqin survived wartime and was well preserved by a Zhejiang collector. In the 1950s it was donated to the Zhejiang Museum and has since been a highlight of the museum.

Guqin is an ancient traditional instrument favored by scholars and the literati, who played it for reflection and self-cultivation. It is considered the essence of Chinese musical arts, usually played as an instrument of great subtlety and refinement.

Date: Tuesday-Sunday

Address: Zone E, West Lake Culture Square, 581 Zhongshan Rd N.

Admission: Free

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