Bringing the Ming Dynasty to life in 'relics jigsaw' exhibition

Yang Yang
A guide at the district museum in Minhang makes historic exhibitions vivid and memorable for visitors.
Yang Yang
Bringing the Ming Dynasty to life in 'relics jigsaw' exhibition

Performers dressed as Emperor Wanli, his wife and guards at the exhibition provide an immersive experience of the Ming Dynasty for visitors.

That a district museum can realize grand dreams of culture – presenting a historic map of ancient China through jigsaws of relics' exhibitions on different dynasties, and arousing a patriotic feeling among visitors – is believed by both docent Xu Di and his employer the Minhang Museum.

September 15 was the first day of the exhibition "Rule of Wanli Emperor: Cultural Relics During the Reign of Wanli Unearthed from the Ming Tombs."

Xu has previous guided tours for returned Chinese cultural relics from overseas, a lifestyle exhibition on the capital of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), and historic items unearthed from the Han Dynasty (202 BC- AD 220) Mawangdui tombs.

He said this Wanli period (1573-1620) exhibition is a good glimpse into the society, culture, art and interactions with the rest of the world of the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Xu graduated from Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts as a broadcasting and anchoring major.

Starting in 2014 he has been responsible for guide and reception for all exhibition halls and has received more than 30,000 guests in the next six years.

The original briefs on the exhibits are usually dreary and dull, but when explained by Xu, each cultural relic is paired with vivid ancient-time stories or well-checked historic knowledge.

"Though we're talking about the Wanli period, we actually have done preparation on the entire Ming Dynasty," said Xu.

"The Ming Dynasty had its unyielding spirit. An ancestral tradition required the emperors to safeguard their countries and never cede territory, pay an indemnity, marry their princesses to minority nationalities or pay tribute to other countries. When it was on the edge of perishing, its last emperor committed suicide on a tree rather than choose to submit.

"The Wanli period boasts diverse historic figures, such as the politician Zhang Juzheng (1525-1582), the scientist Xu Guangqi (1562-1633), the artist Dong Qichang (1555-1636) and the eunuch Feng Bao (n.a.-1583)."

The 116 exhibits from the Wanli period were largely borrowed from the Ming Tombs Museum, Beijing Art Museum and the National Center for Archeology in Beijing. Xu has visited these museums to learn the stories behind the relics.

The exhibits include a digital installation of a global map which was introduced by Matteo Ricci for Emperor Wanli, spine-shaped jade, emperor's waist girdle, Xiaoduan Queen's posthumous treasure, jade bowl with hollow gold lid and gold tray, and octagonal silver make-up box.

Bringing the Ming Dynasty to life in 'relics jigsaw' exhibition

The Jiajing period (1521-1566) blue-and-white cloud dragon pattern porcelain jar was discovered in Emperor Wanli's tomb and was used as a lamp.

Visitors can gain a basic understanding of culture, art and lifestyle of late Ming in China when the country was gradually immersed in the tide of global change.

The empire of Ming through 276 years started from its founding emperor Hongwu in 1368 and gained strength through the reign of Yongle (1403-1424), Hongxi (1424-1425) and Xuande (1425-1435).

Through a middle flourishing period of Emperor Hongzhi (1488-1505), it finally ended with the suicide of Emperor Chongzhen (1628-1644) when faced with the invasion of the Manchus.

Zhu Yijun (1563-1620), or Emperor Wanli, was the 13th emperor among the 16 kings of the Ming Dynasty. He started his site selection for his tomb in 1583.

When he was finally buried in his Dingling Tomb in Dayushan Mountain in Beijing at the age of 58, he took along with him about 4,000 grave goods including silk items, gold, silver, bronze, tin, porcelain, glass, jade and lacquer wares, and jewelry, hats, girdles and books.

Bringing the Ming Dynasty to life in 'relics jigsaw' exhibition

The sash was worn by Emperor Wanli. Twenty gold plaques with entwined floral patterns, studded with emeralds, rubies and pearls, were sewn onto the sash, making it extraordinarily luxurious.

Exhibition info:

Date: Through November 26

Venue: Minhang Museum

Address: 1538 Xinzhen Rd


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