One of the top 100 most famous museums in the world is the Western Han Nanyue King’s Tomb Museum in Guangzhou. The sprawling complex is also known as the “Museum of the Western Han Dynasty Mausoleum of the Nanyue King”. It houses the 2,000-year-old-tomb of the second ruler of the Nanyue kingdom - Zhao Mo. In 1996, the tomb and museum were named a Major National Historical Site by the Chinese government. The Western Han Nanyue King’s Tomb Museum contains the largest number of funerary artifacts from the Han Dynasty in the Lingnan region.
- Located in Guangzhou, the Western Han Nanyue King’s Tomb Museum complex is 14,000 square meters.
- The tomb of Zhao Mo is situated 20 meters (65.6 feet) underground, and is comprised of 750 large pieces of sandstone with murals.
- The museum complex opened in 1988, and contains over a thousand artifacts of bronzeware, terra cotta and cultural relics showcasing the Nanyue Culture.
- Other cultures are also represented are the Chu of south China, the Bashu of southwest China, traces of central Chinese culture, the Hun from the northern grasslands, and even some foreign cultures.
History Of Western Han Nanyue King’s Tomb Museum
The tomb of Zhao Mo was discovered in 1983 during construction of a hotel, under Elephant Hill in Guangzhou. Zhao Mo was the second ruler of the Nanyue kingdom, reigning from 137 BCE to 122 BCE. Nanyue (or Nam Viet) was an ancient kingdom that incorporated portions of northern Vietnam, and the present-day Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Guangxi, and Guangdong. The capital of the kingdom was known as Panyu (present-day Guangzhou). The grandfather of Zhao Mo, Zhao Tuo, had established the Nanyue kingdom. He lived to the ripe age of 103, outliving all his sons, therefore, made his grandson successor.
The tomb complex measures 11 meters (36 ft) in length and 12 meters (39 ft) wide. Divided into seven parts, it contains a main coffin chamber, a front chamber, rooms facing the east and west sides, and located in the back, a chamber used for storage. After several years of excavation, over a thousand cultural artifacts were discovered, including 15 courtiers who were buried to serve the emperor in the afterlife. The tomb complex is the oldest and largest ancient tomb from the early Han Dynasty, ever discovered in Lingnan area.
The Han Dynasty spanned four centuries, from 206 BCE to 220 AD. It is regarded as a golden age in the history of China. Even in modern times, China’s ethnic majority is called “Han Chinese”, and the Chinese script is known as “Han characters”.
In the context of Chinese history, Zhao Mo is considered to be the second emperor of the Nanyue kingdom. However, from the Vietnamese perspective, he is regarded as the king of Vietnam, and ruler of the Triệu dynasty.
Culture Of Western Han Nanyue King’s Tomb Museum
The overall layout of the Western Han Nanyue King’s Tomb Museum is centred on the tomb of Zhao Mo. It is also the first tomb every discovered of the early Western Han dynasty, that includes frescos on its walls. Covering 14,000 square meters, the museum is comprised of 10 exhibition halls.
The Jade Burial Suit: The highlight of the museum is a silk-jade garment comprised of 2,291 pieces of jade. It is common for jade garments to have been connected pieces of gold, silver, or copper. However, this artifact is the first to be discovered using silk thread to connect the jade. This burial suit is the only on its kind in the world. Likewise, the style of buttons on the garment has never been unearthed before. Not only does this artifact display the early development of this garment style, it also demonstrates the evolution of Nanyue culture.
The Cultural Artifacts: In addition to the thousand-plus burial artifacts on display in the museum, bronzeware and terra cotta were also unearthed. Three sets of bronze bells, thirty-six bronze mirrors, and thirty-six bronze statues are on display. Beautiful gold seals are also on display, giving visitors a window into Nanyue culture. Visitors to the museum can see the world’s first set of bronze moulds for textiles on display. In addition, the largest and oldest folding screen in China is also amongst the cultural artifacts at the museum.
Foreign Artifacts: Several foreign artifacts were unearthed in the tomb complex, and are now displayed in the museum. A silver box from ancient Persia was discovered in the tomb complex, and is the oldest imported item every discovered in China. Other items include African elephant trunks, and bronze incense burners with frankincense from Southeast Asia.
- The Western Han Nanyue King’s Tomb Museum is open from 9 AM to 5:30 PM (with the last tickets being sold at 4:45 PM).
- The museum is closed on February 28th and August 13th.
- On the third Wednesday of every month (except for June), visitors get free admission to the museum.
- On the second Saturday in June (National Cultural Heritage Day), visitors can enjoy free admission to the museum.