That long period which stretches from the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) down to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) occupies a significant place in Chinese history. It witnessed the evolution of feudalism from its origins in the Qin to its zenith in the Tang and is well understood due to a wealth of archaeological findings.
It was in 210 BC that Qinshihuang unified the whole country. As the first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty he founded China's first centralized feudal monarchy.
The interest of the whole world seems to have been captured by the archaeological investigations in Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi Province. Here the magnificent Qinshihuang Mausoleum and its thousands of guardian terra cotta warriors and horses stand testimony to the centralized power of the state.
However, also important in shedding the light of science on these long gone days of the Qin are findings from Qin Dynasty cemeteries in Xianyang city, Longxian County and Fengxiang County in Shaanxi Province.
These vividly illustrate the transition from the patriarchal clan system based on ties of kinship to the more sophisticated geopolitical system marked by the prefecture and county setups. These had appeared in embryonic form during the preceding Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-256 BC) finally taking shape in the Qin Dynasty.
Liu Bang, remembered reverently after his death as Han Gaozu, started a peasant revolt which toppled the Qin monarchy in 206 BC. It was on the ruins of Qinshihuang's grand Epang Palace that the Han Dynasty was established. The feudal dynasty that emerged from these ashes was to last for over 400 years divided by history into the Western Han (206 BC-25 AD) and Eastern Han (25-220).
Han Dynasty emperors were to follow the example set by Qinshihuang who constructed a majestic mausoleum for himself during his lifetime. Thus the archaeological remains of imperial mausoleums have become a hallmark of the period.
The excavation of Han Jingdi Liu Qi’s mausoleum in Hanyang, Shaanxi Province produced over 5,000 funerary objects and hundreds of skeletons. And so evidence was produced to show that this so-called “enlightened ruler” of the historical record had in fact forced an army of prisoners to labor up to 28 years in hand irons and leg fetters to build his mausoleum.
Other finds continue to add to the body of knowledge. 107 jade chimes were unearthed in 1999 in sacrificial pits in Luozhuang village, Zhangqiu city, Shandong Province. One particular jade dish which came to light in Xi'an in 2001 is unique for being the only known sacrificial utensil used by Han Dynasty emperors in an annual ceremonial offering of sacrifices to the gods in Taishan Mountain. Over 60 beacon towers extending 150 km from east to west to form part of the Great Wall of the Han Dynasty were found in Fushun city, Liaoning Province.
Excavations of the graves of members of the royal clan, the nobility and ordinary people have not only produced many precious cultural relics in great but also revealed an overall perspective on Han society. Significant digs have included the Western Han Nanyue King’s tomb in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province and the Mawangdui Han Dynasty tomb in Changsha, Hunan Province. Furthermore the many finds of Han epitaphs have added significant complementary material to the historical record.
Then came the Three Kingdoms (220-280), Jin Dynasty (265-420), Northern and Southern Dynasties (386-589). All were to add their chaotic years of warfare to Chinese history.
The archaeological record reflects internal economic and cultural development together with foreign contacts during these periods. Artifacts of importance in opening a window on this period would include celadon ware from a Western Jin (265-316) grave in Xuanzhou, Anhui Province; glass vessels from a Northern Wei (386-534) tomb in Beipiao, Liaoning Province; a silver pot inlaid with fine gold from a Northern Zhou (557-581) tomb in Guyuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Southern Dynasties (420-589) stone statues of the Buddha in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.
China’s feudalism saw its heyday in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Much has been learned about what the life of the ancients must have been like in the great Tang Empire. The burial places of the imperial family and the nobility in Xi’an have been excavated. A wealth of gold and silver vessels has been discovered in Hejiacun village in the southern suburbs of Xi’an. Modern day Xi'an was called Chang’an in those far away days when it served as the capital of the Tang Dynasty.
In 1997, many Tang imperial relics were unearthed from the terrestrial palace of Famen Temple in Fufeng County, Shaanxi Province. With them were discovered holy relics that had lain buried for over 1,000 years. These were bead-like objects known as sarira believed to be remains from the cremation of the body of the Buddha.
During the 9th Five-year Plan (1996-2000), excavations in 243 grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu Province produced scraps of Buddhist sutra written in eight languages including Chinese, Tibetan, Uygur, Sanskrit and Mongolian.
Many colorful relics have been unearthed in the western regions. Not least are those from the Astana graveyard in Turpan, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and the Reshui cemetery in Dulan, Qinghai Province. These are complemented by finds in the eastern regions such as the Bohai ruins and tombs in Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces. Together they combine to chart the progress of assimilation towards nationhood under the influence of the all-embracing Tang culture.
(China.org.cn, translated by Shao Da, April 7, 2003)