Magic of Pure Silk Lasting

On entering the China National Silk Museum in the capital city of East China's Zhejiang Province, people will be fascinated by two wooden figurines that were on display in the centre of the exhibition hall, according to today's China Daily.

One is in the shape of a dancer, while the other is singing.

Their plump figures, fine brows, clear eyes and carefree and relaxed demeanors were surprisingly lifelike.

Relics from the Mawangdui Tombs were unearthed in Changsha, Hunan Province, from 1972 to 1974. The figurines date back over 2,100 years to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 25).

"When the singing figurine was displayed in the Netherlands several years ago, she was called by the local media an 'Orient Venus'," said Zhao Feng, curator of the silk museum, which was founded in the 1980s, and is one of several specialized silk museums on the Chinese mainland.

No comparison

"The two figures fill me with curiosity about the daily lives of the ancient Chinese people who lived at the dawn of the first millennium. They inspire me, just as Venus and Mona Lisa have done, " said a Taiwan tourist who was happily browsing around the museum.

The curator said it was difficult to make comparisons between artifacts of the Han Dynasty and ancient Greek and Italian mythological beauties.

As one of the most well-established experts on the history and culture of Chinese textiles, Zhao pays particular attention to everything in relation to silk.

It was for this reason that the two figurines were selected by Zhao as the centre pieces for the exhibition that features top-quality silk relics of China.

From the carved folds and patterns on the two figurines, which must have been made by ancient craftsmen, visitors can recognize the silk garments that the two ancient beauties wear. The dancing figurine is dressed in a gorgeous silk gown while the "Orient Venus" wears a robe with well-defined lines that is covered with cloud patterns.

The owners of the tombs were Marquis Dai, his wife and son, who were buried with a large number of funeral objects to maintain their wealth in the afterlife.

From the tombs, archaeologists have unearthed a great deal of precious clothing and textiles, as well as some 500 pieces of lacquerware and 100 wooden figurines, including the two beauties.

Stored in bamboo tubes, the textiles range from gauze to silk to brocade to embroidered materials. Archaeologists and historians view the tombs as some of the most important underground treasure-houses of China's ancient silk products.

These silk costumes, apparel and textile samples display a dazzling variety of weaving and embroidery techniques that bear testimony to the remarkable refinement of the art of silk weaving during the Western Han Dynasty.

Chinese silk is a notable creation which has won Western admiration. However, owning to the fact that the preservation of textiles is extremely difficult, only a few examples of silk products earlier than the Song Dynasty (960-1279) have been excavated. As a result, for a long period of time people believed that silks and other textile products before the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) were either introduced from outside China or began production in China during the Tang period.

Historians changed their minds when precious relics including those from the Mawangdui Tombs were brought to light.

Silk painting

Together with the two intricately sculpted tomb objects, the exhibition at the silk museum also features many other finds from Mangwangdui, including a painting on silk excavated at the No 1 tomb.

The T-shape silk painting depicts four worlds in ancient Chinese mythology, namely the kingdom of heaven, the sky, the human world and the underground world.

Images on the painting include huge mulberry trees, dragons, the sun, the moon and Nuwa, the Chinese goddess who is believed to have created human beings.

The exhibition also contains several books written on silk.

A total of 44 silk books have been unearthed at the No 3 tomb. Silk manuscripts, bearing 100,000-plus Chinese characters, cover subjects such as medicine, economics, philosophy, geography, art, technology and history. Many of the ancient works that have been printed on the silk have long been lost, so this finding is considered very valuable.

Owing to the almost total lack of oxygen in wooden tomb chambers, which were sealed with a layer of clay and buried under 20 metres of earth, the textiles have amazingly remained perfectly preserved, and have survived more than 2,000 years of burial.

Although only a small number from the 3,000-odd treasures unearthed at the Mawangdui Tombs are on display at the exhibition, it is enough to offer visitors a glimpse into the daily lives of the ancient Chinese in the Western Han Dynasty.

The exhibition, part of the on-going West Lake Expo 2001, opened on October 19 and will run to November 20.

(Xinhua News Agency 11/13/2001)