Inside the Sichuan Museum, there’s a special exhibit of the burial items from the archaeological excavation of Zhu Yuelian, a feudal lord from the early Ming dynasty. It remains one of the most complete and well preserved excavation of artefacts from that period.
The Zhu Yuelian tomb was discovered and excavated in 1970. The original tomb is still preserved and the area is opened to public as part of the Phoenix Mountain park. It remains one of the best preserved tomb from the Ming dynasty that has been built for a Prince 親王. Most of the burial items have been moved and currently exhibited in Sichuan Museum. It is still an active archaeological site and items are still discovered as recent as 2018.
Identity of the Owner of the Tomb
Zhu Yuelian 朱悦熑 (1388-1409) was the heir to the King of Shu 蜀王. He was the grandson of the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋. Zhu Yuanzhang’s 11th prince Zhu Chun 朱椿 was his favourite and was conferred the title of King of Shu when he was seven. The title was supposed to be passed on to his firstborn, Zhu Yuelian, who passed away at 21 before his dad. Therefore, it was speculated the tomb which was prepared for his father became his burial ground instead. Zhu Chun passed away in 1423 at 54. His tomb has yet to be found.
Wooden seal called Shi Bao 谥宝 with posthumous name 蜀悼庄世子 of the tomb owner was found unspoiled.
Also found along side of the sarcophagus was the wooden inscription tablets of the conferment of the posthumous title called Shi Ce 谥册 that was given by Emperor Yongle on the 7th year of his reign indicates. This was like the obituary that the emperor written for his nephew.
Stone censer 石刻香爐 was used for incense burning, and was found at the entrance to the burial chamber. The intricate carving of the heavens as its based was to bless the dead to ascend to heaven after his death.
Guardians of the Tomb
Warrior figurines 武士俑 made from sandstone were placed at the main entrance of the burial chamber as guardians of the tomb.
Burial Servants Figurines 随葬俑
For tombs of royalties, there are often large-scale, fixed-combination, and orderly arrangement of burial figurines, which are considered to be a true representation of the life scene of the tomb owner during his lifetime.
In the middle room of the apse of the tomb, where the wooden coffin was placed, there were two rows of glazed stone-carved figurines 琉璃彩俑. They stood facing the coffin bed, like a diorama of a procession in the palace. The right and left compartments were lined with ceremonial figurines following an elephant drawn trellis. The elephant trellis is a car decorated with ivory, and it is a mean of transport used by the prince when he travels. There are 6-horses and 9 horses drawn carriages in front of the elephant gurney. On both sides of the elephant, there are three rows of ceremonial figures. These figurines are moved to the museum and placed in the exact manner they were found.
Firstly, except for the horse-drawn warriors, all of them are holding instruments such as flute, drum, sheng, piano and clapper. The ceremonial warriors in the third row were ceremonial guards holding ceremonial swords and other weaponry. They replicated the scene of the prince’s trip back to the palace.
There were five types of figures: warrior figurines, musical figurines, ceremonial figurines, servant figurines, and civil servant figurines. They all have vivid expressions and different decorations. They were all carved from sandstone in the early Ming Dynasty and revealed the development of carving art in the Yuan and Ming dynasties.
They are also a rare glimpse into the past for understanding the funeral ceremony, ceremonial guards, fashion and even social life in the Ming Dynasty. Luckily, tomb raiders didn’t find them precious and left them alone in the tomb to be discovered.
To see more pottery in the museum exhibits, you may see some of it in this post.
Sichuan Provincial Museum 四川博物院
251 Huan Hua Nan Lu, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Date Visited : Aug 2018
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