Museum of Nanyue King – The Mausoleum Relics: Part 1 Main Chamber

The tomb of the King of Nanyue from the Western Han Dynasty 西汉南越王墓 is a rare painted stone chamber tomb with the largest scale, the most abundant funerary objects and the highest level of the tomb owner in Lingnan. It is rare that it is well preserved and has not been disturbed.

所有文物皆是“西汉南越国时期 1983年南越文王墓出土 南越王博物院藏”,除非另外提示。 All artefacts are from the Nanyue period of the Western Han Dynasty (203-111BC), excavated in 1983 from the tomb of the King Wen of Nanyue, Museum of the King of Nanyue Collection, unless otherwise indicated.

About Nanyue Kingdom 南越国

With the unification of feudal China in 221 BC by Emperor Qin ShihuangNanyue 南越 was assimilated into the southern territories of the empire that included Sichuan (known as Bashu 巴蜀) and Guangxi (known as Baiyue 百越). But the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) was short-lived. What came next was nearly 400 years of Han Dynasty. 

Kingdom of Nanyue (206-111 BC) 

In 206 BC, Zhao Tuo 赵陀 (240-137 BC), a Qin general stationed in the area taking advantage of the civil war that ensure after collapsed of the Qin Dynasty, declared the area the Kingdom of Nanyue 南越国. He made himself the emperor with the capital at Panyu 番禺. Because of his long age (he lived to 103), he outlived his sons. His successor was his grandson,  Zhao Mo 赵眜 (176-125 BC).

The Owner of the Tomb – Emperor Wen of Nanyue, Zhao Mu 南越文帝 赵眜

Genealogy of Nanyue Kingdom

More than 1,000 pieces of cultural relics unearthed comprehensively and truly show the political, economic, cultural and other aspects of Lingnan more than 2,000 years ago. They hold important research value in the early development history of Lingnan 岭南, the archeology of the Qin and Han Dynasties, and the origin of the Maritime Silk Road.

Remains of Zhao Mo, with jade pieces of the burial suit.

When found, the king was in the Jade Shroud with typical jade burial rite, signifying his noble status. In addition, 15 human sacrifices found in tomb reflect the unique burial customs.

The Main Chamber

Distribution of the artefacts as found in the Main Chamber

The Main Coffin Room in the center of the rear part contains the inner and outer coffins which protected the dead King inside. Both coffins have been rotten, leaving behind only traces of the original screen and on the west side bundles of weapons including bronze dagger-axes, bronze cross-bows, arrowheads, and iron swords, spears and halberds.

漆木棺椁 The King’s Lacquer Coffin

The king’s burial coffin, originally made of lacquered wood, had completely disintegrated by the time the tomb was excavated. However, from the marks that remained and the distribution of artefacts, we know that the king in fact had two coffins, the outer one called “guo” 椁, and inner one called “guan” 棺. In the outer coffin were the “head compartment” 头箱 and “foot compartment” 足箱, where many treasures and jade discs were laid as sacrificial objects.

流云纹漆木棺椁(复制)Burial Chamber (guo) and Lacquer Coffin (guan) (replica)

The lacquer burial chamber was painted black on the outside and red on the inside. On the outside of the chamber clouds in red yellow and green colours word also drawn Whilst no decoration was found in the coffin.

兽首鎏金铜铺首 Bronze “Pushou” Rings

“Pushou” 铺首 are mainly used for knockers. They were also used in the burial chamber as decoration and for funeral purposes. Two were found on the doors of the main stone doors, and six were used around the outer coffin as handles.

枸上玉璧 Jade Discs on Coffin Cover

Four discs were found at the four corners of the outer coffin cover. The decoration of these discs is similar, with an inner band of whorl design or phoenixes 蒲纹 and an outer zone of dragon pattern 双龙纹. Such decorative motifs are widely found on jade discs of the Warring States to Han period. However it is quite rarte to find these discs with three zones of decorations – the excavation uncovered 5 pieces in the tomb.

棺内三璧三璜 Three Discs and Three Huang (pendants) in the Inner Coffin

On the two sides of the inner coffin were placed three discs and three huang, or pendants, in symmetrical rows. The precise ritual significance of this arrangement is unknown.

“头箱” 内玉璧 Jade Discs in Head Compartment

Seven discs were found in the head compartment, placed on the top of the lacquer box containing pearls. The largest is 33.4cm in diameter. But I wonder what happened to the seventh piece?

“足箱” 内陶璧 Pottery Discs in Foot Compartment

In the foot compartment of the outer coffin were 169 pottery discs in four piles. with two jade discs placed beneath. These pottery discs were clearly funerary substitutes for jade ones.

铁剑 Iron Swords

Ten iron swords were discovered at the sides of the king’s corpse. Each sword is more than one meter in length, which indicated these iron weapons were used in ritual way. Five of the ten swords are inlaid with jade ornaments.

玉剑饰 Jade Ornaments in Sword

Being the most exquisite workmanship in carving, polishing and openwork, these fittings represent the highest standard of the jade carvers of the Han dynasty.

丝缕玉衣 Shroud Sewn with Silk Thread

丝缕玉衣 Shroud Sewn with Silk Thread

The shroud was designed for the dead King. It is composed of 2,291 pieces of jade . The scores of the jade burial garments discovered in China so far, this one, sewn with silk thread, is the earliest one ever discovered. The early unrecorded usage of silk thread provides valuable new insights for the study of the jade suit burial.

珠玉敛葬 Jade and Pearl as Funeral Articles

In the late Neolithic Age, people began to use jade for funeral articles. By the Han Dynasty, complete sets of jade funeral objects had come into use. The Nanyue King was buried in a Jade burial suit around which were laid 47 jade discs. This was believed to prevent the corpse from rotting away and to secure immortality for the tomb occupant.

With a pearl-embroidered pillow under his head and pearls in his mouth, a jade mask on his face and a pearl jacket on his chest, the king had a rare set of luxurious and complex burial accessories.

Remains of the skull

The King’s teeth and some remains were preserved intact. which indicates that the King died at approximately 40 to 45 years of age.

透雕游龙涡纹玉壁 Openwork Disk with Dragon and Spirals

透雕游龙涡纹玉壁 Openwork Disk with Dragon and Spirals

This disk was found on the top of the mask of the King’s shroud. The decoration on each side is identical, with an openwork rampant dragon in the center, surrounded by a ring of raised spirals framed by beveled inner and outer borders.

兽首衔壁玉佩 Jade Ornament with Monster Mask

This jade ornament in the design of a monster mask was first found on top of the king’s forehead. It is carved out of one whole piece of greenish jade. Its most unique feature is its unsymmetrical shape. The body of the ornament is a rectangular shaped animal head and a disc hang to the animal’s nostrils. Hollowing-out, embossing and line-engraving techniques are applied to this work. The lines are smooth and the carvings are elegant.

透雕龙凤纹重环玉佩 Jade Openwork Disc with Dragon and Phoenix

透雕龙凤纹重环玉佩 Jade Openwork Disc with Dragon and Phoenix

The jade ornament with dragon and phoenix pattern was originally found on top of the deceased king’s right eye. The face of the disc-shaped ornament is divided into two rings. The inner ring is pierced with a flying dragon. Sitting on top of the dragon’s front claw, a phoenix with luxurious tail features covers the space of the outer ring.

Flying Dragon

This piece of jade ornament is considered a gem of jade work of the Han period. Its design was chosen to Nanyue King Mausoleum Museum’s emblem.

羊头纹杏形金饰片、珠襦饰物 Gold Masks and Pearl Blanket

Eight gold foil ornaments sewn on a silk veil was used to cover the face of the King as a part of a burial custom. The silk has rotted away, leaving behind the gold ornaments. There was a silk jacket with gold, silver and glass beads covering the King’s corpse.

珍珠 Pearls

The head of the shroud was resting on a pillow stuffed with pearls. Inside the mouth was a bundle of pearls forming the “rice swallow”. Thousands of pearls were found in the lacquer head case in the burial chamber, being the largest quantity of pearls unearthed so far.

玉衣内组玉璧 Jade Discs in the Shroud

Inside the shroud were 14 dises. Of these, two were placed on the ears, while the other 12 were arranged in three rows.

凤纹牌形玉佩 Phoenix Plaque

It is a piece of jade open-carved on the two sides, found on the left shoulder of the deceased king. The middle is a rectangular frame, with a spiral cloud on the top, and a phoenix at the bottom. The lower beam of the rectangular frame had been broken, but the Nanyue craftsmen cleverly repaired it with two little H-shaped golden bridges, without changing the original style of the ornament.

玉衣上组玉璧 Jade Discs on the Shroud

On the lower half of the jade shroud covering the abdomen and legs, a set of 10 jade discs were found. The six larger ones were arranged in a cruciform shape with four in the centre row, while the other four smaller ones were placed in the four corners of the cross.

Seals of Emperor Wen

The seals with the inscription “Administrative Seal of Emperor Wen” “文帝行金”, “Seal of the Emperor” “帝印” and “Zhao Mo” “赵眜” verified that the occupant of the tomb was the second king of the Nanyue Kingdom, Zhao Mo 赵眜. He imitated his grandfather Zhao Tuo 赵佗 to overstep the Han laws and proclaimed himself the Emperor of Nanyue Kingdom.

文帝行璽 Administrative Seal of Emperor Wen

It is the only material evidence unearthed to date for the study of the seal system in the Qin and Han dynasties. The inscription “Administrative Seal of Emperor Wen” 文帝行璽 in the gold seal testifies that the master of the tomb is the Emperor Wen of the Nanyue Kingdom.

It is the largest gold seal and the first with a dragon knot found from the Western Han period. It weighs 148.5g and side length of 3.1 cm. The signs of wear and tear on the seal face and the remaining traces of red seal ink indicate that the King must have used the seal during his lifetime.

“帝印”螭虎钮玉印 Jade Seal with the Inscription “Seal of the Emperor”

This jade seal is inscribed with the phrase “Seal of the Emperor” 帝印. The seal is very similar both in form (螭 “chi”-dragon knob) and material (white jade) to the “Seal of the Empress” 皇后之璽 of the central government discovered in Xianyang 咸阳. This implies that the Nanyue King had adopted Qin and Han laws on imperial seal-making in producing the seal.

However, the impression of the seal is different from that stamped on the clay seal 封泥, found in the West Side Chamber right next to the Main Chamber among all the burial goods, indicating the existence of another seal.

墓主“赵眛” The Occupant Zhao Mo

A seal inscribed with the name “Zhao Mo” was found on the king’s body. This testifies that the king, who was known as Zhao Hu in the historical records, might have had two names.

From the western side chamber, two clay seal impressions of the name “Mo” were found, suggesting that the king stamped some burial articles with this seal.

太子印章 Seal of the Crown Prince

Two “Crown Prince” “泰子” seals were found in the box on the king’s body. They indicate that the Nanyue Kingdom implemented the “pre-decided crown prince” system borrowed from the Qin and Han Dynasties.

“泰子” 龟钮金印 Turtle-shaped Gold Seal of “Crown Prince”
“泰子” 覆斗钮玉印 Inverted pyramid shaped Jade Seal of “Crown Prince”

无字印章 Uncarved Seals of the King

Four uncarved seals were found near the body of the king, while another three were found in the western chamber. They may have had ink inscriptions (waiting to be carved) that disappeared later, or they may have been originally uncarved.

Jade Artefacts

The jade artefacts unearthed in the Tomb of the Nanyue Kingdom prove an outstanding embodiment in Han dynasty. The 224 pieces of jade wares unearthed are featured in large quantity, diversified items, unique design and fine workmanship. Besides the jade used for burial and ritual, there are 140 pieces (sets) decorative jade including Jades Vessels, Jade Garment Belt Hooks, Jade Ornaments and Sword Ornaments in Jade.

犀角形玉杯 Jade Drinking Vessel in Rhinoceros Horn Shape

犀角形玉杯 Jade Drinking Vessel in Rhinoceros Horn Shape

The drinking vessel is considered a treasure among the jade wares of the Han Dynasty both as a consummate work of art, and a thought-provoking daily utensil that projects legend into reality.

This vessel is carved from a whole piece of green and white jade. A sharp-nosed animal is carved on the surface of the vessel, with a vivacious circular effect.

This artefact is now listed as a National Treasure that cannot be exhibited overseas.

玉盒 Jade Box

玉盒 Jade Box

The greenish jade box is a slightly compressed circular box with the surface delicately polished. A small ring handle was exquisitely attached to the top of the box cover.

南越王赵眛组玉佩 Jade Jewellery of the King

The King’s jewellery consists of 32 articles made of jade, gold, black amber and glass. The four major components are: a disc decorated with raised spirals and flanked by two phoenixes, an open-carved disc with a dragon and two phoenixes, a rhinoceros horn shaped pendant, and a pendant with double dragons.

Jade jewellery is not only a sign of wealth and status, but also a symbol of courtly virtue and a talisman for protection. The large quantity of ornamental jades found in the tomb, as well as their superb workmanship, testifies to the level of development.

八节铁芯龙虎玉带钩 Jade Garment Belt Hook

This garment belt hook is made by eight pieces of jade that are connected by an iron rod in the middle. The head of the hook is a dragon and the end is a tiger. The carving of the tiger’s bulging eyes, straight nose, sharp teeth, beard and thick eyebrows are sophisticated.

八节铁芯龙虎玉带钩 Jade Garment Belt Hook

The body is a mixture of dragon and tiger, with scales, fins and clouds on top of it. The button has a flat cylindrical shape. The hook is stained by the rusted iron rod.

虎头金钩扣龙形玉佩 Jade Dragon with Gold Tiger Hook

虎头金钩扣龙形玉佩 Jade Dragon with Gold Tiger Hook

This is an original jade dragon plaque.

The tail of the dragon is broken and is connected by a gold tiger-shape hook. The tiger’s mouth bites into the tail of a jade dragon. A Chinese character “王” (king) is molded on the forehead of the tiger.

龙形玉带钩 Garment Hook with Dragon Head

龙形玉带钩 Garment Hook with Dragon Head

A pair of greenish hooks with identical shapes and decorations is formed into dragon heads and arched bodies carved with interlocking C-spirals.

龙虎并体玉带钩 Garment Hook with Dragon and Tiger Heads

This garment hook is carved out of one whole piece of gray semitransparent jade, with brown spots on some parts of the body.

The dragon and tiger bodies entangled to form the letter ‘s’. The dragon, with a biting mouth, and the tiger with attacking claws, are poised to fight for a ring.

We have only looked at some of the items in the Main Chamber. Next week, we looked at the East Chambers, where the concubines of the King were buried.

About Museum of Nanyue King 南越王博物馆 (MNYK)

Officially known as Western Han Museum of the Nanyue King Mausoleum 西汉南越王墓博物馆, MNYK is always on the top list of things to do in Guangzhou for archaeological lovers and Chinese history and culture enthusiasts.

The museum was firstly opened to the public in 1983 and renovated in 2010. Inside the museum, you can find the original site of the tomb, more than 1,000 pieces of rare treasures unearthed from the tomb and a collection of ceramic pillows donated by Mr. Yeung Wing-Tak. Those elegant artefacts will take you to the exquisite life of Nanyue State 2,000 years ago.

Nanyue King Museum 南越王博物馆
Tel : +86 (020) 36182920(王墓展区), +86 (020) 83896501(王宫展区)

Opening Hours: open all year around from 9:00am to 17:30pm (on 28th February and 31st August of every year, it will be closed for maintenance), except every Monday.

Visited Jan 2022

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