Guangzhou is the food capital of modern China, with Cantonese cuisine spreading across the world. Here’s a glimpse of the Guangzhou kitchen and banquet in the 2nd century BC.
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.
Plentiful cooking and washing utensils and containers with cultural characteristics of the Qin, Han, Yue and Chu, were unearthed from the tomb. The Yue-styled Ding (cooking vessel), the bronze bucket and the embossed pottery featured typical Lingnan styles in shapes and decorations.
鼎 Ding (Cooking Vessel)
The Ding, originally used as a three-legged cooking pot, was later to signify power and status. In the tomb, there were 51 dings excavated, and they had practical use and not ceremonial like those found in earlier tombs from the Spring-Autumn and Warring State eras.
There were three styles of tripod unearthed from the tomb, distinguished by shape – the Chu style 楚式, the Han style 汉式 and the local Yue style 越式.
“番禺”汉式铜鼎 Han-style Bronze Tripod with Inscription of “Pan Yu”
Four of them are inscribed with the characters “Pan Yu Shao Nei” 番禺少內. “Pan Yu” 番禺, as the ancient name of Guangzhou City, it proves that the city of Guangzhou has a history of more than 2,200 years. Shao Nei was the name of a Qin official in charge of finance. This particular ding has inscription of its capacity of one and a half dou on the belly of the cauldron “番禺少内 容一斗大半”
汉式小铜鼎 Han-style Bronze Tripod with Inscription of “Pan Yu”
Nine tripods were found in a bamboo basket packed with silk.
“番禺”汉式铜鼎 Han-style Bronze Tripod with Inscription of “Pan Yu”
As inscription describing its capacity of 1 dou 1 sheng “番 容一斗一升” (one dou equals ten ancient sheng 升 or modern day 2 litres, so it is 2.2l) was found on the belly and 1 jin 9 liang was inscribed on the cover “番一斤九两 少內” (one jin equals 0.6 kg, or 16 liang, so 1 jin 9 liang is 937.5g).
越式铜鼎 Yue-style Bronze Tripod
It’s the biggest iron tripod found in Nan Yue Kingdom period and proves iron cast industry of time. It could not be exhibited for severe rotten.
Inscription of “Pan (番) and Capacity of 3 dou” was found on the cover.
There is a bronze spoon in it when it was discovered in the tomb.
楚式鼎 Chu-style Tripod
This is the only Chu style tripod found in the Mausoleum. It has a big round body and 3 long hoofed-legs that are engraved with sheep head patterns.
Chinese were the first civilisation in the world to use the technique of steaming food. And the evidence was found among the funerary bronzes found in the tombs.
铜鍪(móu)、铁钩 Bronze “Mou” Vessel, Iron Hook (for stewing)
The “Mou” vessels with ring handles were used for stewing and boiling, and were unique to the Sichuan area. They were spread to Nanyue after Qin dynasty assimilated Bashu (ancient Sichuan). 16 Mous were found in the tomb, and remains of clams and shells were found in a couple of them. An iron hook is used to hook the “Mou” vessel off the tripod where a fire can be lighted underneath for stewing or boiling. Three hooks were found bundled together in the tomb, wrapped together with a silk cloth.
铜金甑 (zēng) “Fu” and “Zeng” (for steaming)
This is a group of bronze steaming utensils. The top one has a bottom, which serves as a grid. When set on the other pot of boiling water, it allows steam to rise into the upper pot through the grid.
铜鉴 Bronze Jian (large deep basin)
Three bronze Jians were excavated from the Rear Storeroom 后藏室 in the tomb in which livestock and seafood were found inside, with two clay seals of “Officer Tai” “泰官”.
In the Spring and Autumn Period, there were two kinds of mysterious decorations – the Pan Chi pattern 蟠螭纹 and the Pan Hui pattern 蟠虺纹. This kind of decoration is in the shape of a coiled dragon or snake, forming a geometric pattern. The bronze casting fine work unearthed in the tomb, one of which has the characteristics of containers in the Wu-Yue 吴越 region, reflecting the extensive cultural exchanges in the region during this period.
All these show that the unearthed jian is a practical product of life before the funeral. Jian was originally a vessel used to hold water to see our reflections like a mirror. Due to the appearance and mass production of copper mirrors, it gradually lost its original function and was used to hold food or bathing water.
Barbecue in 2nd Century BC
This could be proof that Korean BBQ is actually invented in China. There is an interesting set of exhibit that demonstrate how the people of that period do a Korean BBQ.
The exhibit consisted of a bronze oven, iron pit fork and skewers, bronze frying stove, and even a ginger grater to provide some flavours to the meat.
铜烤炉 Bronze Oven
The bronze oven was one of three excavated and had four rings to hold chains to prop up the oven to put burning coal underneath. The four corners of the oven are tilted upwards to hold tongs and other cooking tools. Four wheels are installed under the bottom for convenience of movement. Interestingly there are air vents on all four sides just like a modern KBBQ.
煎炒 Bronze Frying Stove
The stove has two layers with the upper to be a food frying pan and the lower to hold the coal. Vestiges of soot on the upper layer prove that it must have been used before being put into the tomb. Perhaps one last BBQ for the King before he died.
铁叉、铁链和铁钎 Iron Fork, Chains and Skewers, Poker
These iron utensils were used to skew meat, turn coal and hold the oven up to replenish coal. Not unlike how we do it in modern times.
铜姜礤 (ca) Bronze Ginger Shredder
This is a tool for making ginger slices and ginger juice, with a strainer in the front to separate ginger juice from the scrapes after the ginger is rubbed on the handle.
What’s a banquet without alcohol? Many drinking vessels and containers were uncovered in the tomb.
金釦漆卮、针刺神兽纹金釦象牙卮 Lacquer Cup with Gold Mount, Ivory Cup with Gold Mount
The lacquer cup was found rotted and only remained the gold mount. The original ivory part was found rotten and only remained the gold mount. An ivory replica was created to demonstrate its splendour.
铜鐎 (jiāo) Bronze Jiao (Wine Vessel)
Also called He 盉 before Han dynasty, this wine vessel used for holding liquor, is shaped like a three-legged bird with its head to be the spout and tail to be the handle. The beak of the bird opens when there is liquid pouring out.
鎏金铜壶 The Gilt Bronze Pot
The liquor container, narrow-necked, has a gilt surface. Each of the two sides is a pattern of monster whose nose wears a ring that serves as a handle of the pot. Nine of these pots were found, wrapped in silk cloth and contained red dates.
The technique, whereby thin gold sheets or foils have been affixed to the plain bronze body surface, can easily be seen on this vessel as the abutments between the individual foils are now visible. They are used for holding wine that was offered during rituals for honouring the ancestors, but, in later periods, they could also be used as wedding gifts and housewarming presents to bring good fortune.
铜勺 Bronze Ladles
34 pieces of bronze ladles with two kinds of shapes are found in the tomb. One type has a hollow handle that was filled with a wooden stick; the other is a solid bronze handle.
铜瓿 (bù) Bronze Bu (Wine Vessel)
A total of four pieces was uncovered in the East Side Chamber 东耳房 in the tomb, Bu is an ancient wine vessel and was used for holding liquor and found widely distributed in the Baiyue area (including Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong and Guangxi provinces).
铜方壶 Bronze Fang Hu (Wine Vessel)
This square-shaped bronze fang hu is notable for its elegant simplicity. Such a vessel would have functioned as a ritual container for the storage and transportation of sumptuous wines. Over the ages, the bronze has acquired a fabulous patina of alternating turquoise and brown hues, adding both delightful colours and pleasing textures to this otherwise sparsely adorned vessel.
This fang hu is essentially unadorned, save for two decorative Tao Tie 饕餮 mask handles that have been attached to the swelling body of the vessel. A lid caps this fang hu, embellished with four abstract “handles” that appear to be highly stylized bird heads.
蓖纹铜方壶 Bronze Fang Hu (Wine Vessel) with Triangular Patterns
It is not sure if this fang hu, like the one before, was for ceremonial purpose or practical use. But it has much more complicated engravings on the body that seemed to be older than the period that the King lived in. It could be a precious antique that Zhao Mo owned, and thus bruied together with him.
Besides cooking utensils, there are some dinner service plates, container and water bowls for washing your hands. Even the dead King needs to watch his personal hygiene.
The washing utensils unearthed in the tomb of the King of Nanyue also include different forms of basins called Xi 洗, Xuan 鋗, Pen 盆 (basin), Jian 鉴, etc., which are made of silver and copper.
At every banquet, there were water vessels used for washing your hands before and after the meals. Remember, this being the 2nd century BC, using of chopsticks is still not invented. But amazingly our forefathers knew the importance of washing our hands to keep the germs and viruses away. “盥” is the Chinese character for washing your hands – etymologically it is made up of water “水” going between your hands “手” into a vessel “皿” .
铜鉴、铜盆、铜鋗 (xuān) Bronze Jian (water vessel), Pen (basin), Xuan (small basin)
Jian, Pen and Xuan are ancient water vessels. During the time when mirrors were not so popular, Jian served a similar function as a mirror. Ancient people looked at the reflection in the water-filled Jian to tidy their faces. It was first made of pottery. Later in the mid- Spring and Autumn Era, it was made of bronze. It was very popular in the late- Spring and Autumn Era and the following Warring State Period.
铜鋗 Bronze Xuan (Small Basin)
Nine bronze Xuans with inlaid gold were found in the tomb and two of them were repaired. People at that time cherished these objects very much, and many of the bottoms showed repair marks. After all, casting bronze, under the technical conditions at that time, is a high-precision technology and a high-cost industry. Although it is the royal family, you can’t do it casually.
鎏金铜匜 (yí) Gilt Bronze Yi
This is a washing instrument to pour water for washing hands. Sixteen Yi were found in tomb.
银洗 Silver Basin for Washing
The basin is placed under the hands for catching the water poured from the Yi. It has an inscription of its volume.
铜盆 Bronze Basin
Fifteen bronze basin were found in the tomb and five of them belonged to the King, of which one was placed on the front of the coffin.
陶食器 Pottery Food Vessels
Most of the pottery food vessels are decorated with colourful paintings, indicating that they are special burial articles for the king.
陶三足盒 Three-legged Pottery Box
Twenty one pieces of three-legged pottery boxes decorated with wave patterns were found in tomb.
陶盒 Pottery Box with Colour Painting
A total of 9 pieces were retrieved from the East Side Chamber. This is a lidded box in a bowl shape. Both the lid and the bowl are sculptured with triangular patterns 蓖(bì)纹, water wave patterns, etc.
What They Ate
The banquet was not just livestocks. Because of the proximity to the sea, seafood and shellfish were featured in the diet.
禾花雀残骸 Remains of Yellow-breasted Bunting
These were found in a container inside the Rear Storeroom 后藏室. Yellow-breasted buntings 禾花雀 are migratory birds that would fly from the north to the warmer south for winter, and they like to eat paddy rice.
More than 200 buntings were found in the tomb with head and claws cut,which is similar to the way these are eaten today.
螺、蚶、蚬、蛤 Different Types of Shellfish
Evidence proof that Nanyue folks ate shellfish, as many of these were found in the containers in the tomb, as well as large amount of shells found.
黄鱼、鲂鱼、鲤鱼、甲鱼 Fish and Turtle
The King must have loved his turtle stew, as there were some still cooking in the utensils.
牛、羊、猪 Beef, Mutton, Pork
Interestingly, there was no chicken bones found in the tomb. Perhaps it was not considered a sacrificial animal back then.
Storage of Food
Among the funerary goods were items for storing food for the King’s consumption in the afterlife. A massive number of storage vessels have been unearthed from the tomb that are made with typical Lingnan style. The Bronze Bucket is influenced by the Luoyue Culture and had been popular in the period from late the Warring States to the Nanyue Kingdom. The embossed pottery reflects the range of ceramics in respect of kind, shape, decoration, craftwork and quantity.
异形铜壶 Bronze Hu (Ewer)
The ewer has two symmetrical rectangular holes on the neck and an inscription on the shoulder. The body was twisted under pressure. It was unearthed with remains of shell, turtles, fowl, and pig bones.
On the vessel was engraved with “番禺” Panyu, the ancient name for Guangzhou, going to show the local craftsmen had the skills and technology to cast bronze.
陶碗 、陶钵 Pottery Bowls
The two smaller pottery bowls (left) are made with paintings in ink on the material outside. The three characters “实祭肉” suggest the sacrificial use of it. A total of 6 bowls were found in the tomb. The larger bowl is called 钵 (bó) and is decorated with water wave pattern.
铜提筒 Bronze Buckets
Buckets like these have been unearthed in Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan Provinces and Vietnam. There are 9 buckets most of which are with a pair of two different handles on the neck.
Ropes pass through the larger handles to carry the bucket and the smaller ones are for fixing the lids.
铜挂钩 The Bell-shaped Bronze Hook
The bronze hooks are composed of a chain, with an upside-down bell-shaped holder for keeping water against ants, and a hook for hanging fish and meat. You have to admire the ingenuity of the ancient people!
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