Chinese Architecture- Guangzhou (Canton)

Museum of the Tomb of the King of Southern Yue in Western Han Dynasty




Guangzhou, China


tomb c. 100 BC, museum c. 1990.




The tomb measures 10.85 meter in length and 12.43 meters in width. It is divided in 7 parts, with a front chamber, east and west wing rooms, the main coffin chamber, east and west side rooms, and a back storage chamber.


Museum, Tomb
The musem of the tomb

Materials are provided by "Travel China weekly newspaper" .
An underground structure was discovered 16 years ago in the city proper of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, which later proved to be the tomb of Zhao Mei, the second ruler of the Kingdom of Southern Yue. Its discovery revealed the secret of the ancient kingdom.

Origin of the Kingdom

The Kingdom of Southern Yue was established about 2,000 years ago in the area where southern China's Guangdong Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region meet. It lasted for 93 years, and had five kings. Zhao Tuo, a general of the Qin Dynasty, unified the Lingnan area at the time China's first Emperor, Qin Shihuang, died. In 204 B.C., the Kingdom of Southern Yue was established, and Zhao Tuo made himself King Wu of that kingdom, choosing Guangzhou as his capital. In 111 B.C., the small kingdom was destroyed by Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.

Jade suit sewn with silk threads found in the tomb of Zhao Mei.

Three out of the five rulers had tombs built for themselves, but nobody knew there they were located before the discovery of the Guangzhou tomb. During the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280), Sun Quan, the ruler of the State of Wu, heard that there was a lot of treasure in the tombs, so he ordered his troops to search all the mountain slopes in the area of the extinguished kingdom. They found nothing, and the whereabouts of the tombs remained a mystery.

Underground Palace Tomb

On the tomb's 12-meter-high outside walls are carved designs of a man, the Sun and Moon gods have a gigantic serpent beneath their feet, symbolizing that they are capable of dispelling evil spirits. The tomb has been turned into a museum, illustrating the history of the kingdom.

An exhibition hall has been constructed in front of the tomb, consisting of several rooms, spread over three floors. The tomb was built on a slope on Xianggang Ridge. The layout is modeled on a palace of the time, consisting of four chambers and two halls.

One passed through a huge stone gate before entering the coffin chamber. A jade suit sewn with silken threads worn by the tomb's owner and decorated with gold, silver and jade objects around the hem, were found intact when the tomb was opened. Also found in the tomb were nine seals, one being made of gold with a knob in the shape of a coiled dragon. This gold seal enabled archaeologists to identify the tomb as that of the second ruler, Zhao Mei.

Jade cup from the Han Dynasty.

Burial Objects

The jade suit is particularly valuable because it is the oldest of its kind found so far. It consists of more than 1,000 pieces of jade, each having holes in all four corners. The silk fabrics decayed long ago. In addition, ten iron swords were found, each inlaid with gold and jade. The biggest is 1.46 m long, making it the longest iron sword dating from the time of the Han Dynasty (206B.C.-A.D.22O).

Numerous valuable burial objects were discovered in the side chambers. They include ivory, gold, silver, bronze, iron, pottery, glass, bamboo, jade and lacquer wares, demonstrating that workmanship in Guangdong had already reached high artistic level 2,000 years ago. In addition, they also show that the Southern Yue Kingdom and the Central Plains had close ties.

  A Jade burial suit (Chinese: 玉衣; pinyin: yù yī; literally "jade suit") is a ceremonial suit made of pieces of jade in which some nobles in Han Dynasty China were buried. The Chinese believed that jade had magical properties and would prevent the decay of the body.

Structure of a jade burial suit
Of the jade suits that have been found, the pieces of jade are mostly square or rectangular in shape, though triangular, trapezoid and rhomboid plaques have also been found. Plaques are often joined by means of wire, threaded through small holes drilled near the corners of each piece. The composition of the wire varies, and several suits have been found joined with either gold or silver. Other suits, such as that of the King of Nanyue, were joined using silk thread, or silk ribbon that overlapped the edges of the plaques. In some instances, additional pieces of jade have been found beneath the head covering, including shaped plaques to cover the eyes, and plugs to fit the ears and nose.

According to the Book of Later Han, the type of wire used was dependent on the station of the person buried. The jade burial suits of emperors used gold thread; princes, princesses, dukes, and marquises, silver thread; sons or daughters of those given silver thread, copper thread; and lesser aristocrats, silk thread, with all others being forbidden to be buried in jade burial suits. Examination of the known suits, such as the two found in Mancheng, has revealed that these rules were not always followed. Considering the vast size of the country, and the relatively slow means of disseminating information, it is not surprising that the materials and techniques use in a jade burial suit occasionally differed from the official guidelines.

A jade burial suit was extremely expensive to create, and only wealthy aristocrats could afford to be buried in them. Additionally, the process of manufacturing a suit was labor intensive and is estimated to have required several years to complete a single suit.

Located on Jiefang Bei Road, Guangzhou, the Western Han Dynasty Nanyue King Mausoleum Museum is the oldest and largest Han tomb with the most funerary objects in Lingnan (South of the Nanling Mountain) Area. As one of the 80 famous museums in the world, the museum covers 14,000 square meters (150, 699.6 square feet) with 10 exhibition halls.

The owner of the tomb is the second king, Zhao Mei of Nanyue State of the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-24 A.D.). Hidden 20 meters (65.6 feet) underground, the tomb is made up of 750 huge stones with colorful murals. The over 1,000 pieces of cultural relics, bronze ware and terra cotta ware in particular, feature the Yue Culture of south China(Nanyue Culture). Represented also are traces of central Chinese culture, the Chu culture of south China, the Bashu culture of southwest China, the Hun culture from the northern grassland, and even foreign cultures.

Highlighting the mausoleum is a silk-jade garment made up of 2,291 pieces of jade. Though jade garments with pieces connected by gold, silver, or copper are not uncommon, this garment with jade pieces connected by silk is the only one of its kind in the world. Nor are historical records available to verify other jade garments connected by silk thread. In addition, the style of buttons down the front is unique among unearthed jade garments. This silk-sewn-jade garment shows the early development of jade garments as well as development of the Nanyue culture.

In addition, three sets of bronze serial bells, thirty-six bronze vessels, thirty-six bronze mirrors, and three gold seals give visitors a glimpse of the ancient Nanyue Culture. The oldest and largest folding screen used in China is also here, as are two of the world's oldest bronze patterns for textile stamping.

Foreign articles excavated in the mausoleum indicate that Guangzhou was an ancient Marine Silk Road starting point. For example, there are five African elephant trunks, a silver box featuring Western Asian silver wares, and bronze incense burners and frankincense from Southeast Asia.

Admission Fee: CNY 12
Opening Hours: 09:00 to 17:30
Time for a Visit: One hour
Bus Route: 7, 24, 58, 87, 244, 273, 182, 519, 528, 552
The Museum of the Tomb of the King of Southern Yue in Western Han Dynasty is a museum in Guangzhou, southern China.

The tomb of King Wen was discovered in 1983, 20 meters under Elephant Hill in Guangzhou on a construction site for a hotel, and has been excavated. The tomb has yielded more than 1000 burial artifacts, and a chariot, gold and silver vessels, musical instruments, and human sacrifices were found (15 courtiers were buried alive with him to serve him in death). It is also the only tomb of the early Western Han Dynasty that has murals on its walls.

The tomb also yielded the oldest imperial seal discovered in a Chinese tomb: the seal, with the name "Zhaomo", declared the royal corpse to be “Emperor Wen", indicating that he considered himself equal in rank to the Han ruler.

Alongside Chinese artifacts, pieces from the steppes, and Iranian and Hellenistic Central Asian regions have been found: a Persian silver box found in the tomb is the earliest imported product found to date in China.

The Western Han Nanyue King Tomb Museum, located in Jiefang road, stands on the site of the tomb of King Wen.
The display section is a three-storied building. This building displays lots of relics excavated from the tomb. There is a huge relief sculpture on the red sandstone wall of the main entrance, depiction Yue people holding snakes, dragons and tigers. There is a pair of stone tigers standing by the gate. These decorations reflect this tomb's features of combining Middle China's Han culture and Southern China's Yue culture.

Unfortunately their official website it's only chinese version.

Entrance ticket is only 10RMB, located behind China Hotel. You can get there by Metro as well. Out of Metro station Yue xiu gong yuan; then exist D; taxi will be 15 to 25 from downtown.