Tomb Treasures of Han China@ The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge will relate the story of the quest for immortality and struggle for imperial legitimacy in ancient China’s Han Dynasty.

The exhibition feature over 300 treasures in jade, gold, silver, bronze and ceramics in the most important exhibition of ancient royal treasures ever to travel outside China.

Jade Dragon Pendant
2nd century BC, Western Han Dynasty

Founded in 206 BC, the Han Dynasty followed the collapse and disintegration of the Qin Empire, which had been established only fifteen years earlier by China’s First Emperor, Qinshihuangdi. Except for a brief interruption in 9-25 AD, the Han emperors were to rule much of China for the next 400 years until 220 AD. 
The Han Dynasty established the basis for unified rule of China up to the present day. To maintain this hard-won empire the Han emperors had to engage in a constant struggle for power and legitimacy, with contests that took place on symbolic battlefields as much as on real ones. While written accounts provide an outline of these events, it is through the stunning archaeological discoveries of recent decades that the full drama and spectacle of this critical episode in Chinese history has been brought to life.

This pioneering exhibition compare the spectacular tombs of two rival power factions: the Han imperial family in the northern ‘cradle’ of Chinese history, and the Kingdom of Nanyue in the south, whose capital in modern-day Guangzhou formed the gateway to the rich trade routes of the China Sea and Indian Ocean. Objects from these tombs have never before been displayed together as a single exhibition. Through the exhibition it is revealed how, in both life and in death, Empire and Kingdom played a diplomatic game of cat and mouse, one to assert its supremacy, the other to preserve its autonomy. 

Gold Seal belonging to the Marquis of Wanqu
2nd century BC, Western Han Dynasty

Protected by clay guardians and surrounded by jade and gold, the monarchs’ tombs were palaces fit for immortals. Each tomb was a symbol of power and majesty, designed to ensure that its owner continued to enjoy in the afterlife the same comforts and privileges afforded to them in life. In showing these two tombs together, The Search for Immortality sheds new light on a critical period of China’s early history. The exhibition will only be seen in Cambridge.