The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China

Fitzwilliam Museum

5 May – 11 November 2012

A story of eternal life and power struggles in ancient China, told with the grave goods of Emperors.

Jade Suit, 2nd century BC

This unprecedented exhibition will bring together treasures from the burials of the dynasty who united and dominated China for four centuries. The rule of the Han was roughly contemporary with the Roman Empire, and was also comparable in power and population. The influence of the Han period, which is considered as the 'classical' era of Chinese history, was pervasive, with many institutions and values not only surviving into later times, but also becoming fundamental to Chinese identity. The 'tomb treasures' on which the exhibition focuses were a central element of the rituals and symbolism which enabled the Han to maintain their grip on power.

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The exhibition contrasts the funerary offerings of the Han rulers with those of the southern kingdom of Nanyue, bringing many objects together for the first time. Highlights include meticulously constructed suits of armour made from thousands of individual jade panels, musical instruments, pottery figures of servants and entertainers designed to accompany the rulers into the afterlife, and works in gold including royal seals and belt buckles. The design of the exhibition reflects the layout of the original tombs, allowing visitors to experience the exhibits as part of a complete sepulchral environment.

Venue information

Opening times

Tue – Sat, 10am – 5pm Sun & Bank Holidays 12noon – 5pm Closed Mon, 24 – 26, 31 Dec and 1 Jan

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