Shaanxi History Museum

Shaanxi History Museum is a sizable national museum with a wide range of modern facilities. The entire building complex assumes the architectural features of the Tang Dynasty. It covers an area of 70, 000 square meters, and houses the best cultural heritage of Shaanxi Province and shows the development of Chinese civilization. In view of Shaanxi's special position in Chinese history, the state government invested 144 million yuan in the establishment of this Museum. It was completed and opened to the public in June 1991.

The museum assumes the architectural features of ancient Chinese Palaces and courtyards, and houses 370,000 historic and cultural artifacts unearthed in Shaanxi. It chiefly displays the historic artifacts excavated in the province. The exhibition is divided into seven major sections: the Prehistoric Age, the Zhou Dynasty, the Qin Dynasty, the Han Dynasty, the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern dynasties, the Sui and Tang dynasties, the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Moreover, there is a preface hall. All the exhibitions vividly and systematically depict the history of Shaanxi Province, ranging from 1,150,000 years ago to the year 1840. Back in history, 15 dynasties established their capitals in Shaanxi Province, with duration of more than 1, 500 years. This area was established as the national capital by more dynasties and for longer periods than any other place in China. In a way, the ancient history of Shaanxi is a microcosm of Chinese history.

Shaanxi Provincial History Museum Exhibit

The Prehistoric Age (1,150,000 years ago-21st century BC)

The first section focuses on the history of Shaanxi Province during the Prehistoric Age , which ranges from 1,150,000 years ago to the 21st century BC. Shaanxi is an important source of information on the origin of the human race in Asia. Here on display is the fossil of a 1,150,000-year-old Ape-man skull discovered in Lantian County, Shaanxi Province in 1964, and it was the earliest know Homoerectus in North Asia, the 100,000-year-old fossil of a rather complete hominid skull found in Dali County, Shaanxi Province in 1978 and the tip-bottomed bottles, stone balls, pottery plummets, bone arrows, harpoons and painted pottery utensils of the Yangshao Culture that dates about 7,000 to 5,000 years back.

China went into the Longshan Culture period about 5,000 years ago. The ruins typical of Longshan Culture are scattered extensively in Shaanxi province and chiefly centered in the area of the Weihe River valley. Starting from the period of Longshan Culture, mankind moved into the age of patriarchal clan community. This time saw the invention of the "fast potter's wheel", as a result the earthen wares made from this period were uniform in thickness and varied in style. In addition, painted pottery wares gave way to their grey pottery counterparts.

Shaanxi History Museum

The Zhou Dynasty (771 BC-221 BC)

Artifacts on display in this hall are from three different stages of historical development: the Zhou clan, the Zhoufang State and the Western Zhou Dynasty.

In the 11th century BC, the Shang Dynasty perished and the Western Zhou Dynasty came into existence instead. It established its twin capital cities in Feng and Hao, which were separated by the Fenghe River. This marked the emergence of the ancient city of Xi'an

The development of China's bronze culture reached its peak during the Western Zhou. The number of bronze vessels unearthed in Shaanxi has reached more than 3, 000, and 2, 000 of them are now preserved in Shaanxi History Museum. On display here are ritual and musical instruments, daily utensils, production implements and weapons as well.

The bronze vessels represented the system of rites in the slavery society.  They were the symbol of power and social strata. The bronze vessels with decorative designs and patterns provide an important source of information for the study of the art of bronze wares. The decorations can be classified into two major categories: animal designs and geometric patterns. Both of them generally look mysterious and weird, and difficult to understand. This is because the vessel makers intended to use these vessels to offer sacrifices to the Heaven, the Earth, the Gods and their ancestors. Making them difficult for the ordinary people to understand proves the success of their artistic conception. 

Shaanxi History Museum

The Qin Dynasty (221 BC-206 BC)

The imperial mausoleums of the early Qin State were chiefly centered in Yongcheng. Up till now, 13 of these tombs have been discovered: Tomb No. 1 for the Duke of the Qin is the largest tomb excavated so far in China. Archaeologists believe that the dead monarch may be Duke Qin Jinggong. Unfortunately, the tomb has suffered many serious robberies. But in spite of this fact, more than 3,500 artifacts have been unearthed.

The various weapons, terracotta warriors and horses, tile ends, and bronze chariots and horses discovered in the First Qin Emperor's Mausoleum on display in this exhibition hall show the unprecedented prosperity and progress of the Qin Dynasty in its military affairs, economy, science and technology and culture.

Shaanxi History Museum Xian

The Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD)

The Han Dynasty constitutes a very important episode in Chinese history. The Han nationality that has been dominating Chinese population took shape during this historical period.

The Han Dynasty attached great importance to the development of agriculture and animal husbandry. Oxen were widely employed across the Central Shaanxi Plain, and gradually introduced into the northwestern frontiers. These iron farm tools, pottery utensils with grain, pottery oxen, chicks, ducks and pigsties are all burial objects excavated from Han tombs. They indicate a high level of development in agriculture and animal husbandry in the Han Dynasty. 

One of the most valuable artifacts on display in this exhibition hall is a kind of paper discovered in a Western Han tomb at Baqiao Xi'an, in 1957. It was believed that paper was invented by Cai Lun in 105 AD. But this sort of paper may date back to 118 BC or even earlier. Therefore, the discovery of the Baqiao paper indicates they papermaking started in China at least 200 years earlier than the generally known date.

The Wei, the Jin, and the Southern and Northern Dynasties (220-581) 

China experienced a long period of social upheavals and national amalgamation from 220 to 581. This was also a period of frequent dynastic changes when several regimes coexisted. The historic artifacts of these turbulent years obviously assume military and regional features.

Shaanxi was a center of national amalgamation during this period, as is evidenced by the pottery figures on display in this exhibition hall. The figures representing different nationalities were abundant in number and varied in shape.

Religion-related art works were one of the most characteristic forms of art in the dynasties of the Wei, the J in, the Southern and Northern dynasties. Both Buddhism and Buddhist art underwent rapid development during this period. The Buddhist statue was a major form of Buddhist art. The gold, silver, bronze and jade Buddhist statues on display here are vivid manifestation of Buddhist art during this period.

Shaanxi History Museum

The Sui and Tang Dynasties (581-907)

The Sui and Tang dynasties were the heyday of China's feudal society in terms of their power and splendor. They also marked a golden era in the history of Shaanxi.

The Sui Dynasty was founded in 581 AD. Construction of its capital city, the Daxing City, began in the following year. Yuwen Kai, the master architect of minority nationality, designed and oversaw the construction of the city. In the Tang Dynasty, its name was changed to Chang'an. The new city was built on the basis of Sui's Daxing City with further improvement and expansion. The Tang's Chang'an City covered an area of 84. 1 square kilometers, seven times the size of Byzantine, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire; six times the size of the Arabian capital Bagdad; and over nine times the size of the Ming capital of the same name.

Here on show are Tang tri-colored glazed pottery, all being burial objects. In the prime of the period, the Tang Dynasty produced glazed pottery of yellow, brown, and green colors. Color-glazed pottery prevailed only in a rather short period in limited areas. Therefore, the small number of tri-colored glazed pottery is of priceless value today.

Gold and silver ware was exquisitely made and served as a symbol for the Tang Dynasty. These unearthed gold and silver wares were of various shapes and were made with a combined technique of casting, welding, cutting, polishing, riveting, gilding, and gold-plating, etc. They depict a very high technological standard of gold and silver ware manufacturing in the Tang Dynasty. 

The tri-colored glazed pottery figurines of hunters on horse backs, the pottery figurines of a group of singers and musicians, the go stones etc. on display in this exhibition hall have revealed that during the Tang Dynasty, people led a relatively plentiful and stable life and were abided by social rules and orders. Consequently, they enjoyed more leisure and entertainments. Hunting, polo, swing, tug-of-war, acrobatics, music and dance became very popular.

The ox-headed agate cup, the white porcelain statue of a nomad's head, the pottery figurine of a black man and white porcelain wine container of a human figure, are all beautifully made of superb materials, and they strongly prove the friendly exchanges between the Tang Dynasty and Central Asia, and Africa. 

Shaanxi History Museum

The Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties (960-1840)

Since the Song Dynasty, Xi'an lost its position as the national capital, but it remained a place of strategic importance for the feudal dynasties to maintain control of the northwest and southwest of the country. On the other hand, it was still the military, political, economic, and cultural center in Northwest China.

During the Yuan Dynasty the Mongols unified China. The Mongols are nomadic people who are apt at horse riding. Therefore, horses are a common subject matter among Yuan cultural artifacts. 

The Ming Dynasty took over Shaanxi in 1369 AD and changed "Fengyuan Road" to "Xi'an Prefectural Government." This was the first time that the city used its present name Xi' an. 

Clothing is a comprehensive indicator of the level of material production and ideological and cultural development during a particular social period. The set of porcelain figurines from the Song and Ming dynasties in this exhibition hall feature characteristics of their own times. They provide us with valuable data for the study of social life and social customs during that time.

The Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties saw rapid development of Chinese porcelain. Apart from the government-run porcelain kilns, privately run ones began to emerge to form a system of eight different porcelain kilns, among which the Yaozhou kilns at Tongchuan, Shaanxi Province are representative of the celadon vessels in the northern part of China. They became most prosperous in the Song Dynasty. Among the exhibits the Song porcelain vessels offer visitors a new and fresh impression. Their high technology and unsophisticated modellings are so attractive and enchanting.


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