New Yorkers have the opportunity to gain a unique insight into ancient China this summer thanks to Dreams of the Kings: A Jade Suit for Eternity: Treasures of the Han Dynasty from Xuzhou at the China Institute Gallery. This new exhibition gives visitors a glimpse of rare treasures from Chinese history, unearthing some of the objects its residents treasured the most.
Jade treasures. (Left to right): Jade huan ring with dragon, phoenix, and tapir designs; Jade burial suit with gold thread detail; S shaped dragon pendant. All pieces from the collection of the Xuzhou Museum
Dreams of the Kings centers on the Western Han Dynasty, which took place from 206 B.C.E. to 8 C.E. As the upper class members of the Chinese society passed away and moved on to the afterlife, they brought with them beloved objects and beautiful treasures through their elaborately constructed tombs. Now these treasured objects have made their way to the United States, where many are being exhibited for the first time.
“People during the Han Dynasty regarded death as birth and longed for immortality,” Willow Weilan Hai, Director of the China Institute Gallery, said in a statement. “To prepare for the afterlife, they constructed their tombs to be eternal residences. The exhibition is a rare window into the extraordinarily accomplished Han civilization through these remarkable objects of the highest artistry. We are most grateful to the Xuzhou Museum.”
Though many of the objects were excavated only in recent decades, the gleaming items feel nearly brand-new. Looking at the treasures, which include “earthenware” figurines, metallic vessels, and jade ornaments, it becomes obvious why these beautiful objects were chosen by their original owners to be with them for eternity. The highlight of the exhibition is its shining jade treasures, including an entire burial suit made for the King of Chu Kingdom, which is made up of thousands of tiny jade squares sewn together with gold thread.
Visitors who come into the exhibition without a knowledge of the Western Han Dynasty or Chinese history won’t feel lost here, as the exhibition is accompanied with thorough explanations and captions that provide essential context about the items on display. In addition to providing beautiful treasures, Dreams of the Kings offers an insightful look at a small slice of Chinese history, giving visitors the chance to learn more about the Western Han Dynasty and what its residents valued most in life—and in death.
Dreams of the Kings: A Jade Suit for Eternity is on view at the China Institute Gallery through November 12, 2017. For more information about Dreams of the Kings and the China Institute Gallery, visit chinainstitute.org.