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Relics from ancient Yelang State exhibited in GZ

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UPDATED :September 29, 2020


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Yelang was the first state in Southwest China established by the ancestors of ethnic groups and was once wealthy and powerful, rich in natural resources and regional cultural characteristics.

The state is known to many modern Chinese because of the idiom, "夜郎自大 (Yelang thinks too highly of itself)".

How did the idiom come about? Let's go find the answer in the new exhibition, Searching for Yelang, in the Museum of the Nanyue King of Western Han Dynasty.

Ancient pullover-mask-burial tombs found in Guizhou province

Jointly presented by the Museum of the Nanyue King of Western Han Dynasty and the Guizhou Provincial Museum, the exhibition, featuring cultural relics of the Yelang State, kicked off in Guangzhou on September 25 and will last through January 12, 2021.

A total of 256 pieces of cultural relics are on display, including bronze wares made into pullover masks for burial and decorations, weaponry, as well as those adapted from Han-style wares.  

Some cultural relics on display

Divided into three parts, the exhibition covers cultural relics spanning from the Neolithic period to modern times, showcasing the civilization of Yelang State in different periods. You may want to check out some of the highlights.

01 Bronze pot with tiger-shaped decorations

A bronze pot adorned with tiger-shaped decorations, between the late Warring States Period and the early Western Han Dynasty

Adorned with tiger-shaped decorations, the bronze pot was used to cover the head of the tomb owner, showing that the owner was invincible.

02  Ox head-shaped belt hook

An ox head-shaped belt hook, from between the Warring States Period and the Western Han Dynasty

The ox head-shaped belt hook distinguishes itself from other exhibits with its peculiar design. With the knob and the hook on the same side, it was convenient to use while maintaining an artistic appearance.

03 Bronze pot with a dragon-shaped long handle

A bronze pot with a dragon-shaped long handle, from the Western Han Dynasty

A pot with a dragon-shaped long handle is one of the eye-catchers in the exhibition. With its handle modeled like a dragon flying across clouds, the object awes visitors with its exquisite craftsmanship.

04 Iron furnace

An iron furnace found in Wuyang County of Guizhou province, from the Eastern Han Dynasty

Also worth mentioning is an iron furnace unearthed from a tomb located at Kele village, Hezhang County of Guizhou province. Inscribed with Chinese characters "武阳传舍", which refers to post houses or courier stations in Wuyang County (present-day Pengshan district of Meishan city in Sichuan province), the object validated the establishment of postal stations in the region in ancient times as recorded in Shiji, or Records of the Grand Historian (《史记》), which was compiled by Sima Qian in the Western Han Dynasty.

05 Horse-drawn carriage

A horse-drawn carriage, from the Eastern Han Dynasty

Similar to those carriages with canopy in the Han Dynasty, the horse-drawn carriage is not to be missed out. Made with techniques like piecewise casting, it showcased the superb craftsmanship of Yelang State.

You might have a rough impression about Yelang State after seeing the fine exhibits above. Why don't we probe deeper into the ancient state to find out more!

Although the exact time of its founding remains unknown, historical records showed that Yelang State had already existed in as early as the Warring States Period. It was chronicled in Shiji that Yelang was the biggest among states in Southwest China with troops consisting of over 100,000 soldiers. 

The chronicle also described Yelang as an unenlightened state which was unaware of the strength of the Western Han Dynasty. That was why it was deemed to have 'thought too highly of itself' and later became the topic of the idiom "夜郎自大", which spread out from Liaozhai Zhiyi (Strange Stories From a Lonely Studio), a collection of classical Chinese stories by Pu Songling in the Qing Dynasty.

Yelang State had actually kept a close business relation with the Nanyue Kingdom through the convenient waterway in the early Western Han Dynasty. A special trade route was formed between Nanyue and Yelang, transporting goods from Southwest China to the southern coastal areas, which also created conditions for the Western Han army to attack the Yelang State. The latter was wiped out during the reign of Han Emperor Liu Ao in 26 B.C..

A map of Nanyue Kingdom and its peripheral areas

The close tie between Nanyue Kingdom and Yelang State also is reflected in some cultural relics found in Guangzhou. Take the bronze vessels paired with tripods unearthed from the tomb of the Nanyue King for example. 

The bronze vessels featured a quite similar style with those found in Yelang. And some Bashu-style (the ancient name for southwest China including Sichuan province and Chongqing) bronze wares were discovered in ancient tombs of the early Western Han Dynasty in the Lingnan region. Archaeologists believe that they might be introduced to Nanyue Kingdom from the Yelang State.

Bronze vessels and tripods unearthed from the tomb of Nanyue King Zhao Mo

On the exhibition, a number of lion-shaped bronze wares are also displayed. In ancient times, no lions were found in any part of China, thus the lion-shaped items were likely inspired by foreign civilizations, hinting that Yelang State might have interacted with western countries in as early as the Han Dynasty.

A lion-shape bronze ware(left)

With various cultural relics, the exhibition also displays the latest archaeological material and research findings regarding Yelang from Guizhou province, unveiling the mystery of the ancient state to visitors. It is the first time for the Yelang culture to make its debut in Guangdong province. Don't miss it!

Admission: 10 yuan (free during National Day holiday)

Date: September 25,2020-January 12, 2021

Opening hours: 9:00-21:00 (exhibition hall); 9:00-18:30(coffin chamber)

Address: No. 867, Jiefang Bei Lu, Yuexiu district, Guangzhou

Transport: Exit E, Yuexiu Park Station, Metro Line 2

Source:西汉南越王博物馆(The Museum of the Nanyue King of Western Han Dynasty)