The Three Kingdoms period (220-280) in Chinese history, the short and bloody era of warfare and political tactics has been intriguing history enthusiasts for centuries. Important events, legends and an ensemble of brave, loyal and wise heroes of this era have long been an inspiration for various literary and art forms, triggering endless imagination.
Now a Three Kingdoms-themed exhibition, which was held at the Tokyo National Museum in Japan last year, has arrived at the Nanshan Museum in Shenzhen. With more than 170 pieces of precious cultural relics provided by 36 museums around China, the exhibition presents a picture of the politics, economy, military, culture and life of 1,800 years ago.
The Three Kingdoms was the tripartite division of China among the states of Wei, Shu and Wu. Although the period of the Three Kingdoms academically refers to the period between the foundation of the state of Wei in 220 and the conquest of the state of Wu by the Jin Dynasty (266-420) in 280, the most famous battles, historical events and stories of iconic figures occurred between 184 and 220, a chaotic warlord-infighting period in the later years of the Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-220 A.D.). This period is an inseparable part when talking about the Three Kingdoms history.
According to the exhibition profile, experts spent three years visiting museums in China to select the relics. The exhibition specially selected the latest archaeological findings from excavations of the famous Cao Cao Mausoleum in Anyang City and the Xizhu Village Tomb in Luoyang City in Henan Province.
Visitors are attracted by the “Bronze Chariot and Horse Guards of Honor” from the Han Dynasty at Nanhan Museum. Photos by Cao Zhen
The exhibition is divided into four parts. “Telling the Story of the Three Kingdoms” is a prologue showing the popularity of the Three Kingdoms stories in later dynasties. The star of this part is a 1.72-meter-tall bronze statue of a sitting Guan Yu made in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in Henan Province. Guan was a loyal general who firmly believed in justice and virtue. Calm and benign, he stood with an air of noble dignity and gained many admirers.
Colorful murals made in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) from the Guandi Temple in Inner Mongolia displayed in this section visualize some famous historical events and legends of the Three Kingdom history.
The second part, “The Collapse of the Han Dynasty,” features cultural objects from the Han Dynasty, a time of glory in its beginning and of turbulence in its later years. Highlights of this chapter are several recently excavated small multi-level painted pottery warehouses from Jiaozuo, Henan Province, and the “Bronze Chariot and Horse Guards of Honor” excavated from the Leitai Tomb in Gansu Province in 1969. Other funeral objects also show the dynasty’s prosperous economy and advanced culture.
A bronze statue of a sitting Guan Yu made in the Ming Dynasty.
Painted sculptures of military generals Zhang Fei (L) and Guan Yu, made in the Qing Dynasty.
In the third part, “The Empire Is Divided Into Three,” various military weapons are on display. The “Bronze Thistles,” said to be invented by military strategist Zhuge Liang, is a set of nail-like weapons to be scattered on the ground to hurt war horses’ hooves.
Another highlight that visitors cannot miss from this part is a stone plate excavated from the Cao Cao Mausoleum in 2009. The inscription on the plate, “The long halberd often used by the Emperor Wu of Wei to fight tigers,” proves that it was buried with the Emperor Wu of Wei, Cao Cao, a prominent warlord who rose to great power in the final years of the Han Dynasty and was one of the central figures of the Three Kingdoms history. He laid the foundations for what was to become the state of Wei and was posthumously honored as Emperor Wu of Wei, although he never was an emperor during his lifetime.
The final part, “The Three Kingdoms Reunite to Be a Unified Empire,” shows some fine objects from the Jin Dynasty, which followed the Three Kingdoms period, culminating in the reunification of China.
Although the Three Kingdoms history only lasted less than 100 years, it has had a profound impact on Chinese culture. The wisdom, the virtues of loyalty and benevolence and the ambitions of the historical figures in the turbulent era led to the formation of a rich and colorful Three Kingdoms culture that still resonates today.
The exhibition has detailed English descriptions about the history. Entry is free. Follow the museum’s WeChat account “nanshanmuseum” and then follow menu instructions to book your visit.
Dates: Until Oct. 14
Hours: 10 a.m.-1 p.m., 2-5 p.m., closed Mondays
Venue: Nanshan Museum, Nanshan District (南山区南山博物馆)
Metro: Line 1 to Taoyuan Station (桃园站), Exit B