Re-examining an ancient Chinese burial site

March 2, 2005 3:43 p.m.
Sleeve Dancer

The “Sleeve Dancer” is among the works of art from other collections in the United States, Canada, Europe and China included in the exhibition.

At left: The centerpiece of the exhibition is the University Art Museum’s own set of rare, 19th-century ink-on-paper rubbings of the "Wu shrines" pictorial carvings.

Kneeling Female Attendant

"Kneeling Female Attendant," (above) a clay piece from the Western Han dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 C.E.), and "Massive Green-Glazed Horse," (below left) a piece of red earthenware from between A.D. 25 and A.D. 220, also are part of the exhibition.   


Photos: Bruce M. White

"Recarving China's Past: Art, Archaeology and Architecture of the 'Wu Family Shrines,'" an exhibition that re-examines one of ancient China's great archaeological sites, is on display through Sunday, June 26, at the University Art Museum.

For more than a thousand years, the burial site known as the Wu Family Shrines in the Shandong Province of northeastern China has served as a benchmark for the study of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) -- one of the defining periods in Chinese history. The inscriptions and pictorial carvings covering the stone slabs from this family cemetery complex have been the basis for much of what is known about critical dates concerning artistic, literary, cultural and architectural developments from one of ancient China's richest eras.

Chinese rubbings

New scholarship led by Princeton is presented in the exhibition and in an accompanying catalog. This work likely will prompt significant re-examination of the site's long-accepted implications, including even its attribution to the Wu family.

The exhibition and catalog reinterpret the shrines based on the discovery, since the 1980s, of additional structures and archaeological materials, as well as evidence that some of the writing and pictorial carvings at the site may have been re-cut over the intervening centuries -- essentially recarved to fit prevailing attitudes and assumptions about the Han era.

"In leading this project, we intend to reopen discussion about what has been taken for granted over nearly a thousand years of study and create the possibility to reconsider and re-imagine some of the most fundamental assertions about China's cultural, archaeological, and artistic past," said Cary Liu, curator of Asian art at the museum and team leader for the project.

Han Dynasty Horse

"We are proud to lead this re-examination of a cultural legacy that is fundamental to those steeped in the study of ancient China," said Susan Taylor, director of the museum. "This initiative, centered on objects in Princeton's collection but including works borrowed from collectors and other institutions, also allows the public to participate in a reappraisal of this extraordinary legacy and to open an unusual window onto the remarkable issues surrounding archaeological research and cultural history."