Tuyuhun: Lost History Recovered in Three Exhibitions Organized by the China National Silk Museum
HANGZHOU, China–(BUSINESS WIRE)–During the 3rd Silk Road Week in July 2022, the China National Silk Museum held three exhibitions consecutively in Hangzhou, Dulan, and Samarkand, namely Qinghai Path: The Silk Roads in the 6th-8th centuries, Forty Years of Archaeology at the Reshui Tombs in Dulan, Silk and Silk Roads: from Hangzhou to Samarkand. These exhibitions successfully reproduce the dusty history of the Qinghai Path from the 6th to the 8th century. Dr. Feng, the chief curator of the three exhibitions from the China National Silk Museum, said that the three exhibitions were the first to review the 40-year process of Tuyuhun and Tubo archaeology in Qinghai in the form of exhibitions. It restores the history of the people of Tuyuhun who dominated Qinghai from the 4th to the 7th century and presents the cultural exchange on the Qinghai Path.
Tuyuhun originally belonged to the Murong Xianbei ethnic group in northeast China. In the early 4th century AD, under the leadership of Murong Tuyuhun (c. 245-317), he had a long trek to Qinghai, where his descendants Ye Yan formally established the Tuyuhun kingdom in 329. In its heyday, it owns a land area of 4,000 miles from east to west and 2,000 miles from north to south and completely took over the Qinghai area. Its prosperity comes with the well-known story of “Broken Arrow Legacy”. In 426, when the ninth king of Tuyuhun, A-za, was deathly ill, he gathered his 20 sons to take an arrow each. He asked Muliyan, the younger brother, to take one arrow and break it, and he broke it; and then let him take and break the other 19 arrows, but he failed to do so. The king then said, “Do you know, A single one is easy to break, but a crowd is hard to break. If you work together, you will be able to secure the society.” He then passed away.
But at the beginning of the 7th century, Tuyuhun was defeated by the Tubo from the southern Tibetan Plateau and the Tang Dynasty from the east, and finally defeated by Tubo in 663. Tuyuhun was divided into two branches, one pro-Tang and one pro-Tubo. The king of Tuyuhun, Murong Nuohobo, and his relatives, Princess Honghua and thousands of households, fled to Liangzhou and submitted to Tang Dynasty, but Tuyuhun in Qinghai was captured and ruled by Tubo.
The Qinghai Path exhibition is divided into four sections: a brief introduction to Tuyuhun tribe, the life of Tuyuhun people, cultural exchanges on the Qinghai Path, and Tuyuhun-Tubo archaeology. Tuyuhun’s life includes four major contents: clothing, food, housing, and hunting. Not only the short sleeve garment, head wrapper, embroidered shoes, and accessories from Murong Zhi’s tomb, but also gold leaf carvings with figures in costumes unearthed from the tombs of Reshui, as well as a weaving loom were on display. The food showcase consists of mostly utensils, including golden bottles, silver bowls, agate cups, clay pots, and silver chopsticks and spoons. The hunting part is mainly made of various gold harnesses, saddles, horse belts, buckles and so on. This section also restores a set of scenes with tents, costumes, hunting, and feasting scenes where the Tuyuhun people lived around the 8th century.
Qinghai has always been an important passage of the Silk Roads. It was developed very early, but its prosperity peaked in the 6th to 8th centuries, and it was called “Tuyuhun Road” in history. On the one hand, Tuyuhun had inseparable communication with the Eastern Central Plains because they are located in the East. On the other hand, they had direct interactions with the farther Central Asian countries, especially the Sogdians. The Sogdians mainly resided in the Zerafshan River basin, which in present-day, is Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. They were well-known for their business and handicrafts and history records that the Sogdians lived in the territory of Tuyuhun, probably in Qiemo, southern Taklamakan Desert. In the mural in the ambassador hall of the ancient Afrasiab ruins in Samarkand, among the envoys who came to congratulate King Varkhuman of Sogdian, three were from Tuyuhun according to research. The “Silk and Silk Roads: from Hangzhou to Samarkand”, was located just above the exhibition hall of the mural hall on the Afrasiab site of Samarkand State Museum-Reserve of Uzbekistan, vividly restores a grand event around 658-661 AD. At that time, Emperor Gaozong of Tang Dynasty Li Zhi (628-683) conferred the Sogdian king Varkhuman the governor of Samarkand and a large number of Tang Dynasty’s envoys went to Samarkand to deliver silkworm cocoons, silk threads, and fabrics, as well as envoys from Tuyuhun and neighboring Tashkent.
A large number of objects displayed in Hangzhou exhibition all reflect the cultural exchanges between the East and the West unearthed on the Tuyuhun Road, such as Sassanian silver coins, with Roman-style gold belt, silver plates with Greek mythological elements, silk fabrics with statues of sun gods and so forth.
Among them, there is an unremarkable gilt silver plate with a particularly large size and heavy weight, with a diameter of 43 cm, a residual height of 1.8 cm, and a wall thickness of 0.2 cm. Although it is heavily corroded and folded on one side, three figures can be recognized initially. In the center of the plate is a vine, under the tree, there is a woman with long hair squatting naked with fabric wrapped around her body. On the left is a young man in a cloak with a dagger on his shoulder who holds against the woman with his left knee and grabs the woman. On the right side of the plate is an old man with tendrils, also wrapped in fabric, leaning over and bending, holding a stick in both hands and leaning against it. The subject matter of the silver plate picture evidently comes from Greek anthropology, although different scholars have different interpretations. Tong Tao believes that the image may represent Dionysos, the gods of wine, Ariadne, and Silenus, an old and drunken attendant. An Italian scholar Matteo Compareti indicates a Greek story of Ajax and Cassandra in the Trojan War. Feng Zhao pointed out that another male on the silver plate shows that the combination of characters in Greek anthropology has changed on the silver plate, hence, the origin of the silver plate is no longer in Greece, but more likely in the Persian or Byzantine area, and ended up in the Tuyuhun area through trade with the Sogdians.
The “Forty Years of Archaeology at the Reshui Tombs in Dulan” exhibition held in Dulan, the core area of Tuyuhun-Tubo archaeology. In 1982, Xu Xinguo and his colleagues from the Qinghai Archaeological Team came to Dulan, Tuyuhun’s homeland, which was under Tubo’s rule later, to investigate the frescoes around the Chahan Wusu River. Many important cemeteries were found on both sides of the river at night, including the “Nine-layer Demon Tower” and the “Reshui Tomb No. 1” called by the locals. The tomb sits the north and faces the south, with a height of 30-35 meters and a base of 160 meters wide at the bottom. Since then, Dulan kicked off the archaeology of the Reshui and Xuewei tombs. Xu Xinguo has been excavating in the local area for over 10 years till now. Later, there were joint archaeological investigations by the School of Cultural and Museology of Peking University and the Shaanxi Institute of Historical Archaeology until the excavation of the Xuewei Tomb and the Quangou in Wulan conducted by the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2018. A series of tombs of the Tubo period have been discovered here, and many exquisite cultural relics have been unearthed, most of which are cultural relics of Tuyuhun nobles under the Tubo’s rule in the 7th and 8th centuries AD. It’s worth noticing that the newly discovered tomb of Murong Zhi (691) in Tianzhu, Gansu Province in 2019 is a miniature of the Tuyuhun nobles returning to the Tang Dynasty.
As an archaeological exhibition, the China National Silk Museum not only restored the models of the Reshui Tomb No. 1 (Nine-layer Demon Tower) and Xuewei No. 1 Tomb in 2018 but also restored the original Quangou No. 1 Tomb under the guidance of Dr. Tao Tong. This tomb was excavated in 2018-19, and although it has been stolen, it is well preserved. It is a rectangular brick and wood mixed structure multi-chamber tomb with a tomb passage. The pillars, beams, and wood on the top of the room are painted with colors, and there are exquisite murals painted on the walls of the two rooms. It is the first tomb with murals in the Tubo period discovered on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. There are also painted lacquer coffins in the tomb and a sealed secret compartment was found in the tomb, in which a gilt crown and a gold cup were placed. This was a major archaeological discovery of the Tubo period on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in recent years and was selected as one of the “Top Ten New Archaeological Discoveries in China” by the National Cultural Heritage Administration of China in 2019 and the “Six New Archaeological Discoveries” by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The excavation of this tomb is of great value for the study of the integration process of the Han and Tibetan and the grand cultural exchanges along the Qinghai Path.
Through research, the exhibition reproduces the gilt-silver crown with 3D modeling. The main body of this crown is mainly made of four pieces of gilt silver with turquoise inlaid. The crown surface combination is in a square bucket shape. The bottom surface of the crown is square, with each side 17.5 cm long, the top 37 cm high, and the maximum width of 36.5 cm. The pattern on the front and back is 2 dragons frolicking, with a phoenix standing on a lotus pedestal on each side. The neck guard pattern on the back is a pair of lions facing one another. The interior of the crown is made of brocade and silk, and there is a network of pearls in front of the crown, which may be the same as that of the emperors of the Central Plains.
Contact: Jinfang Li
Company Name: China National Silk Museum
Contact: 73-1, Yuhuangshan Road, Xihu District, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China