HANZHONG, China, July 31, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Hanzhong in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province on his way back to Beijing on Saturday. During his visit to the municipal museum, Xi emphasized making good use of museums. He also called for efforts to expand the influence of Chinese culture.
“I was in Hanzhong in 2008 after the devastating Wenchuan earthquake to oversee the relief work. Hanzhong has always been in my heart over the years,” Xi told local residents. Xi said he was delighted to see huge changes of the city since then.
With an exhibition area of nearly 2,000 square meters, the Hanzhong Museum in Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province is not the grandest museum in China, but it is a historical telescope allowing visitors to have a retrospective view of Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220) history dating back to as far as 2,000 years ago.
Unlike many other museums across the country built to house more recent historical relics, the Hanzhong Museum itself embodies the history that encompasses three heritage sites with the ancient Hantai (Lit: Han palace), once the royal residence of the founder of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang, at its core.
Heritage sites-turned museum
Including the ruin of ancient Hantai, a notable feature of the Hanzhong Museum was it built in 1985 consisting of two other Western Han Dynasty (206BC-AD25) heritage sites, the Baijiang altar and the “Yin Ma Chi,” a pool facility common in ancient times for accommodating horses.
Visitors are first greeted by the ancient Hantai once they enter the museum, which is seven meters high. The millennium-old architecture was constructed using typical man-made rammed earth and its design characters show architectural aesthetics prominent in China’s Qin (221BC-206BC), Han and Southern Song (1127-1279) dynasties.
Liao Shuguang, an architectural expert of ancient Chinese buildings, told the Global Times that the ancient Hantai’s functions would change “according to history’s change.” It was once home to Liu Bang, but was later renovated in the Southern Song Dynasty to become a backyard garden with a gazebo on the building’s roof.
Although the ancient Hantai changed roles, its historical importance remained unchanged as it witnessed Liu’s founding of the Han Dynasty, one of the powerful dynasties in the Chinese history to have “unified yet diverse” cultural and political beliefs, historian Tao Zhongjun, told the Global Times.
“Including the belief of a ‘unified country,’ the Han Dynasty left behind a diverse legacy including the governing Confucius mindset and Silk Road exchanges with the western region of Asia and the world. They continue to inspire us today,” Tao noted.
Aside from the ancient Hantai, the Baijiang altar, another major element of the museum, was built in 206BC. It was where the then governor Liu Bang would praise the talent and wisdom of his loyal officer Han Xin.
Museum expert Li Zhiming told the Global Times that such heritage sites turned cultural spaces are “living proof of Chinese history,” and a good way of making use of the museum is to “properly maintain it while enriching its collection that possesses local cultural characters.”
The art of Shudao
Hanzhong was a major stop along the ancient road system Shudao that connected China’s Guanzhong Plain with the Chengdu Plain.
The Baoxie plank road, an ancient mountain road that traversed the Qinling Mountain, was also located in Hanzhong and brought an abundant supply of Shudao cultural artifacts.
Inside the Hanzhong Museum, there is a gallery dedicated to the ancient plank road. Shi Men Shi San Pin, also known as the 13 cliff stone carvings of the Shi Men, are a part of the museum’s collection.
As an important section of the Shudao, Shi Men was a tunnel at the southern end of the Baoxie plank road. The walls of the tunnel as well as the cliffs of the Baoxie river, were carved with numerous historical inscriptions among which the 13 pieces collected by the museum were the “rarest of the rare,” relic expert Xiang Zhengming told the Global Times.
Amongst the 13 carving pieces, the Shi Men Song (Lit: the Eulogy of Shi Men) is a highlight. It embodies the aesthetic essence of Han Dynasty’s clerical script calligraphic style. In 1936, China’s large-scale encyclopedia Cihai (lit: the sea of the words) took the two Chinese characters for “sea” and “word” discovered from the carving stones to be used on the cover.
“The collection at the Hanzhong Museum holds value in which one can look into China’s calligraphic art and can be useful to historians in understanding the then social and cultural scenes,” Xiang told the Global Times.
Some other carved pieces have also revealed the secrets of Han Dynasty’s water project construction.
Including the 13 treasures, the Hanzhong Museum holds over 5,000 pieces of cultural artifacts that tell the changing cultural history of the city and the nation.