Tombs of Wei and Jin Dynasty

Chinese name:
魏晋墓葬 (Weijin Muzang).
Location: located about 15 kilometers northeast of Jiayugaun City, Gansu Province.
Opening time: 08:30-20:00.
Entrance fee: CNY 31 (extra fees are required for a guide of the scenic spot).
How to get there: charter a car in downtown of Jiayuguan City (about CNY 50 for a round-trip).
Best time for visit: from May to October.

Introduction to Tombs of Wei and Jin Dynasties

Tombs of Wei and Jin Dynasties (220-420), namely Mural Brick Tombs of Wei and Jin Dynasties, are located in the New Town east of Jiayuguan City. It is part of the tombs of Wei and Jin Dynasties in Guoyuan-New Town area (果园-新城). It is a big tomb group with more than 1,000 tombs which were built between the third and fifth century, covering an area of almost 130,000 square kilometers. Among these tombs, most tombs are of families, housing bodies of three or even more generations. From 1972 to 1979, 18 tombs were excavated with more than 760 mural bricks unearthed, including 9 tombs with mural bricks and the other 9 tombs without. Because of the abundance of mural bricks, the Tombs of Wei and Jin Dynasties are renowned as the largest "Subterranean Art Gallery" (地下画廊) in the world, attracting a large number of tourists from both home and abroad. It was also approved as one of the national relics in 2001. Among these excavated tombs, No.5 Grave has been completely moved to Gansu Museum in May, 1973. Now only No.6 Grave and No. 7 Grave are open to tourists.

Architectural Features of the Tombs of the Wei and Jin Dynasties

The entrance of the Tombs of Wei and Jin Dynasties,which is a big tomb group with more than 1,000 tombs which were built between the third and fifth century.

With unique characteristics of architectural style, tombs here are made up of passageway, gate, gate-tower, front chamber, middle chamber, back chamber, corridor, niche and so on. When entering the stone tomb, you will marvel at the vivid murals and special layout inside. In the tomb, two or three chambers are connected by corridors paved with ties in various flower patterns. The gate was decorated with delicate patterns and easy lines symbolizing clouds, water, fire, gods and weird animals. Walls of the gate-tower were inlaid long bricks sculptured with patterns like figures, animals, etc. the bricks used in the tombs can be divided into several categories, such as square stamped bricks, oblong bricks, sculptured bricks, mural bricks and so on.

Burial Articles unearthed from the Tombs of the Wei and Jin Dynasties

Similar to those in the Tombs of the Wei and Jin Dynasties excavated in the Central Plain, the unearthed burial articles mainly include some potteries such as pots, plates, bowls, dishes, lamps and so on. Some daily necessities, like some lacquer wares, bronze lamps, bronze rulers, iron mirror, iron knives and iron scissors are major burial articles at that time. Besides, wells, kitchen stoves, some bronze coins and little gold decorations can also be found in the tombs.

Mural Bricks unearthed from the Tombs of the Wei and Jin Dynasties

From 18 excavated tombs, more than 760 mural bricks have been unearthed, which fall into several categories: one mural in one brick, one mural in half a brick and one mural in several bricks to form a chain of picture. These mural bricks are of bright color, special style and skilful painting. The exquisite murals on the inner walls of chambers indicate the masters and mistresses' carefree life and servants’ hard working. Most murals on bricks drew on resources of daily life in West Regions of the Wei and Jin Dynasties, such as farming, breeding, dancing, traveling, hunting, posting, camping, picking mulberries, holding banquets, training armies and so on, giving an insight into the feudal society of ancient China.

There are more than 760 mural bricks have been unearthed in tombs of Wei and Jin Dynasties.

These mural bricks play an important role in researching the developments of politics, economy, military, culture, science, nationalities and customs in northwest China of the Wei and Jin Dynasties. Some mural bricks in these tombs are even earlier than those in Mogao Grottos. The mural bricks are of so great importance that they are received highly concerns from all kind of scholars, especially the study on painting. The simple painting lines and the superb painting skills, particularly the content of paintings, have filled a gap in the filed of painting between the Wei and Jin Dynasties and get highly approval in painting history research.

Stories on Mural Bricks

Murals on bricks tell a lot about people’s daily life in the periods of the Wei and Jin Dynasties. An outstanding representation of these delicate murals will be introduced here. It is about “postman” which was excavated from the Mo.5 Grave.

As one of the countries which are the earliest to develop the post, there was post in China in Shang Dynasty (16th-11th century BC) according to the records from the oracle script carved on tortoise shells or animal bones. However, the post at that time was only served for military purposes. In the following dynasties, some private and official post offices appeared. Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇), the first Emperor of Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC), established national post houses. Later in Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD), there was mail communication with the western world in China.

The mural “post” on the bricks had vividly revealed the real post situation in ancient China. On the mural, a skilled postman sits on the back of a galloping horse. He has a letter in one hand and the halter in the other hand, hastening the horse to run faster. The horse has all its four hoofs in the air and its tail aflutter, from which you can imagine how fast the horse runs and have many thoughts and questions flash across his mind. However, no one can give an answer.

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