Tomb of the Sui Dynasty (581-618)
Location: Taiyuan, Shanxi Province
Excavated in 1999
Significance: It has supplied important material objects to the study of the relationships and cultural exchanges between the Sui Dynasty and Central Asia.
|Relief of one man on camelback and seizing a lion, carved on the stone outer coffin: (right-up, height 96 cm, width 66 cm); Relief of one master and two servants having a rest, carved on the stone outer coffin: (mid, height 96 cm, width 52 cm); Relief of one man on horseback while the other holding canopy, carved on the stone outer coffin: (left-bottom, height 96 cm, width 70. 5 cm)|
This tomb is so far the only archaeological find in the Central Plains that reflects Central Asian culture. It is also the only one to have been excavated in a scientific way and with an accurate chronological record. Rich in relics and well preserved, it is of great significance to the study of the cultural exchanges between China and Western countries during the Sui Dynasty.
The tomb is a single-chamber grave built with bricks and with a sloping passage leading to it. It is a plain square with arched sides. The relics include a white marble coffin, octagonal white marble columns and a stone sculpture of the heads of people offering a sacrifice. The most valuable aspect is the relief patterns on the base and four sides of the coffin, with color or gilt painting. The decorative figurines, costumes, fittings, vessels, flowers and birds in the patterns bear a strong flavor of Central Asian culture.
The sarcophagus (Shi Guan or coffin) resembles a traditional wooden Chinese hall in construction, measuring three bays across, sitting atop a carved and painted base, and covered with an eaved or hipped gabled roof. The base of the structure also rests on top of eight stone beasts. Two leaves of a stone door, originally set in the center of the front facade under an archway, had fallen to the ground. Painted images on the exterior rear and side panels are all but faded, with only faint traces of outlined figures visible.
Carved on the inner panels and outer facade walls of this traditional Chinese structure, however, were fanciful images of foreign design, including scenes of hunting, tribute, feasting, music, and dancing. While many of these themes are not unfamiliar to Chinese funerary iconography, the manner of depiction, wildly energetic human and animal combat scenes, and the figures themselves, with deep-set eyes, high noses and distinctly non-Chinese hairstyles, clothing and accouterments, suggest a reference to non-Chinese cultures, specifically Sasanian-Persian and Central Asian.