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The jewel in China's crown

Updated: 2024-01-06 09:47 ( CHINA DAILY )
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A few centuries earlier, toward the end of one of those periods of division in Chinese history, the ruler of Wuyue, a 10th-century kingdom that controlled the land of Jiangnan, chose to surrender peacefully to the founding emperor of the Song Dynasty, who united China, once again.

But that doesn't mean that Jiangnan was always spared.

"The (Jiangnan) city of Yangzhou was badly shaken upon its capture by the Manchu troops during the Ming-Qing transition. And the whole Jiangnan area was leveled during the Taiping Rebellion in the second half of the 19th century," says Von Spee. "Each time, it bounced back."

Deciding that "every human being responds to beauty", the curator has served up plenty of it to fill six galleries, without forgetting to hint — ever-subtly — at its price.

Visually overwhelming, a piece of green stoneware on loan from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art is topped with a multistoried palatial structure held aloft by a flock of birds and surrounded by auspicious animals including an elephant and a deer. Accompanying this Taoist vision of the paradise are a row of Buddhas seated on the vessel's shoulder, signifying the merging of two beliefs in Jiangnan between the late 300s and early 400s, a time when the Chinese empire splintered into north and south, with the latter occupied by Eastern Jin.

The vessel, labeled funerary urn, is known in Chinese as hunping, or "bottle for the souls".

"Some scholars believe that they are the souls of people who lost their lives on the flight to the south of the river, the area we now call Jiangnan," says Von Spee.

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