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The Golden Age of Chinese Archaeology: Celebrated Discoveries from The People's Republic of China
September 19, 1999 – January 2, 2000
East Building, Mezzanine Northeast

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

Overview: The exhibition featured 206 objects created between 5000 B.C. and 960 A.D., representing 5 dynasties of Chinese rule. The objects included sculpture, ritual implements, musical instruments, paintings, calligraphy, and other decorative objects in ceramic, jade, stone, wood, bamboo, lacquer, gold, silver, and bronze. The exhibition was a sequel to the exhibition of Chinese archaeological finds shown at the National Gallery of Art in 1974.

Chinese bell-ringing ceremonies were performed in the East Building on September 17, 18, and 19.

Exhibition Summary: For thousands of years, Chinese collectors have treasured antiquities both for their beauty and as venerable relics of the past. Yet little was known of the original context and meaning of ancient works of art until the introduction of archaeology in the early twentieth century. After the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, Chinese intellectuals and reformers embraced foreign ideas and technology, which attracted Western missionaries, explorers, geologists, and other scientists to the new Republic of China. Archaeologists from Europe, Japan, and America soon followed and launched the first scientific excavations in the country. Chinese scholars were impressed by the discoveries, and rather than leave the excavation of their past to foreigners, they embraced the new field themselves. Archaeology has flourished in China in the past fifty years, and especially in the period since the 1970s, which Chinese archaeologists now consider their "golden age." New finds have revealed the existence of regional cultures that were previously unknown and works of art that are unprecedented in style and subject.

The Golden Age of Chinese Archaeology is in part a sequel to the exhibition of archaeological finds from China shown at the National Gallery of Art in 1974. At the time of that exhibition, most of the works of art now on display were still lying deep in the ground. Dating from c. 5000 B.C. to A.D. 924, the finds include precious jades, lacquerware, silks, ceramics, objects in gold and silver, and extraordinary works of sculpture in terra-cotta, stone, and bronze. These discoveries have shed new light on the complex origins of Chinese civilization and necessitated the rewriting of early Chinese history.

Organization: The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, in cooperation with the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and Art Exhibitions China, The People's Republic of China. Xiaoneng Yang, curator of Chinese art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, was guest curator.

Sponsor: The exhibition was sponsored by Eastman Kodak Company. Additional support was provided by The Henry Luce Foundation. The exhibition received an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. The catalogue was supported by a grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

Attendance: 208,636

Catalog: The Golden Age of Chinese Archaeology: Celebrated Discoveries from The People's Republic of China, edited by Xiaoneng Yang. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1999.

Brochure: The Golden Age of Chinese Archaeology: Celebrated Discoveries from The People's Republic of China, by Susan M. Arensberg. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1999.

Other Venues: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, February 13–May 7, 2000
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, June 17–September 11, 2000

Image: Installation view of The Golden Age of Chinese Archaeology: Celebrated Discoveries from The People's Republic of China, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gallery Archives

Download a free PDF of the exhibition catalog (PDF 122.9MB)