The greatest goal of scholars in ancient China was to "take under-the-heaven as one's duty." It was the defining feature of their spiritual universe. A number of academicians have aspired to be royal officials for millennia in order to implement social welfare policies and improve people's well-being.
An ongoing exhibition at Zhejiang Museum's Wulin Pavilion is showcasing 300 relics, on loan from more than 30 museums, that illustrate the spiritual life of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) royal scholars.
Scholar officials were civil servants who were appointed by the emperors to carry out daily administration tasks.
Throughout dynasties, they had developed a spiritual universe known as "天下己任," which literally translates as "taking tianxia as one's duty."
Tianxia, which literally means "under the heaven," is a Chinese term and an old Chinese cultural idea that refers to either the entire geographical world or the metaphysical realm of humans.
During the Song Dynasty, the acceleration of economic development aided political change. In both the political and cultural spheres, scholars became pillars of society.
The rulers hoped to reconstruct the rigid hierarchy by promoting Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. A Confucian scholar who was appointed as a government official at the time was considered a member of the scholar-bureaucrat class.
Since only a few scholar bureaucrats could become court or local officials, the majority remained in villages or cities as social leaders. They taught in schools, mediated minor legal issues, oversaw community projects, upheld local law and order, performed Confucian rituals, aided the government in tax collection and advocated Confucian moral precepts. These academics claimed to represent morality and virtue as a group.
The exhibition demonstrates that a variety of vessels were used for rituals. Artisans replicated the designs of their forefathers and created celadon yucong (玉琮) and bronze jue (爵).
Yucong, or cylindrical jadeware, is the epitome of Neolithic Liangzhu-style artifacts. The shape represents the sun's and moon's orbits in the Liangzhu Civilization. Archaeologists believe it had a religious significance and was used in religious events as a ritual vase.
These yucong-like items were used for royal etiquette and worshipping rites throughout the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). Additionally, ceramic yucong claimed that the production of kilns was administered and supervised by the royal palace.
Jue is a wine vessel with three legs and a loop handle. Dating back to the Shang (16th-11th century BC) and Zhou (11th century-770 BC) dynasties, this cup served as a symbol of sovereignty. During the Song Dynasty, people copied the design and manufactured bronze jue sculpted with mythological creatures and auspicious clouds for use in the royal court as a common royal ritual object.
With the Song Dynasty's flourishing economy, the scholar-bureaucrat class began to indulge in trade. The show features Maritime Silk Road-exported gold ingots, copper mirrors, silks and lacquered items.
Ingots from that era were imprinted with Chinese characters denoting their origin and, in certain cases, their intended use, similar to how serial numbers are printed on paper bills today.
The variety of ingots in circulation increased during the Song Dynasty. Also, the standardization and geographical distribution of gold and silver ingots expanded. They were used for trade by both nobles and commoners.
Concurrently, commercial growth propelled the handicrafts industry.
Copper-mirror making flourished in northern Zhejiang Province's Huzhou. Huzhou-style mirrors in a variety of shapes, made in both imperial and private workshops, were popular throughout the country.
The exhibition features a heart-shaped mirror made of copper in Huzhou.
Scholars from the Song Dynasty enjoyed burning incense, drinking tea, arranging flowers and painting. The exhibits closely relate to the lives of scholar officials, providing a complete portrait of their spiritual environment.
Date: Through February 10 (closed on Mondays), 9am-5pm
Venue: Zhejiang Museum's Wulin Pavilion
Address: Zone E, West Lake Culture Square, 581 Zhongshan Rd N.