Gold has always been associated with power and wealth in human history and ancient legends. With its preciousness known to all, gold has been used by human beings since thousands of years ago, before characters appeared. It is still one of the primary indicators of economy and wealth in the world nowadays.
If we would like to know about the evolution of human civilization, the use of gold is undoubtedly the most conspicuous way. Its splendor has gone through a history as long as five thousand years, across the Eurasian continent, and encompassed the four ancient civilizations. It wouldn’t be too much to take it as light of civilizations. Many magnificent cultural relics have faded or decayed due to exposure, soil erosion or burial underneath. They could never come back like the flowing of water, which is a pity. The relics that last for over three generations while retain the radiance could only be gold.
Around 5th to 6th century, people had already realized that it is difficult to melt the gold. Around 21st to 11th century B.C., people began to pay tribute with gold, silver and copper. In recent years, gold products have been unearthed in archaeological discoveries, which testifies what’s said above. As a matter of fact, the gold refining technique had already been quite mature in the Bronze Age. People were fascinated by the beauty of gold and silver, which probably referred to its purity.
While gold is beautiful and immortal, it is rare to achieve. That is the reason why gold products are mostly small pieces, or wielded with silver and bronze. The Book of Songs composed centuries ago refers to a gold wine vessel, which later is considered by many scholars as a bronze vessel with gold fittings instead of a pure gold one. The character “jin”, or what we call gold today, did not refer to gold only, but included all kinds of metal. Around 1st to 2nd century, in the Han dynasty, people had known that gold wouldn’t oxidize easily, lose weight despite high temperature or get out of shape after being made into vessels. Liu Che (156 B.C. – 87 B.C.), the seventh emperor of the Western Han dynasty, believed an alchemist’s words and made his dining vessels out of gold, in the hope of longevity. During the centuries from Han to Tang dynasty, different cultures have left influence on the styles of gold wares due to the integration of ethnic groups and trade exchanges. Both the designs and the patterns were breathtaking. However, aristocrats still held a firm belief in pursuing immortality and most of their daily items were made of gold and silver. Since the Song and Ming dynasties, the use of gold had become more extensive among aristocrats and the ordinary people and the craft had become more refined. The traditional techniques, such as hammering and casting, making beads and wires, gold inlays and gilding, have been passed down from generation to generation, and enhanced until present.
The traditional techniques of hammering and casting, beading and gold wire, pasting, mismatching and gilding have been passed down from generation to generation, and have been carried forward to the present day.
With Prof. Xu Xiaodong as the curator, this exhibition showcases the history of gold in China comprehensively by sorting out the history of gold products, tracing the influence of exotic cultures and exploring the gold craftsmanship. The success of the exhibition lies in the academic support of the Art Museum, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Sincere thanks also go to Shanxi Museum, Inner Mongolia Museum, Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology Inner Mongolia, Yunnan Provincial Museum, Shaanxi History Museum, Gansu Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Datong Museum, Ordos Bronze Museum, Nanjing Museum Administration, Xuzhou Museum, Yangzhou Museum, Zhenjiang Museum, Wuxi Museum, Luoyang Museum, Sanxingdui Museum, Xi’an Museum, Xi’an Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Famen Temple Museum, Maoling Museum, Guyuan Museum, Nationality Museum of Zhangjiachuan County, Jiangyin Museum, Wujin Museum and Suzhou Archaeology Research Institute.
Director of Suzhou Museum