THE TOMBS OF THE CHINESE KINGS
Documentary

Duration : 52'
Support : Digital Betacam

Director : Pierre-François Gaudry
Production : Mona Lisa production

Created by the descendants of the royal Zhou dynasty (1110 to 1078 BC), the state of Jin (known as Shanxi today), was one of the most powerful kingdoms in pre-imperial China. A time of great technical and cultural progress, this era of "feudal China", composed of regional states, was also marked by incessant conflicts between princes who tried to impose hegemony and extend their territories.

 

Until recent times, archaeological discoveries linked to this period have been sparse and infrequent, until the discovery during the last decade of the two major burial sites of the princes of Jin.

 

Since the mid 1990's, the vast burial site of Tianma-Qucun, "heavenly horse", has revealed the secrets of the tombs of the princes of Jin.

 

The site, spread over 15,000 m2, covers four centuries of the history of the Kingdom of Jin, through the nine generations of "marquises", "dukes", and other high-ranking dignitaries buried there. Truly an open door to this 3000-year-old civilisation.

 

Nineteen tombs of nobles and lords and their wives have been catalogued. Close to the biggest tombs, ten large pits containing chariots and the skeletons of horses have been found. The biggest dates from 812 BC and contains the remains of 105 horses and 60 chariots.

 

It appears that the Jin buried their kings with their war chariots and live horses so that they would be accompanied into the next world by their military power.

 

In 2005, at Yangshe, just 5 kilometres from Tianma-Qucun, archaeologists discovered more tombs of Jin princes dating from 600 BC. In the 250 ritual pits that make up the site, the initial excavations uncovered the remains of hundreds of animals - cattle, horses, pigs, goats, dogs, roosters - as well as human remains - a dozen skeletons - suggesting that some Jin nobles and dignitaries sacrificed their lives to accompany their princes to the kingdom of the dead.

 

The objects found - a gold belt decorated with a dragon, the biggest jade necklace ever found - indicate that the deceased were very highly born.

 

Other ritual or decorative objects - sculpted vases, jewellery, musical instruments - bear witness to the sophistication of the Kingdom of Jin, and demonstrate their skill with cold metalworking, as well as iron smelting and steel tempering.

 

Despite its wide influence, the Jin culture gradually faded and finally disappeared beneath the wave of domination of the Qin dynasty, one of the great rival kingdoms. What can explain this weakening of the Jin dynasty, to the point of its disappearance, and the final hegemony of the Qin dynasty, though considered rudimentary, but which in 221 BC managed to impose one of its members, Qin Shihuang, as the first emperor of China?


 
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