Treasures of Wuhan

Celebrating the culture of Hubei Province's capital city

By Bi Mengying, Chen Xi and Ji Yuqiao, Published: 2020/4/21 13:48:40

Aerial shot of the Yellow Crane Tower in Central China's Wuhan on April 7, 2019 Photo: VCG
Editor's Note:

In China's traditional fengshui philosophy, local geography has a huge impact on a city. Places bound by mountains and nearby waterways are sure to become great cultural or economic centers such as the city of Wuhan in Central China's Hubei Province. The Yangtze River, which runs right through Wuhan, not only brings necessities and food to locals, but also provides vitality, prosperity and opportunities to this important provincial capital.

Among the numerous cultural and historical pearls that have shined throughout the centuries in the city, we have chosen the following important gems - from the valued treasures of the Hubei Provincial Museum to the city's representative Yellow Crane Tower - to give our readers a glance at the city's rich ancient history.

The two skulls of Yunxian Man on display at the Hubei Provincial Museum in Central China's Wuhan Photo: VCG
Yunxian Man: What did prehistoric Hubei people look like?

Discovered in 1989 and 1990 in Yunxian county, Central China's Hubei Province, the two skulls of Yunxian Man shocked archaeologist around the world as it shook up the prevalent out of-Africa theory concerning the origins of humanity.

Currently on display at the Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan, the skulls are one of the museum's most important collections. The two skulls, named Liangzi and Qingqu, were discovered by the Hubei Institute of Cultural Relics, which determined that they were examples of homo erectus dating back to about 1 million years ago. The second skull is the most complete fossil skull of homo erectus found in China to date.

Their facial features are similar to that of the paleoanthropological fossils that had already been discovered in other parts of China and other Asian countries. Their cranial capacity has been determined to be almost the same as the brain of Peking Man found on the outskirt of Beijing, a homo erectus skeleton dating to roughly 750,000 years ago.

Restoring fossils of humanity's ancestors such as these has proven difficult for experts. For 13 years, archaeologist searched for the best way to restore the skulls. They used model incising for areas that were broken or cracked, but this method was not effective when dealing with parts of the skulls that were distorted, according to a report from Chinese news site

So the experts turned to computer technology, carrying out a CT scan of the skull. In May 2002, they began working with doctors at Wuhan University's Zhongnan Hospital to scan the skull in 255 sectional images.

The scientists spent more than a year repositioning, reshaping and replicating distorted and missing parts and finally finished the restoration of the skull in 2004.

Chime Bells of Marquis Yi of Zeng Photo: VCG
Chime Bells of Marquis Yi of Zeng

After being buried underground for more than 2,400 years, in 1978 the Chime Bells of Marquis Yi of Zeng were unearthed from the central chamber of the Tomb of Marquis Yi, a ruler of the state of Zeng. Zeng was among the minor states controlled by the state of Chu, an ancient kingdom that existed during the Zhou Dynasty (1046BC-221BC) and covered a region that encompassed much of today's Hubei Province and its neighboring regions in Central China. The people of Chu considered the bells a symbol of the state's power.

According to the inscription on one of the bells, the set was a gift from King Hui of the Chu State "to the Marquis Yi of Zeng for his perpetual use."

The find remains the biggest, finest and most complete set of chime bells yet to be discovered in China. Like the Sword of King Goujian of Yue, it is rated as grade-one national cultural relic and was included in the list of the first cultural relics barred from overseas loans in 2002.

The original Chime Bells of Marquis Yi of Zeng have only been played in a performance for three times in modern times. The first time was done in 1978 to test the musical notes for archaeological purposes. For the performance, an orchestra consisting of archaeologist and musicians performed several songs and pieces of music, concluding with the famous socialist anthem The Internationale.

The second performance took place in 1984 to mark the 35th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. The set was taken to Beijing for a performance for Chinese leaders and ambassadors coming from around the world.

For the third, the chime bells were used in renowned Chinese musician Tan Dun's 1997 performance of Heaven, Earth, Mankind (also known as Symphony 1997) to mark Hong Kong's return to China.

Sword of King Goujian of Yue on display at the Hubei Provincial Museum in Central China's Wuhan Photo: VCG
Details of the rhombi patterns on Sword of King Goujian of Yue Photo: VCG
Sword of King Goujian of Yue

Some call it "the best sword in the world," while others refer to it as the sword that "defied time." The archaeological artifact dating to the Spring and Autumn Period (770BC-476BC) was unearthed in 1965 near Jingzhou, a city not too far from Wuhan.

With a length of 55.6 centimeters, the bronze sword weighs a mere 875 grams, lighter than two bottles of water. Inlaid with turquoise on its hilt, the sword's blade was embellished with rhombi patterns on both sides. The pommel was designed with 11 concentric circles with each interval as small as 0.2 millimeters. It is astonishing to see such an exquisite level of craftsmanship from more than 2,400 years ago.

Stored in a lacquered wooden sheath, the sword has magically remained in an impeccable condition without a single trace of rust despite the passage of time. Its razor-sharp blade was said to have drawn blood from an archaeologist's finger and during a test was able to cut through a stack of 20 pieces of paper.

To mark the first anniversary of the normalization of the diplomatic relations between China and Japan, the sword was exhibited at the Tokyo National Museum in 1973. In 1984, it was displayed in Hong Kong at an exhibition dedicated to preparations for Hong Kong's return to the motherland. In 1999, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, it was put on display in Beijing. In 1994, while on loan to a museum in Singapore, a workman accidentally knocked the national treasure to the floor, leaving a 7-millimeter-long crack in the blade. Rated as grade-one national cultural relic, the artifact at the Hubei Provincial Museum, was added to the list of cultural relics banned from overseas loans in 2013.

Yellow Crane Tower Photo: IC
Yellow Crane Tower

Yellow Crane Tower, the national AAAAA tourist attraction, is located on Snake Hill in Wuhan, near the banks of the Yangtze River in the Wuchang district. Yellow Crane Tower is well known as "The No.1 scenic spot under Heaven."

There are various legends about how the tower got its name. One of the most famous ones says a Taoist priest drew a magical crane to express his thanks to Xin, the owner of a wine shop who gave the priest wine for free for half a year. The yellow-colored crane would dance while people clapped, which attracted thousands of visitors to the shop and boosted Xin's business.

Ten years later, the priest revisited the wine shop. He played the flute and rode away on the crane into the sky. In order to memorialize the priest, Xin spent the money he earned over that decade building a tower, which he named Yellow Crane Tower.

The tower was first built in AD223 during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280) for military defense but later developed into a place of leisure for famous figures and poets to write literary works including poems. It was later destroyed due to war.

The current structure was built in 1981. It is 51.4 meters tall with five stories, covering an area of 3,219 square meters. The tower boosts beautiful yellow tiles and red pillars. Each floor has exhibits on display for visitors.

A statue of Qu Yuan at Xingyinge in Central China's Wuhan Photo: VCG
China's founder of romantic odes

Qu Yuan (340BC-278BC), a Chinese poet and statesman of the state of Chu who lived during the Warring States Period (475BC-221BC), is known for his patriotism and contributions to classical poetry and verses. He is considered by Chinese critics as the founder of romantic literature and was listed as one of the world's four literary celebrities in 1953 by the World Peace Council.

As mentioned above, the state of Chu was located in what is today's Hubei Province and at the time had its own distinct regional culture. Qu is one of the most representative figures of this Chu culture, both for his literary style and his way of handling things.

A court official, Qu was framed by his political opponents which led to the destruction of his relationship with the king of Chu. After losing his monarch's trust, Qu was sent into exile.

During his days in exile, Qu wrote many moving poems that would go on to become famous. In them, his love for his state and its people can be felt throughout, including Li Sao (The Lament), Tian Wen (Asking Questions of Heaven) and Jiu Ge (Nine Songs). Li Sao is considered Qu's most representative work and is the longest ode in the romanticism style concerning politics in the history of ancient Chinese literature.

In 278 BC, after learning that the Chu state had been defeated by the state of Qin, Qu, in great despair and distress, ended his life by drowning himself in the Miluo River in what is now Central China's Hunan Province.

To commemorate this talented and patriotic poet, the Dragon Boat Festival is held every year on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar. During this time Chinese eat zongzi made of sticky rice and hold dragon boat races to celebrate the festival.