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Wei and Jin Dynasty Tombs

Wei and Jin Dynasty Tombs

Resting near Jiayuguan Fortress and the Overhanging Wall are the Wei and Jin Dynasty Tombs, which are renowned for the simplicity yet vividness of its painted chambers. The tombs are located underground, and as you make your way towards the site along the Hexi Corridor you will see nothing but a series of low mounds. However, as you step through the angled passageway and make your way down into the tombs, the solemn earth will envelop you in darkness, spitting you out into a cluster of brick tombs laden with vivid murals. The vast majority of tombs which have been unearthed were used to enshrine the remains of local noblemen and their family members, and entire generations of related clan members were buried together in a series of vaulted chambers, connected with each other via arched passageways. While the chambers are quite narrow, several of them are equipped with a small kitchen, a storehouse, a sheep fold and even a parking space for carriages.

Each of the tomb’s peeling paintings pictures a different scene, and as you gaze across the images which run across the brickwork you will run across a colorful panorama of everyday activities such as farming, hunting and horseback riding, alongside a series of cultural events, military scenes and political proceedings. With most of the tombs dating back to 265-420 CE some of the earliest tombs are over 1,700 years old, meaning that many of the tomb’s vivid and realistic paintings predate the ancient artwork found in the Mogaoku caves in Dunhuang. These vivid depictions are some of the most well preserved representations of paintings from the Wei and the Jin Dynasties, making the paintings an invaluable tool for archeologists, historians and anthropologists keen on unearthing more details on Chinese life nearly two thousand years ago. While vast networks of the Wei and Jin Dynasty tombs have been excavated, only a small handful of the chambers are open to visitors, leaving the vast majority of these priceless paintings undisturbed, silently projecting their ancient stories upon the remains of their long-deceased subjects.