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The rear wall of the coffin chamber in née Wu's tomb. Image: Chinese Cultural Relics

Inscriptions on Song Dynasty Tombs Narrate the Captivating Tale of an Ancient Chinese Couple

Archaeologists have announced the discovery of two 800-year-old tombs that narrate the story of an ancient Chinese couple. The tombs were found in a construction site in Qingyuan County, in China's Zhejiang province.

The Inscriptions of the Tombs Reveal Valuable Information

Jianming Zheng, a researcher with the Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, led the team of archaeologists who excavated the tombs as Live Science reports . The two tombs belong to a man named Lord Hu Hong and his wife née Wu, who held the title “Lady of Virtue.” According to the archaeologists, Hu Hong's tomb had been looted before, but his wife’s tomb was found intact. Additionally, Zheng said that lengthy inscriptions were found inside both tombs, but the inscription in née Wu's tomb wasn’t clear enough to be read. The engraving on Hu Hong’s tomb informs us that he was the "Grand Master for Thorough Counsel." The scientists who examined the tombs also suggest that Hu Hong and his wife lived during a period that China was split between two dynasties, with Hong serving the southern Song dynasty, which governed southern China.

Inscription describing HU Hong’s life was found in the tomb (Image: Courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics)

Inscription describing HU Hong’s life was found in the tomb (Image: Courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics)

A translation of the inscription declares that it "has been inscribed on this stone to be treasured here, in the hope it will last as long as heaven and earth,” as Live Science reports . Furthermore, the inscription tells us that one of the several responsibilities Hu Hong had back in 1195 was to become the "Investigating Censor prosecuting the treacherous and the heretical, with awe-inspiring justice.” Interestingly, according to various historical accounts from 1195, the government back then would launch a series of severe measures to restrict the action of a religious group called the Tao-hsueh, who had been criticized by Chinese senior officials and emperors for consuming too much alcohol and having multiple wives.

Finds Include Gold Jewelry and Porcelain Jars

The human remains of the two individuals were found to be almost completely decomposed. A significant amount of mercury was found within née Wu's tomb that "was probably used [unsuccessfully] to prevent decomposition," the archaeologists wrote in their journal article as Live Science reported . Inside both tombs, the archaeological team found porcelain jars adorned with elephant depictions. Inside née Wu's tomb, they also discovered gold jewelry, gold combs, gold and silver hairpins and a crystal disc.

Gold ear rings and other items were found in née Wu's tomb (Image: Courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics)

Gold ear rings and other items were found in née Wu's tomb (Image: Courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics)

Hu Hong’s Life and Rise to Power

According to the inscription and other historical accounts, Hu Hong was born to a very poor family back in 1147.

"Hu Hong loved learning, but his family was poor and had no money to buy books. When there were book peddlers passing by, he would borrow the books, read them overnight and return them the next day," the Gazetteer of Chuzhou Prefecture , a text published in 1486 reads in translation.

However, Hong showed remarkable talent as a child in school and in 1163 he passed a series of government exams to get an official junior position, as the inscription narrates.  He then gradually rose through the ranks, with the government naming him as the “best county magistrate of the year” in 1193. As the 'investigating censor, Lord Hong prosecuted the 'treacherous and the heretical' in 1195, the inscription says via Live Science .

Song Dynasty was renowned for its porcelain. This jar with elephant was found in née Wu's tomb (Image: Courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics)

Song Dynasty was renowned for its porcelain. This jar with elephant was found in née Wu's tomb (Image: Courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics)

Final Years and Death

In 1200 Lord Hong was made a military commissioner and was charged with defeating a group of rebels. "At the time, the Yao tribes were rebellious, and he stamped the rebels out," the inscription says. Interestingly, Live Science reports that remaining members of the Yao group live in China and Southeast Asia to this day. Not long after 1200, however, Hong became a critic of his own government, and retired from his rank. “He knew that he was beyond his prime and insisted on retiring. Had he kept being outspoken, he would have been pushed out. Although worried about current affairs and concerned with the moral decline of the time, and though he could not easily let go, he no longer had the energy to fight and serve,” the inscription says.

Eventually, Lord Hong died in 1203, while his wife would die only three years later in 1206. The couple requested their tombs be built next to one another. Ultimately, the inscription mentions that they had two sons, three daughters, and two granddaughters.

Top image: The rear wall of the coffin chamber in née Wu's tomb. Image: Chinese Cultural Relics

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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