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The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China

5 May to 11 November 2012

Admission Free

Over 350 treasures in jade, gold, silver, bronze and ceramics will reveal the hidden world of China’s 2000 year old royal tombs. A part of the London 2012 Festival, The Search for Immortality is the most remarkable exhibition of ancient royal treasures ever to travel outside China.

The Han Dynasty were the founders of unified rule in China as we know it today. But to maintain their empire the emperors had to engage in constant struggles for power. In a world first, The Search for Immortality compares the spectacular tombs of two rival power factions: the Han imperial family in the northern ‘cradle’ of Chinese history, and the Kingdom of Nanyue in the south.

Protected by clay guardians and filled with jade and gold, the tombs were palaces fit for immortals. Each tomb was a symbol of power and majesty, designed so its owner could ‘live’ again in eternity in the same luxury they enjoyed in life.

The amazing and exotic treasures on display shed new light on the remarkable power-plays of ancient China and reveal the secrets of the royal obsession with obtaining immortality.

Highlights of the exhibition:

  • two jade burial armour suits belonging to the rival rulers, made from thousands of plaques of jade, sewn together with gold or silk thread
  • jade artefacts thought to ward off demons, such as a jade dagger to serve the emperor in the afterlife, or a jade cup to catch the morning dew that ensured immortality
  • spectacular objects in gold, including imperial seals and exotic belt buckles
  • pottery soldiers and bronze weapons
  • pottery dancers, musicians and servants
  • unusual artefacts including a toilet and an early ginger grater

stone lion gold seal jade ornament musician


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The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China has been made possible through the generous permission of China’s State Administration for Cultural Heritage, Art Exhibitions China, Xuzhou Museum and the Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue Kings. The exhibition is part of the London 2012 Festival, a spectacular 12-week nationwide celebration from 21 June to 9 September 2012, bringing together leading artists from across the world with the very best from the UK.

The Search for Immortality is part of Stories of the World: Eastern Exchanges led by Arts Council England.

Stories of the World is a programme of the London 2012 Olympiad, presenting exciting new museum exhibitions and events across the UK created in collaboration with young people. Part of this in the East of England is Eastern Exchanges—an exciting variety of exhibitions, events, artist exchanges and community projects that will unlock the secrets and stories of China, India and Pakistan.


The Search for Immortality is supported by:
The Monument Trust and Cambridge University Press

With additional support from: Cambridge Assessment, Eversheds, Marshalls of Cambridge, Microsoft Research, RealVNC and Sotheby's

Media partners:
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire 96FM and Cambridge News