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 The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China

NOW OPEN to 11 November 2012 | Free admission

Featuring over 350 treasures in jade, gold, silver, bronze and earthenware, The Search for Immortality takes you into the 2000 year-old tombs of Han Dynasty China, revealing an epic story of lust for power both in life and death.

The Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 220) founded unified rule in China but to maintain their vast territory they endured constant struggles for supremacy, both within the empire and from without. In a world first, see the tomb finds of two rival power factions: the Han Royal family and the Kingdom of Nanyue in southern China.

Both seeking control of the southern lands, their rivalry continued to the afterlife in tomb palaces of incredible wealth.  See the treasures that proclaimed their power and discover how they aspired to eternal life.

A part of the London 2012 Festival, this is one of the most important exhibitions of ancient royal treasures ever to travel outside China.

There will be an evening opening of the exhibition on Friday 18 May.

Right: gold belt buckle

Exhibition Highlights


"Terracotta warriors" -  figures from Han Dynasty tombs

One third of the size of the famous "terracotta warriors" found by the tomb of the first Emperor, figures representing soldiers, battle horses and officials were found guarding some of the Han Royal tombs.

The Search for Immortality also shows dancers and musicians, created to entertain the King in the afterlife.

Left: earthenware official

Jade - the immortal stone

Beautiful, enduring and believed to have mystical properties, jades were the most important objects for Han Royal burials. Believed to ward off the demons that caused the body to decay, jade in all varieties were used in the tombs; from intricate carvings to full jade burial suits.

Highlights of the show include a cup believed to have been used to catch the morning dew that ensured immortality, and an incredible coffin made from over 4,000 jade plaques.

Left: jade ornament


Exotic items showing outside influences in China

Many of the items in the exhibition show the remarkable links with the rest of the world being formed in China during this period. The Han Dynasty was the period when the silk route became properly established.

Items on show include gold belt buckles showing influence from Mongolia and a beautiful silver box thought to be from Persia.

Right: Persian silver box

Daily life in Han Dynasty royal courts

All the comforts and luxuries enjoyed in life would be replicated in the tomb, with actual cooking utensils, bathing implements and even real food.

Although ritual sacrifice in this period was rare (replaced by the use of "terracotta" figurines) the King's most important servants and concubines would be sacrificed to join their lord in his eternal paradise.

Right: bronze mirror




Wednesdays | 13.15 – 14.00

Talks are free but space is limited. Admission by token, available from 12.45 on day of talk.

Chinese mirrors (50 BCE) and their symbolism

30 May

Dr Michael Loewe, University of Cambridge

Gateways to paradise: twin towers in early Chinese art

6 June

Dr Li-kuei Chien, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge

Rituals and recipes: food, religion and politics in ancient China

27 June

Professor Roel Sterckx, Joseph Needham Professor of Chinese History, Science and Civilisation, University of Cambridge

Right: gold seal




Workshops and activities

For adults and young people -

Shades of jade

Wednesday 18 July | 10.30 – 13.00
Ages 18+

Silk painting.

The search for immortality: ancient and modern

Saturday 13 October | 14.00 – 16.00
Ages 11+

Discussion about burial and family funeral traditions in China today.

Left: jade dragon pendent

For children -

The tomb of spirits ... a ghostly tale of ancient China

Thursday 7 June | 14.00
Friday 8 & Saturday 9 June | 11.00 & 14.00

Ages 5+

Storytelling performance.

Demons & guardians

Saturday 30 June | 10.30 – 12.30
Ages 8+

Workshop exploring tomb guardians.

The search for the island of Penglai

Friday 3 August
Ages 5 – 8 | 10.30 – 11.30
Ages 8+ | 13.00 – 14.00

Storytelling event.

Let the party begin!

Friday 17 August | 10.30 – 12.30
Ages 5+

Workshop on clay figures from ancient China.

For prices and to book contact:, 01223 332904

Right: stone lion




Life and afterlife in Han China

Tuesday 2 & Wednesday 3 October | 10.00 – 17.00

Newnham College

This conference, organised in conjunction with the exhibition, brings together over fifteen leading sinologists and art historians from the UK, the US, continental
Europe, as well as mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

For prices and to book contact:, 01223 332904

Chinese Families Together Guide

The Fitzwilliam has been working with Chinese family groups in Cambridge on a project called Chinese Families Together.  The project has placed the Chinese families involved at the heart of the celebrations in the run up to the opening of The Search for Immortality.

Chinese Families Together have used their story telling and creative skills to create their own trail for visitors to the exhibition.  They have chosen 17 objects from a selection of the over 370 artefacts in the exhibition and created their own labels featuring riddles describing their chosen objects.

You can pick up the booklet they created when you visit the exhibition from 18 May. Follow their tour by looking for the dancer logo on the labels and see what you can discover from their mysterious riddles. 


The Search for Immortality is supported by:

With additional support from:

Eversheds, Marshalls of Cambridge, Microsoft Research, RealVNC and Sotheby's


Media partners:


The Search for Immortality is a London 2012 Festival Event and part of Stories of the World: Eastern Exchanges supported and 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.



To book an event:

Tel: 01223 332904, Email:

General admission to the Museum is FREE

For full details of all events and workshops, visit our website at   

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