China Preserving its History

A few years ago, David Frum wrote on his blog (I think he deleted that post or closed his Blog since then) about China’s Early Empires referring to Belknap’s six-volume history of Imperial China. Frum said, “There is no Chinese equivalent of the Parthenon or the Roman Forum, no Pantheon or Coliseum. For all its overpowering continuity, China does not preserve physical remains of the past… He offhandedly mentioned at one point that there remained not a single surviving house or palace from Han China. There are not even ruins.”

David Frum—who was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush—was wrong.

I wrote a three-part series about the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.) tombs discovered in Xuzhou, which was the location of the capital of the Han Dynasty. The tombs, which have not been destroyed or looted, are now tourist attractions. A museum was built to house artifacts that were discovered. One tomb has a living room and a bedroom before the coffin chamber.  Since the tomb was built inside a hollowed-out rock mountain, it survived more than two millennia with evidence of how the Han Dynasty lived more than 2,000 years ago.

And I’ve toured the Ming tombs, and seen the graves of heroes from the Song Dynasty near the West Lake in Hangzhou, south of Shanghai.  Also, let’s not forget that the Grand Canal, which was started five centuries before the birth of Christ, is still in use today.

Then, if you visit Tibet, there’s the Potala Palace, which was first built in 637 AD and is still lived in. Although much of ancient China has vanished, there are still vestiges that equal or surpass what the Roman and Greek civilizations left behind.

Last but not least, there’s the Great Wall and China’s Terra-Cotta Warriors from the first emperor (260-210 BC). I wrote about Qin Shi Huangdi in this post:

Though the beginning of the Great Wall of China can be traced to the third century B.C., many of the fortifications included in the wall date from hundreds of years earlier, when China was divided into a number of individual kingdoms during the so-called Warring States Period (Beginning between 481 – 403 BC) .


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2012 San Francisco Book Festival
2012 New York Book Festival
2012 London Book Festival
2009 Los Angeles Book Festival
2009 Hollywood Book Festival

Finalist in Fiction & Literature – Historical Fiction
The National “Best Books 2010” Awards


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12 Responses to China Preserving its History

  1. Another tomb that dates back to the Han dynasty is the Mawangdui Han tombs. The tomb is well preserved and was discovered in the 1970s. The most amazing thing about the tomb is that it contains the mummified body of the tomb owner. And the body is not a dry mummy but a wet mummy!

    • A wet mummy? Are there photos or a video on YouTube?

      • roastedpistachios says:

        That is correct, a wet mummy, not dry mummy. Here is the youtube video I found.

        You can go there and take a look. Changsha is the capital of Hunan and is accessible by high speed train. I have seen it myself.

  2. I have to take issue with you on this. The Chinese government uncovered storage rooms containing thousands of Han pots, and found a fine use for them. It ground them up to use as road bed material. They crushed thousands of them and those of us who could, collected what we could to at least make sure there was something left. If that has changed, it is a most recent development. This is something I have followed, as a collector. Many of we who collect send money to help preserve places like The Forbidden City that the Chinese apparently have no interest in preserving. Sorry, but it’s true.

    • I’m not sure when those Han pots were ground up, but I do know that during the Mao era, and especially during his Cultural Revolution, the Little Red Guard—mostly teens who were empowered by Mao to destroy the old China—went on a rampage destroying everything they could from the historical past.They even marched on the Forbidden City at one point to burn it down, but Mao was living there and he had a division of the PLA surround the palace to keep the teens from setting fire to it.

    • I wonder if this decision was made from the top or from some minor official who thinks too highly of his ability to make decisions like this. My wife usually says stuff like this is usually caused by some illiterate peasant who somehow ended up with too much power in the party.

      • I suspect is is also a matter of priorities. China has rather more history to preserve than most places on earth and it is so BIG. However, the choice to use Han dynasty pottery as roadbed material seems a poor decision no matter WHO made it. I’m glad I had the opportunity to save a couple of pots. I gave one to a friend and it’s kind of a trust: we promise to take care of them so they will not disappear forever. I feel that way about my entire collection. I don’t own it. I’m taking care of it. I would give it away if I knew someone who could and would take proper care of it.

      • What about a museum collection?

      • My stuff isn’t museum quality. It’s “poor collector” quality … you know, cracks, chips, other imperfections. The stuff people who only have a little money, but want to collect anyway, can afford. I have a couple of pretty good pieces but all of them are in some way imperfect.

      • My wife has a Chinese piece like that she says might be three-thousand years old—at least that’s what she was told. She glued the broken pieces back together. It’s an ox pulling a covered two-wheeled cart.

      • I have a Tang servant on horseback like that and my Sui musicians are glued together. Everything I have has been repaired, or is missing its lid or a handle, or is cracked. I have one piece that’s supposedly neolithic, but I haven’t got the money to get it properly tested for authenticity. Some of my stuff is more than 1000 years old … but imperfect or damaged. I love it anyway. I can see past the chips and cracks.

      • The chips and cracks give it character. In real live as we age, we get chips and cracks—sort of.

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