Prince Zhuang of Liang - The Trappings of a Prince

Treasure from the Times of Zheng He

By Hubei Provincial Museum

Hubei Provincial Museum

Gold Filigree Zan with Inlaid Gems and Openwork Greenish-white Jade Luan Bird and Peony MotifHubei Provincial Museum

The Life of Prince Zhuang

Prince Zhuang of Liang (1411-1441), born Zhu Zhanji, was the ninth son of the Hongxi Emperor (1378-1425). In the 22nd year of the Yongle Emperor (1424), he was appointed Prince of Liang, with a fiefdom in Anlu in Huguang (present day Zhongxiang City, Hubei Province). Following the death of her predecessor, the prince took Wei Fei (1413-1451) as his wife in 1433. Even though she came from a common family, the prince cherished his relationship with her and, although she bore him no children, he never took another wife.

In the 6th year of the reign of the Zhengtong Emperor (1441), the prince died of an illness at the age of 30 and was buried in Yuling Mountain within his fief. His grief-stricken wife wished to die and be buried with him, but the emperor instructed her to raise the two young daughters of the prince. Ten years later, the Lady Wei died and the prince's tomb was reopened so that her last wish, to be buried next to her husband, could be granted.

Prince Zhuang of Liang lived during the reigns of the Yongle, Xuande, and Zhengtong emperors. Between 1405 and 1433, the Ming court sent the eunuch admiral Zheng He on seven voyages to countries bordering the western sea. Crossing the Indian Ocean, the fleet visited 30 countries, increasing the contact between China and lands to the west. In the prince's tomb, the many precious stones and gold items purchased from the west give witness to glory of this era of exploration. The silverware, jade items, jewelry, apparel, crowns, belts, and instruments used for the practice of Tantric Buddhism show the early Ming era's mastery of gold and jade work, while the many cultural artifacts reveal the unusual love story of Prince Zhuang and the Lady Wei. The tomb of Prince Zhuang of Liang was discovered in 2001, allowing the love of the prince and his wife to enchant the world once more.

Gold Hat Ornament with Pale Yellow SapphireHubei Provincial Museum

Hat Ornaments

A total of six exquisitely-crafted hat ornaments were unearthed from the tomb of Prince Zhuang. Two of the ornaments, topped with jade dragons, were identified as especially precious relics which previously belonged to the royal family of the Yuan dynasty.

Gold Filigree Hat Ornament with Inlaid GemsHubei Provincial Museum

This ornament is crafted from gold wire, overlaid in twisting filigree patterns and then welded into a complex form. Much of the goldware unearthed from Prince Zhuang's tomb is filigree work, which gives the pieces an exquisite three-dimensional effect.

Gold Hat Ornament with Inlaid Gems and Openwork White Jade Dragon and Peony MotifHubei Provincial Museum

This hat ornament consists of a gold base with white-jade crown. There are two open-mouth tubes riveted to a lotus leaf at the rear of the base, allowing them to swing freely.

A single multi-layered piece of hollow-caved jade sits on the base, depicting a dragon with a flowing mane rising out of four peony flowers. The shimmering white jade is offset by the inlaid gems on the base, enhancing the magnificence of the piece.

Gold Hat Ornament with Inlaid Gems and Openwork White Jade Cloud and Dragon MotifHubei Provincial Museum

This hat ornament was also originally possessed by the Yuan royal family. It is set with seven gemstones and capped with a white jade crest. The top is a rounded cube, with multiple layers, carved to form a single jade dragon. The head of a dragon protrudes above the clouds as it looks skyward with open mouth and staring eyes. The dragon's claws are powerfully contorted, as if it is gathering its strength to take flight.

Gold Hat Ornament with Inlaid GemsHubei Provincial Museum

This hat ornament consists of a gold base supporting a precious stone. The olive-shaped, colorless sapphire weighing 200 carats is transfixed by a gold wire that ties it to the base. This sapphire is the largest ever found in an archeological site.

Gold Hat Ornament with Inlaid SapphireHubei Provincial Museum

The Ming dynasty inherited the achievements in precious metal work from past dynasties and established a system of hereditary craftsmen, specializing in the creation of gold and silver objects for the palace. These craftsmen made great strides in the use of filigree and inlay techniques.

This hat ornament is set with seven gems on a three-tiered gold base. The bottom layer is a seven-petaled lotus flower in full bloom. The middle layer is a ten-petaled lotus, opening in the opposite direction to the flower below. The top layer of the base clutches a single natural sapphire in rhomboid claws.

Gold Hat Ornament with Pale Yellow SapphireHubei Provincial Museum

Wire twisting is a hallmark of Ming filigree work. First, a gold wire is passed through a hole drilled in one object and then inserted into a perforation in another object. Next, the wire is twisted to secure the objects together.

This hat ornament uses the twisted-wire method to secure a highly-transparent, pale-yellow sapphire to the base. The gold wires are secured at the bottom of the gold base.

Gold Belt-front Ornament Inlaid with White Jade Dragon MotifHubei Provincial Museum

Belts

In the Ming Dynasty, the use of belts was strictly regulated. Anyone in attendance at important ceremonies was expected to wear the traditional court dress and a jade belt. 13 belts were discovered in the tomb of Prince Zhuang, along with belt hooks, rings, and other accessories, all made to exacting specifications. These objects are rare in the tombs of Ming princes.

White Jade Gyrfalcon BeltHubei Provincial Museum

The Gyrfalcon is a type of falcon native to the region around the East China Sea. This bird catches geese in the spring, so the Liao people call it "春水", which means Spring Hunt. Consequently, jade ornaments depicting the Gyrfalcon hunting geese, are referred to as Spring Hunt Jades (春水玉).

White Jade Gyrfalcon Belt - Detail 1Hubei Provincial Museum

This white-jade "Spring Hunt" belt, is composed of 15 pieces. It is the only complete belt showing the Gyrfalcon hunting geese ever discovered.

White Jade Gyrfalcon Belt - Detail 2Hubei Provincial Museum

The object may have originally belonged to a member of the Jin Dynasty and then reworked before coming into the possession of Prince Zhuang.

Greenish-white Jade Belt with Openwork Cloud and Dragon MotifHubei Provincial Museum

This greenish-white jade belt is made up of 18 links of pure jade and depicts a pattern of dragons and clouds. This belt is of a superior grade to similar jade belts found in the past. Previously discovered ancient jade belts had a maximum length of 14 links.

Greenish-white Jade Belt with Openwork Cloud and Dragon Motif - Detail 1Hubei Provincial Museum

This belt is completely made from Hetian jade from Xinjiang and the front of each ornamental piece displays a hollowed out or embossed dragon and cloud pattern. The feet of each dragon have three claws.

Greenish-white Jade Belt with Openwork Cloud and Dragon Motif - Detail 2Hubei Provincial Museum

Each belt is made up of leather strips called "ting" (鞓) and embellished ornaments called "kua" (銙). The number of jade pieces varies based on the specific belt. 13 belts were unearthed from the tomb of Prince Zhuang, but all the leather "tings" have decayed, leaving only the gold or jade "kuas".

Gold Filigree Belt with Inlaid GemsHubei Provincial Museum

This gold filigree belt is inset with a total of 84 precious stores, the most of all the belts found in the prince's tomb.

Gold Filigree Belt with Inlaid Gems - Detail 1Hubei Provincial Museum

The belt is made up of 24 gold filigree belt ornaments, 2 gold buckles, and 1 detached gold bolt. It was customized to have 2 more pieces than normal Ming belts.

Gold Filigree Belt with Inlaid Gems - Detail 2Hubei Provincial Museum

The 24 belt ornaments are inlaid with rubies, sapphires, emeralds, opals, aventurine, feldspar, and other precious stones. During the Ming dynasty, one or two emeralds could be sold for about 700 ounces of gold, showing their high value at the time.

Gold Filigree Belt with Inlaid Gems - DetailHubei Provincial Museum

Literature from the Ming dynasty repeatedly references the rubies, opals, emeralds, and other jewels purchased by Zhang He in the western seas. These statements are fully confirmed by precious stones found in the tomb of Prince Zhuang.

Gold Filigree Belt with Inlaid Gems - Detail 4Hubei Provincial Museum

The inscription on the back of the belt ornaments indicate the quantity of gold used in the belt.

Gold Belt Ornaments with Inlaid Openwork White Jade Dragon and Peony MotifHubei Provincial Museum

This belt is composed of 20 gold ornaments inlaid with hollow-caved greenish-white jade and 2 gold buckles. The jade ornamentation is all inlaid in gold frames.

Gold Belt Ornaments with Inlaid Openwork White Jade Dragon and Peony Motif - Detail 2Hubei Provincial Museum

The inscription on this surface states the weight of the gold and silver used to make the belt.

Greenish-white Jade Chi-head Belt Hook (明代,1368-1644年)Hubei Provincial Museum

This belt hook was used to secure the leather belt. One large dragon composes the hook, while a smaller on rests on the shaft. Both these dragons represent the legendary hornless dragon Chi (螭) and the carving is fluid and dynamic.

Gold Belt-front Ornament Inlaid with White Jade Dragon MotifHubei Provincial Museum

This ornament was the front face of the belt. It is made of three rectangular faces of gold and inlaid with four-clawed dragons caved from white jade, with bristling manes twirling in a cloud pattern.

Gold Belt-front Ornament with Inlaid GemsHubei Provincial Museum

The center of this piece is inlaid with wooden blocks and bones, while the small supports to the right and left are inlaid with precious stones. In its current state, this belt ornament contains 14 gems, including rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and aventurine.

Yupei with Jade LeavesHubei Provincial Museum

Jade Girdles

Jade girdles (玉佩, yupei) were made of multiple jade pieces strung together and worn around the waist. They would hang down on both sides of the belt, accentuating the dignified gait of the wearer. During the grand ceremonies of the Ming dynasty, all the notables would wear jade girdles hanging from their ceremonial robes.

Yue Pei with Dragon Motif Traced on GoldHubei Provincial Museum

This jade girdle, used by Prince Zhuang, is composed of 1 jade hook, 10 jade ornaments, and 412 jade beads. This girdle contains exactly one more jade stone than the jade girdle worn by the crown prince. This girdle would have matched the robes worn by the emperor and may have been a gift from the court.

Yue Pei with Dragon Motif Traced on Gold - DetailHubei Provincial Museum

Elegant dragon patterns are caved on the jade ornaments, and each dragon has five-claws, the mark of the emperor. The intaglio lines are accented in gold.

Gridle with Gold Hook and Phoenix DesignHubei Provincial Museum

This jade girdle was worn by the wife of Prince Zhuang. It is composed of 1 gold hook, 10 jade ornaments, and 394 jade beads.

Gridle with Gold Hook and Phoenix Design - Detail 1Hubei Provincial Museum

The inscription on the inside of the gold hook states that this piece was produced by the Silver Bureau in the first month of the first year of the reign of the Hongxi emperor and gives its precious metal content. The Silver Bureau was the court workshop during the Ming dynasty. It was responsible for the production of gold and silver coins and utensils. Thus, the inscription tells us that this jade girdle was produced by artisans working in the palace.

Gridle with Gold Hook and Phoenix Design - Detail 2Hubei Provincial Museum

The jade girdles produced in the palace were characterized by customized patterns and shapes and masterful color and craftsmanship.

Yupei with Jade LeavesHubei Provincial Museum

This jade girdle belonged to the princess. Yellow threads connect its 32 jade leaves, 16 ornaments, and 1 curved jade bar (in the center).

Yupei with Jade Leaves - Detail 1Hubei Provincial Museum

The ornamental mandarin ducks on the girdle signify 100 years of good fortune. The various additional charms, including melons, pomegranates, fish, and peaches, express abundance, many sons, wealth, long life, health, and other blessings.

Yupei with Jade Leaves - Detail 2Hubei Provincial Museum

The craftsmen used the varied natural colors of agate to enhance the beauty of the piece, realistically portraying the ripeness of the pomegranates and the feathers of the ducks.

Gold Earrings with Decorative BeadsHubei Provincial Museum

Jewelry

Necklaces, bracelets, earrings, pendants, and other ornaments worn on the body are collectively called jewelry. In Chinese culture, one distinctive type of jewelry is referred to as Toumian (头面), a class of female headgear. Such headgear pieces have distinctive names, locations, and methods of placement.

Headgear SetHubei Provincial Museum

In the Ming dynasty, married women were required to pull their hair up in a bun, into which they inserted a variety of hanging adornments and hairpins. A double-pronged hairpin was called a Chai (钗), while a single-pronged hairpin was called a Zan (簪). Prior to Song times, women preferred the double-pronged Chai, but during the Ming dynasty, the single-pronged Zan was more popular. The use of the Zan allowed women to adorn their hair with more ornaments than was possible with the larger Chai.

Gold Phoenix ZanHubei Provincial Museum

This is a set of two Zan hairpins in the shape of Phoenixes. They were cast as pieces and then welded together. The head of the hairpin is a hollow phoenix, with its torso, wings, and tail delicately formed by fine wires, while the head, neck, and pin were formed by the repoussé method.

Gold Phoenix Zan - DetailHubei Provincial Museum

The twisting wires produce a three-dimensional gold Phoenix, with neck, chest, wings, and tail gracefully shaped by the craftsman.

Gold Flower ZanHubei Provincial Museum

This gold flower hairpin is a "Top Pin", worn in the center of the bun. This pin was found in Prince Zhuang's coffin, and may have been used by the prince. The head of the pin is a peony flower with four layers of eight petals each. The veins of each petal are meticulously patterned and stamens are added between each layer of petals. Each petal was hammered individually. A sheet of gold was placed on to the petal mold and repeatedly hammered to produce the veins. Then, twisted gold wires were used to fix the petals to the pin.

Gold Filigree Zan with Inlaid Gems and Openwork Greenish-white Jade Luan Bird and Peony MotifHubei Provincial Museum

The Luan bird is a legendary phoenix-like creature. It often appears in pairs, one male and one female, signifying a deep love. This single-pronged hairpin was placed in a middle of the bun, and commonly called "Fenxin" (分心), which means "divided heart". The head of the hairpin is triangular in shape and, at its center, inlaid with a single triangular jade carving. The hollow-caved jade displays twisting peony flowers and one Luan bird on each side. The Luan bird on the left spreads its wings, while the bird on the right turns its head to look back. The central caving is surrounded by settings for 18 precious stones, although only 17 stones remain.

Filigree Gold Zan Inlaid with GemsHubei Provincial Museum

This set of two Zan hairpins decorated with twisting gold wire and set with gems would have been worn together, inserted from the bottom of the hair bun to hold the bun in place.

Filigree Gold Zan Inlaid with Gems - DetailHubei Provincial Museum

The backs of the hairpin heads display the intricately twisted gold wire designs.

Gold Filigree Zan with Inlaid Gems and Openwork Greenish-white Jade MelonHubei Provincial Museum

This single-pronged Zan hairpin is one of a set of two, sharing the same form and craftsmanship. It would have been inserted from the top to the bottom of the hair bun. The head of the pin is shaped like a melon and inlaid with a hollow-caved jade melon. A pedicle on the top of the melon connects it to a single flower. Symbolically, the flowering represents the birth of children and good fortune.

Gold Filigree Zan with Inlaid Gems and Openwork Greenish-white Jade Melon - DetailHubei Provincial Museum

The gold wire tracery on the back of the pin suggests the melon vine.

Gold Armlets and Gold Bracelets with Inlaid GemsHubei Provincial Museum

In ancient times, the golden armlet was seen as a sentimental object and called "Chabijin" (缠臂金), meaning golden arm wrap. This gold armlet is composed 12 gold coils with a width of 0.7 cm and a thickness of 0.1 cm, formed into the shape of the spring. The two ends are fixed in place on the arm with gold wire, which can be adjusted to fit the arm of the wearer.

Gold Bracelets with Inlaid GemsHubei Provincial Museum

This pair of gold bracelets, set with jewels were worn with the armlets and found in the same lacquered box inside the princess' coffin. Each bracelet is formed from two semi-circular pieces of gold, with one end connected as a movable joint and the other secured with a pin, allowing it to be opened and placed around the wrist. The exterior is set with a total of 13 precious stores, including rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and green aventurine stones.

Jade PendantsHubei Provincial Museum

These gold-framed pendants are set with rose-colored, peach-shaped cinnabar, blue glass beads, and jade stones. They might have been worn from the ears or on the neck or breast.

Gold Earrings with Decorative BeadsHubei Provincial Museum

These two earrings have hooks shaped to fit around the ear and allow the lower portion to dangle. The hanging portion is a triangle formed from twisted gold wire, with a decorative coil of gold wire at the point of the triangle. Between the coil and the hook, there is a single triangular turquoise stone. Either side of the frame is adorned with a turquois stone in the shape of a six-petaled flower, and a single pearl ornaments the lower-left corner.

Turquois Child with Two Lotuses - Side ViewHubei Provincial Museum

Accessories

Here, the Chinese 佩饰 (peishi), translated as accessory, indicates a single item used for decorative purposes. Except for the Chi Beast with hook, all the accessories found in the tomb of Prince Zhuang belonged to the princess.

Greenish-white Jade Ornament with Openwork Autumn Mountain MotifHubei Provincial Museum

Autumn Mountain (秋山) signifies an autumn bear and deer hunting trip to a mountain forest. The Khitan, Jurchen, Mongolian, Manchu, and other northern nomadic people have this custom. An ornamental pattern depicting tigers, deer, and a mountain forest is called "Autumn Mountain Decoration" or, for a jade caving, "Autumn Mountain Jade".

Greenish-white Openwork "East Rising" Circular OrnamentsHubei Provincial Museum

At the top of this motif, five clouds adorn the moon, while at the bottom, a eucalyptus tree heavy with fruit covers one large and one small rabbit who stare at the moon. As the moon rises from the east, this motif is called an "East Rising Picture".

White Jade Folded-branch Peony AccessoryHubei Provincial Museum

This accessory is a single peony flower and folded branch caved from Hetian seed jade. This object draws on the traditional "folded branch" (折枝) Chinese painting style used for paintings of flowers and birds. Only the flowers and branches or stalks folding down from the trunk of the tree are carved, so that the entire object is not shown. This style of painting began in the mid-Tang dynasty and became widespread during the Song dynasty.

Green Jade Lotus and Duck AccessoryHubei Provincial Museum

The jade used to carve this accessory glows with an oily luster. At the top, two mandarin ducks face each other as they stand on a fully extended lotus leaf. The posture of the ducks is intimate and affectionate.

Turquois Child with Two LotusesHubei Provincial Museum

Jade carvings of a boy holding a lotus reflect Song customs during the Qixi Festival (a feminine festival celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month). Ming dynasty works of the same theme inherited this tradition.

Turquois Child with Two Lotuses - Side ViewHubei Provincial Museum

This boy is carved in the round from a turquois stone. A hole runs through the caving from head to foot. This is called the "penetration of heaven and earth". There is also a perforation in his right ear that runs obliquely to the lotus stem behind him. The boy holds two lotus leaves with both hands. He seems joyful and full of life.

Greenish-white Jade Child with LotusHubei Provincial Museum

This white jade carving depicts a boy in a long robe. The top of his head is engraved with a peach-shaped lock of hair. With both hands, he holds one lotus stalk and one caltrop stalk. The boy's right foot is drawn to the side and pointing forward, while the left foot is kicked back, giving him a joyful and eccentric pose.

Cloud-shaped Gold Ornaments Inlaid with GemstonesHubei Provincial Museum

Clothing Ornaments

Gold Pendant with Openwork PhoenixHubei Provincial Museum

This golden sachet-shaped pendant would have been worn on a Xiapei (霞帔), a ceremonial robe worn by women. The imperial concubines of the Ming Dynasty decorated their Xiapei robes with jade pendants, while princesses used gold. This gold pendant, together with the matching gold armlets and jewel encrusted gold bracelets form a complete dowry set.

Gold FlowersHubei Provincial Museum

20 gold flower ornaments, all of approximately the same shape and size, were discovered in Prince Zhuang's tomb. These ornaments were all six-petal peony flowers crafted using the filigree technique. The fronts are convex and the backs are concave. Decorative pins fixed the ornaments to a garment.

Cloud-shaped Gold Ornaments Inlaid with GemstonesHubei Provincial Museum

These two pieces where used as clothing ornaments. The ornaments were crafted in a stylized cloud shape, with convex front and concave back. The four holes around the edges allowed them to be sewed to a garment. The ornament on the left is set with a triangular ruby. The ornament on the right is set with a circular light-yellow sapphire.

Gold ClaspHubei Provincial Museum

This is a set of two gold buckles. The face is circular and the handles have different cloud designs. There are four pinholes in each buckle to sew them to the garment. The smaller buckle is inserted into the larger to fasten them together.

Gold Hook with Cloud-shaped HeadHubei Provincial Museum

The head of this hook is shaped like a cloud. Both sides are convex and display a cloud pattern and pitted texture. There are three sets of small holes in the shape of the Chinese character "品". Each set has two holes, used to sew this accessory on a garment. Four such cloud-shaped hooks were found in the tomb, used in sets of two. According to the literature from the time, these were likely gold knee-cover hooks, used to mount knee coverings which hung from the belt and covered the wearer's thighs and knees.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Wonders of China
From ancient monuments to contemporary art, be inspired by the wonders of China
View theme
Google apps