Like a tale straight out of the movies, a sealed and forgotten chamber was discovered after the building on top of it collapsed. Inside the chamber, one room led to another, revealing hidden treasures that had not been seen for more than 1,000 years.
Secrets of the Fallen Pagoda, currently at the Asian Civilisations Museums till 4 May 2014, displays some of the treasures found at the underground crypt discovered at the Famen Temple. Alongside these artifacts are other objects from the Tang dynasty (618 to 907), giving visitors an insight into Tang art and culture.
The Famen Temple is 100 km west of present day Xi’an and is one of the most revered Buddhist sites in China. Its underground crypt, which had not been opened since 874, was only uncovered in 1987 as repairs were being made to the temple pagoda that had collapsed in August 1981.
However, even with such an exciting premise, museums can be notoriously difficult for kids to appreciate. For parents intending to visit the exhibition with kids, here are some objects to look out for and the stories behind them.
Kneeling Female Figure
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Dating back to 745, this earthen figure shows a woman doing the subai. This was how women bowed down when they met their in-laws for the first time or when a palace servant greeted the emperor.
Talk About It: Share with your child what it was like when you met your in-laws for the first time and how our present-day customs are different from those practised in the past.
Man on Camel
A figure of a man seated on a two-humped camel dating back to around 741 was excavated from a tomb in Pucheng County. Tombs often contained objects that were believed to be required by the deceased in the afterlife. At that time, camels such as these were viewed as important as they were a means of transport and even a food source for travellers.
Talk About It: Ask your child why they think camels were considered valuable in the past and what would be equivalent objects today.
Found within the rediscovered Famen Temple crypt, this silver hand warmer also served as an incense container.
Talk About It: Ask your child to guess why they needed hand warmers in Xi’an and whether we would need something similar in Singapore? What do they think the temperature is like in Xi’an? (The average annual temperature in Xi’an is 13.4 degrees Celsius.)
A set of tea utensils were found in the Famen crypt. This tea grinder was used to break up cakes of roasted tea for brewing. It was made by the imperial workshop for the Emperor Xizong, the fifth son of Emperor Yizong, and is inscribed with the name Fifth Brother on the roller and base.
Talk About It: Ask your child why they had to use such items in the past and whether we still use similar instruments when we drink tea today. How do we get our different types of teas (Chinese tea, Green tea, Black tea) today?
Mural of Two Polo Players
Dating back to 727, this 1,200 year old mural was taken from the tomb of a prince from Fuping County. It shows two people playing polo, a popular sport in the Tang dynasty.
Originating from Iran, it is believed that polo was brought to China and Chang’an in the 7th Century. This reflected the exchange of culture and the universal nature of sports even back in the Tang era.
Talk About It: Share with your child that polo is a sport still played today. Share also with your child the attributes that make sports a common “meeting point” for people? (e.g. fun, chance to interact, competitive spirit.)
Other Tang objects you can look out for at Secrets of the Fallen Pagoda to trigger off a discussion with your kids about their present-day equivalents are mirrors, a hair pin, scissors and a drum.
The exhibition also has two activities specially catered towards young kids. The first is an activity where kids can use five embossing presses around the exhibition hall to decorate a paper “mirror”.
Kids can also explore the different perceptions of beauty at an activity station where they can use stickers create a Tang beauty.
Secrets of the Fallen Pagoda: Treasures from Famen Temple and the Tang Court
17 January to 4 May 2014
Asian Civilisations Museum
$12; $8 for Singaporeans and PRs
While at the Asian Civilisations Museum, you can also visit the small craft exhibition on the first floor, just behind the ticketing counter, that is on till 27 April 2014. Here, you can watch daily weaving demonstrations and also try making a weaving craft to bring home.