An exhibition running at the Hunan Museum is offering unprecedented access to an array of national treasures gathered from different corners of China, Wang Kaihao reports in Changsha.
A 5,000-year-old jade cong used in rituals of Neolithic Liangzhu culture in today's Zhejiang province may hold the key to unlocking the splendor of the lost and once influential civilization.
Often called the "king of cong" for its size, exquisite decorations and numerous emblems, like other cong, this jade piece forms a tube with a circular inner section and a square outer section.
While some Western scholars may still doubt whether a Chinese civilization from this time could rival cultures that had developed complex metallurgical technologies like Mesopotamia or Egypt, this object not only represents a flourishing state during China's "jade age", but also offers up something of a natural response.
While just 30 cultural relics from over the ages went on display on Saturday at the Roots and Spirits: The Story of Chinese Civilization exhibition at the Hunan Museum in Changsha, marking International Museum Day, the artifacts have such a network of knowledge woven into them that they can be used to retrace how China's early people formed and evolved over millennia.
"From the oceans of civilization, we chose just 30 milestones," Li Jianmao, deputy director of the Hunan Museum, says. "They carry a nation's history, and stand for our people's roots and spirit.
"To be frank, you would have to wait a very long time before you see another exhibition featuring such a star-studded lineup of national treasures from all around the country," he adds.
And he is not exaggerating.
While cultural relic exhibitions touring overseas often present a range of different eras of Chinese history over the ages to offer the foreign public a snapshot in time, domestic visitors are less used to seeing show that spans millennia - other than the permanent Ancient China exhibition at the National Museum of China in Beijing.
The exhibits appearing in Changsha have been loaned by 23 museums nationwide, and the show will run for two months.
Other than the main jade piece, many of the exhibits also frequently appear in school history textbooks.
For example, a square container from the Qin State during the Warring States period (475-221 BC), which is on loan from a collection at the Shanghai Museum, is the earliest-known archaeological evidence of a national standard measuring instrument.
According to its inscriptions, the measuring device was manufactured in 344 BC and used by Qinshihuang, the first emperor of China, as the uniform scale for the entire nation in 221 BC when he conquered the other warring states and united the country.
Some examples of government documents, which were unearthed from Liye town in Xiangxi, Hunan province, also tell how Qinshihuang tried to realize his political ambitions by promulgating a new series of laws.