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Site of Southern Yue State

Date of Submission: 28/03/2008
Criteria: (ii)(iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
State Administration of Cultural Heritage
State, Province or Region:
Guangzhou City, Guangdong Province
Ref.: 5338

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The Archaeological Site of the Palace of the N 23 07 46, E 113 15 51

The Archaeological Site of the Tomb of the Nanyue King N 23 08 26, E 113 15 18

The Archaeological Site of the Wooden Watergate of the Southern Yue Statedom  N 23 08 26, E 113 15 18

The archaeological sites of the Southern Yue State (the palace of the Southern Yue State, the tomb of the Southern Yue King, and the wooden Watergate of the Southern Yue State), situated at Yuexiu District, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province P.R. China. The Southern Yue State (203 B.C.-111B.C.) was a vassal state founded in the southern China during the early years of the western Han Dynasty. Its establishment accelerated the leap of development in social history in Lingnan region from the primitive society to the feudal society.

The tomb of the Southern Yue King was discovered in 1983, which ranked one of the top five important archaeological discoveries of China in the 1980's. It's by far the largest intact tomb of colour-painted stone chamber with the richest burial articles. Over 1000 pieces (or sets) of cultural relics were unearthed from the tomb, which were of great variety including ritual and musical instruments, weapons, food vessels, cloths, life utensils, jade carvings and gold and silver works.

The archaeological site of the palace of the Southern Yue State is located in the old city centre of Guangzhou. The sizable stone-structured pond found in 1995 and the artificial stone brook discovered in 1997 were both titled as one of annual top ten archaeological discoveries of China. Composed by the stone pond and the stone brook, the imperial garden of the Southern Yue State was the oldest example discovered so far with complete preservation. It exemplifies a royal gardening of the Qin and the Han period, and pioneers the Lingnan gardening, one of the three gardening schools in China. The various stone posts, rails, pillars, door-heads, and antefixes founded in the garden have revealed the architectural design concept of the earlier palaces.

In 2000, to the west of the imperial garden, relics of two halls of the Southern Yue palace were found. In the site of the Hall No.2, a pottery fragment inscribed with "Hall Huayin" was unearthed. In the year 2004, about 100 pieces of written wooden slips were unearthed from a draining well to the west of the garden. The slips were mainly residence booklets and legal documents. On the slips, we can see chronological records and various systems about the kingdom. Furthermore, the palace and garden were also mentioned, which were strong proofs to the authenticity of the site. Besides, a large amount of renmants of animals and plants were cleared out from the well. All of those are direct evidences to the original scenes of the garden. Among the renmants of plants, a seed of wax gourd was found, which is by far the earliest example known in the world and of great importance to the study of its origin.

The site of wooden Watergate of Southern Yue State unearthed in 2000 is by far the earliest wooden Watergate discovered in the world. It served as part of the city flood control system operating some 2000 years ago. The technical parameters of the Watergate meet the modern standards and requirements in Watergate building in terms of its selection of construction materials, treatment of soft and loose ground sills, treatment of technical lining, overall layout, discharge treatment, and stability treatment of the Watergate chamber. The relic of the Watergate of Southern Yue State embodies the high level of Watergate building during the Qin and Han periods.

The archaeological site of the Southern Yue State is a valuable demonstration in kind for the study of ancient China architecture. The discovery and the protection of the sites is of great significant value to the study of the history of the Qin and Han period, the history of early development of the Lingnan region during this periods, in particular, to the rapid development in politics, economy and cultural during this periods. Meanwhile, the site of the palace of the Southern Yue State is a book of history reflecting the development of Guangzhou during the course of some 2000 years. The site preserved cultural relics of each historical period, from Dynasties of the Qin, Han, Jin, Nanchao, Sui, Tang and Nan Han in Wudai Period, Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing and the ROC. The area of the site has been the centre of the city since 2000 years ago. This rare situation of Guangzhou in the development history of Chinese cities reveals the advanced ideas of choosing and planning the capital city of the Southern Yue State. It is of great value for studying the history of Chinese ancient cities, the history of Chinese ancient architecture, and of realistic significance for the modern cities to maintain a sustainable development.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

As for the criterion (ii):

The archaeological sites of the Southern Yue State and its cultural artifacts exhibit an important concourse of the culture of the central China and multiple regional cultures and values and exert far-reaching impact on the formation and development of the Lingnan culture. The establishment of the Southern Yue State enhanced the integration of different nationalities and cultural exchanges between the Central culture, the Baiyue culture and the overseas culture. Such integration is best embodied in the artefacts unearthed from the tomb of the Southern Yue King. Apart from the sizable artefacts unearthed in representation of the Central culture, many others unearthed also reveal multiple regional cultures, such as those of Yue culture including the geometric-patterned potteries, grand bronze vessel in Yue style, the bronze incense burners, bronze mirror and Gou Diao music instrument of Wuyue culture, the Zhangyi dagger, kettles in garlic-head shape of the Qin culture, the bronze decorations, goat-head golden leaf in almond shape of the Xiongnu culture, fresco painting on the tomb chamber, bronze vessel and mirror of the Chu culture, or lacquer grand screen with multiple culture elements that integrated the Chu and Yue culture. The artifacts unearthed such as the African elephant teeth, Persian silver box, frankincense from the Red Sea, little golden bubble in welded pearl are witness of the exchange between China and the overseas about 2000 years ago. They prove the profound historical source for the formation of development of the diversity and compatibility of the Lingnan region.

As for the criterion (iii):

The sites of the Southern Yue State provide special evidences for the existing and vanished culture of the Yue nationality. Before the Qin Dynasty's conquer, the Lingnan region had been the place of settlement for the Yue people, where they had created the Yue culture represented mainly by the geometric-patterned pottery. Along the integration of the Han and the Yue nationalities, the Yue culture gave way to the Han culture and vanished into the culture of mainstream. The sites of Nanyue, especially the artifacts unearthed from the tomb of the Southern Yue King, are reflections to the lives and customs of the ancient Yue people. They are the living evidences of the vanished Yue culture.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The archaeological evidences from relics of the Southern Yue State fit in the textual accounts of the Historical Record (Shiji) and the Book of the Han Dynasty (Hanshu), the two classical Chinese historical works compiled in the Han Dynasty (206B.C. to 220 B.C.), while they also serve as a great supplement for the shortage as recorded in the books of history.

The archaeological sites of the Southern Yue State were discovered during the modern urban construction of Guangzhou. The three sites are all located in the down town of the city. Upon discovery, protection has been guaranteed for the integrity of the sites, while a museum or showroom was built up on the original sites. The effective measures adopted in the protection of the archaeological sites set a good example in China as an excellent case for the integration of modern urban construction and heritage protection. Protection shed was set up on the spot of the unearthed part of the royal garden of the Southern Yue State for protecting its original site and original shape to prevent any damages. The site of the palace is being excavating and protecting under the plan approved by the National Administration of Heritage. A museum has been planned to be built over the site as a specialized facility for the purpose of exhibition and protection.

The tomb of the Southern Yue King has never been robbed or excavated, remaining undisturbed in the history. The historical data of the owner of the tomb proves to be clear and the age of the tomb accurate. The museum built over the tomb opened to the public in 1988, exhibiting fully the artifacts unearthed from it. Planned under the principles of the Venice Charters, the museum functioned effectively in preserving and utilizing the site. Exemplifies the regional characteristics in building style, the museum is an ideal combination of protection and utilization.

The site of the wooden Watergate was discovered during construction. After scientific excavation and reasonable planning and design, the site of property is well preserved and exhibited on the original location by the original shape in a commercial building. Such a win-win result for both urban infrastructure construction and protection of cultural relics pioneers a new approach to the preservation of world heritage.

Comparison with other similar properties

In comparison with the heritage of other vassal states during the same period in China, the series of archaeological discoveries of the Southern Yue State contain the richest resources with both the archaeological sites of the palace and the royal garden, the wooden Watergate and the tomb of the king with sound preservation and sumptuous mortuary goods in situ. They are of particular significance compared to the archaeological sites already discovered in other vassal mostly of single site.

The archaeological research indicates that the site of the royal garden is by far the least undamaged and the earliest garden relic ever unearthed in the world. China is the one of the three of gardening in the world. Prior to the discovery of the Southern Yue royal garden, the earliest garden relics unearthed used to be the Qujing Pond of the Tang Dynasty (located in Xi'an) and Jiangshou Ju Pond (in ShanXi), all of which are 1000 years later than the Southern Yue royal garden. The earliest preservation of garden relics in the overseas is the Colonnade Garden located in the site of the Hadrian Palace built around 2 century A.D. in Rome, which was 200 years behind the royal garden of the Southern Yue State.

There are quite a few archaeological sites of heritage of different dynasties among the ancient capitals in China. The artefacts unearthed in the Nanyue palace and the royal garden however, contain tier upon tier of archaeological sites and large quantity of mortuary goods from a diversified sources of dynasties of Han, Jin, Nanchao, Sui and Tang, Wudai, Song and Yuan, Ming and Qing as well as ROC. Such discovery is rarely found in the history of Chinese archaeology.

The Tomb of the Southern Yue King is the stone chamber in colour-painting that found so far in the southern China with the largest scale, riches funeral goods and remained relatively intact. It is among one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the 1980s in China. Through archaeological findings and researches, the wooden Watergate of the Southern Yue State proved to be the relatively intact one with the largest scale and earliest ages discovered in the world so far.