The Gold of Chinese Emperors


Royal Gold Wares of Wanli Period, Ming Dynasty

The exhibition presents to the public a number of 149 Far Eastern imperial gold-working of exceptional historical value, dating back to the reign of Emperor Wanli (1573-1620), the fourteenth emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Dong Bo Zhai Collection

The objects in the Dong Bo Zhai collection are part of the rich collections of the Xi’an Qujiang Art Museum and offer a complex picture of the art of gold processing during the Ming Dynasty, especially during the reign of Emperor Wanli. Most of the pieces seem to come from the same tomb, having been made in the Yinzuoju imperial workshops in 1601.

 During the Ming Dynasty, gold, along with jade and silk, was considered one of the most precious materials, an important symbol, at the same time, of wealth and high social status.

These exhibited pieces are meticulously crafted in gold and inlaid with precious stones, being very varied from a typological point of view. Alongside jewelries such as the traditional hairpins decorated with auspicious symbols, earrings and bracelets, the public can also admire the objects used within the religious rituals, vessels for serving drinks, but also sets of flower baskets, which are purely decorative objects adorned with animal and vegetable motifs that express wishes for health, wealth and longevity.

Through the selection of pieces presented in the main hall of the National Museum of History of Romania, two different perspectives on the Far Eastern culture from the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century are brought to the public’s attention. On the one hand, during the exhibition circuit the universe of Chinese spirituality can be explored, each piece being the bearer of a unique and profound discourse, through which auspicious wishes can be read in the figures that adorn the precious objects. On the other hand, special attention is paid to the processing of precious metals, the objects in the Dong Bo Zhai collection being true masterpieces of universal heritage.

Pair of gold boxes decorated with milu figurines


These polylobate boxes are covered with lids each decorated with a milu (deer) figurines, represented in a seated position. The basis of the lids are adorned with yunwen motifs (auspicious clouds). The animals` heads and necks are arched backwards and in its mouth is holding a branch.


In Chinese, the character lu (鹿) taken from the word milu (deer) is pronounced like the character 禄, which indicates the remuneration of an official in the medieval period, hence the image of a milu (deer) can be interpreted as the expression of a wish for good omens, wealth and longevity. The finess of the ornamentation of these two boxes` demonstrates the superior skills of the craftsmen who made them, as well as the „willowy supplesse” of the gold, as it is praised in the encyclopedia „Exploration of the works of nature” (Tiangong Kaiwu, 1637) compiled in 1637 by Song Yingxing.

Gold ewer decorated with lion and dragon head


The ewer, a vessel produced especially for serving liquids, is among the earliest vessel types that come to China from the Middle-East.  The ewer was used for storing, heating and pouring the hot water needed for tea preparation, later being used for the containing and serving of the drink, due to the fact that the tea leaves were infused in the vessel. Later, during the Song dynasty period, it is used for serving and heating the wine, being used for this purpose in many localities at that time as the custom of serving hot wine was developing. During the Yuan dynasty period, this type of vessel was used not only for serving of baijiu (白酒- fermented alcoholic beverage produced from sorghum), but also for serving grape wine, rice wine and other beverages produced through distillation. However, during the Ming dynasty the shape of the vessel becomes even more refined.

This piece is distinguished by the delicate curved shapes, having an arched handle, while the belly, which is slightly flattened, rests on a slightly flared circular foot. The body of the vessel, decorated with a peach or an apricot leaf medallion, has an elongated neck covered with a lid, which is attached to the vessel with the help of a chain. The lid is adorned with a seated lion, with a rich ridge, holding between the claws a globe tied with a ribbon. The lower area of the spout of the vessel is decorated with a dragon head, made in the au repoussé technique and perfected with fine incised lines. The handle presents an adorned relief at the fixing point by the neck of the vessel, while at the bottom is graced with palmettes.

Scepter ruyi


Made of precious metal, this ruyi scepter (which translates to „as you please, at your own wish”) has a specific shape of the period in which it was made. The object is entirely encrusted with jade and precious stones. The inside of the handle is hollow, the back and sides of the scepter were created from a single piece of gold. The edge of the frontal plaque is encrusted with precious stones, and frames a segment of filigree gold, decorated with bats and the character for longevity 寿 shou; of these decorative elements arise flower branches that extend towards the head. The largest end of the piece, stylized in the shape of a ganoderma lingzhi mushroom (immortality mushrooms), presents a jade medallion carved with an egret among the leaves, flowers and a lotus. The egret and the lotus flower form a phonetic structure similar to the expression „yi lu lianke” 一路 连 科, a wish addressed to the candidates for the imperial exams. At the opposite end of the scepter is represented the character for longevity shou 寿, which is decorated with bats (fu) and other motifs, which make up an image that symbolizes „luck and long life at will”, thus reinforcing the positive message transmitted by the ruyi. On the back, at the bottom, the piece is engraved with yunwen (auspicious clouds) motifs and bears an inscription.

Pair of bracelets

The fixed bracelets – zhuozi (镯子) made of stone or bone are attested from the Neolithic era. During the Shang and Zhou period, the bracelets were mainly made of jade, but gold models were also known. These have become popular since the Han dynasty of the West. Later, during the Sui dynasty, under the influence of the jewels represented on the bodhisattvas, their shapes and decorations are diversified. Tang and Song eras’ bracelets were either round or formed of two semi-circles that held together by movable axes. But only during the Ming period, the zhuozi bracelets, like other accessories, become very elaborate, reflecting the social status of the wearer, which was marked by the type of material from which they were made.

These delicate gold bracelets are embellished with a filigree net applied on a gold frame. The interior wall of the piece is engraved with the words „Good luck, longevity, health, peace”, a decorative motif that was preserved until the Qing period.

Hairpins with good-luck inscriptions


The lucky characters played the role of talismans, being constantly used in the minor arts of China. Their symbolism was very intuitive and was easely to read, like the character for „luck” (fu – 福), represented on each side of the hairpin with cubic heads from the Dong Bo Zhai collection. As it can be seen on the ends of the other hair pins, the ways of writing the character for „longevity” (shou – 寿) are very diverse.

This type of hair accessory could be part of the girl’s dowry for marriage or it could be given on the occasion of birthday. In the mausoleum of Emperor Wanli, among the accessories of the empress a jade hairpin, inlaid with precious stones, having engraved the character for „longevity” (shou – 寿) was discovered.

Hairpins with floral decoration


The flowers began to be used as ornament for ladies accessories during the Tang dynasty, because floral motifs were often associated with the feminine beauty. The fruit trees (such as the peach, the apricot and the plum), peony, lotus, chrysanthemum were often used, sometimes together with a pair of birds, in order to symbolize the happiness and fidelity in the couple life. The plum blossom hairpin, a flower which can withstand the cold of winter, symbolizes spring, and each of the five petals of the flower are associated with one of the five signs of well-being: longevity, harmony, ascension in social status, prosperity and happiness. The use of butterflies as a symbol of happiness was also very popular during the Ming dynasty. This type of jewelry, very elaborate, was made in different techniques, such as: filigree, au repoussé, inlay with pearls and precious stones etc.

Curatorial Team: Cătălin Burtea, Gabriela Dragomir, Ionel Ene, Pompilia Gon, Cornel-Constantin Ilie, Oana Ilie, Bogdan Mladin, Tudor Alexandru Martin, Raluca Mălăncioiu, Katia Moldoveanu, Paul Ioan Popa, Cristiana Tătaru

 Parteners : Lin Shaoping, Li Sen, Tian Weike

Graphic design and exhibition design:

Cornel Constantin Ilie, Cristiana Tătaru

   Visiting hours

Wednesday – Sunday: 10.00 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Monday – Tuesday: closed

   Admission Fees:

Adults – 20 lei/person

Pensioners – 10 lei/person

Students, adults with light or severe handicaps, „EURO 26” card holders – 5 lei/person

Access is prohibited for groups of over three visitors, exception being made for families who arrive with two or more children.

Group access shall be allowed once in five minutes.
Priority is given to visitors and groups who have scheduled their visit via phone(021 313 19 25 ) or email(

In the exhibition space there may be present at the same time a maximum of 100 visitors. Entry for other visitors will be allowed gradually, as soon as the other visitors end their visit and leave the building.

Between the hours 13.30-14.00 the exhibition space shall be cleaned and disinfected for the protection of the visitors. Please excuse the discomfort created.