To visit the exhibition please click here to register.


Through five millennia of historical changes, Chinese civilization has been guided by the profound spiritual aspirations of its people. These spiritual aspirations have defined the Chinese people and remain an endlessly nourishing resource for their growth and development.

Painted over a thousand years ago, tomb murals of the Tang dynasty only began to be excavated in the 1950s. Impressive in both their quantity and quality of preservation, the murals have provided invaluable insights into the vibrant social life and intercultural exchanges of the period. They exemplify the traditional Chinese values of self-strengthening, peace, and openness, values which have fundamentally shaped, and which are an integral part of, Chinese civilization.

This year, the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation, National Cultural Heritage Administration, Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Heritage Administration, and Hong Kong Rosamond Foundation have jointly organized the exhibition “A Glimpse of Tang Prosperity from Murals—The Exhibition Tour on Murals of the Tang Dynasty” at the City University of Hong Kong. This exhibition presents a careful selection of the finest Tang tomb murals. Through digital technologies, we have recreated for the viewer the magnificent Tang capital of Chang’an, the robust optimism of its society, and the vibrancy of its intercultural exchanges. At the same time, the exhibition also tells the rich stories of the murals and demonstrates the painstaking efforts at preserving them as precious and vivid embodiments of the golden age of the Tang dynasty. It is hoped that the exhibition will enliven historical memories and feelings and shed new light on the ancient art of mural painting, and that the beautiful murals from different periods of the Tang dynasty will inspire young viewers to become passionate guardians and bearers of China's cultural traditions.

Introduction: An Underground Museum of the High Tang Period
Davis Leung Koon Man, Curator

Mural painting is an ancient art. Over two millennia ago, the Chinese began painting murals in tombs. By the Tang dynasty, mural painting had reached an unprecedented height in scale and technique. The murals of Tang imperial tombs and secondary tombs were concealed from view until the 1950s, when the tombs were excavated. A veritable underground museum of priceless treasures, the Tang tombs appear dazzling and marvelous to contemporary viewers.

The period between the Zhenguan and Kaiyuan eras of the Tang dynasty was a golden age known as High Tang, during which the Tang empire reached a peak of influence and power and enjoyed political stability and a flourishing economy. In this context, Tang imperial elites developed a taste for sumptuous burials. Emperor Taizong decreed the construction of the Zhaoling Mausoleum, which established the architectural precedent of setting an imperial mausoleum against a mountain. The Qianling Mausoleum, which housed Emperor Gaozong and Empress Wu Zetian, was constructed some 80 kilometers from Xi’an, at Mount Liang in Qian County. Around it are 17 secondary tombs. A large number of murals adorn the passageways and tunnels of the Qianling tombs, as well as the walls and ceilings of their burial chambers.

Tang people regarded death as a continuation of life and a new beginning, rather than as an end. The Tang tombs reflect the living’s earnest hopes for the dead and present a vision of the afterlife that retains all the pleasures experienced in life. Consequently, the murals generally depict subjects of everyday reality, including the tomb occupant’s daily activities, their worldly aspirations, and the privileges of high social status. Each tomb features a long sloping passageway, multiple cupolas, tunnels, and a front and a rear chamber. The various components symbolize the luxurious palatial complexes and interior spaces enjoyed by the tomb occupant in life.

China has a rich heritage of cave murals. The murals of the Buddhist cave shrines of Yungang, Dunhuang, and Longmen are of indisputable historical and artistic value, but without exception depict religious subject-matter. The Tang tomb murals are distinctive for their broad and multifaceted subject-matter, which encompasses various aspects of Tang political, social, and cultural life. Few Tang murals in buildings above ground have survived the ravages of time, whereas the tomb murals have been perfectly preserved. They provide precious, first-hand visual evidence of Tang art and history and corroborate textual records.

The mission of this exhibition is to immerse the viewer in the atmosphere of the Great Tang dynasty. The monumental murals and animations in the exhibition hall bring to life the Tang capital of Chang’an, then the world’s most prosperous metropolis, and indicate the locations of the imperial palace and mausolea. Using light projection, the architectural design team has recombined the detached fragments of the Tang tomb murals and recreated the original physical context of the tomb passageways, restoring the murals to their full splendor.

Through this play of light and shadow, and the sound of music composed and inspired by history, we hope to transport the viewer to the glorious age of the Tang. We have selected a number of the most representative murals and turned them into animations. Our goal is not only to introduce movement into the murals, but to encourage the viewer to pay attention to their details and appreciate their nuances.

This exhibition benefits from the generous support of an advisory committee of specialist scholars from both mainland China and Hong Kong. They have lent their knowledge to the exhibition guide and will offer lectures on various related topics during the exhibition period. We would like to express our deepest gratitude to the creators of the Tang Tomb Murals (Digital Files) and their detailed explanations, as well as to the experts and creative team behind the recreation of the tombs.

Now, let us travel to this dazzling underground museum and return to the golden age of the High Tang!

China Soong Ching Ling Foundation
National Cultural Heritage Administration
Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Heritage Administration
Hong Kong Rosamond Foundation