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Recreating the Tomb of Prince Liu Sheng of Zhongshan (lesson)

Tomb of Prince Liu Sheng of Zhongshan

Tomb of Prince Liu Sheng of Zhongshan

Map of China

Map of China

Tomb of Prince Liu Sheng of Zhongshan
Map of China

Students will: 1.) work in groups to create a three-dimensional model of Prince Liu Sheng’s tomb; 2.) learn the political and social history of the Western Han Dynasty; 3.) learn the basic teachings of Confucianism and other religious beliefs, as well as how these ideas and beliefs influenced burial practices; 4.) brainstorm how archaeologists make informed observations about ancient cultures based on archaeological finds.

4 class periods
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Students are able to study the history of ancient China through the eyes of modern archaeologists as they discover 6,000 years of Chinese regional arts and culture dating from 5,000 BCE to 1,000 CE. In presenting archaeology and recent excavations in China, teachers are also able to use many cross-curricular activities that incorporate visual arts, social sciences, sciences, mathematics, music, literature, world religions, and drama. The following activity is a visual arts and social science lesson based on the excavation of Prince Liu Sheng’s tomb.

Downloads (see above): Prince Liu Sheng’s TombInterpreting Burial Artifacts, Clay Art Activity; Map of China; clay, cardboard, paint, color pencils, scissors, glue, sequins, pins, glitter, fabric squeeze bottle paints, and toothpicks.


  1. Discuss with students the Western Han Dynasty and the political, social, philosophical, and economic events leading to this period in China’s History.
  2. Explain to students the role of archaeology in discovering and investigating ancient China. Explain to students that it has only been in the past 50 years that these amazing discoveries have been made, and the finds from these excavations are challenging previously conceived ideas of what ancient China was like.
  3. Have students locate Mancheng, Hebei Province, China on a map. Describe to students how the mountain mausoleum of Prince Liu Sheng of Zhongshan and his full-body jade shroud were discovered.
  4. Next, display the layout of Liu Sheng’s mausoleum and show examples of line drawings of tomb artifacts.
  5. Divide the class into groups of five.
  6. Give each group the map of Liu Sheng’s tomb, a simplified list of artifacts found in the tomb, and line drawings of these objects (see: Prince Liu Sheng’s Tomb)
  7. Have students draw and paint the layout of the tomb on a large piece of cardboard.
  8. Provide groups with a variety of craft materials for students to build their model. Students can now begin recreating the tomb, but remind them to stick to the scale of their model. For instance, the jade shroud must be able to fit in the burial chamber along with other objects.
  9. Drawings of horses and chariots can be colored, cut, and pasted to the cardboard. Tabs at the base of the chariot drawings can be folded so they can be glued in an upright position. Since the horses in Liu Sheng’s tomb were sacrificed, the horses can be glued lying down. Using clay, students can sculpt miniature ceramic vessels, bronzes, jade, lamps, and burial figures in a variety of shapes. They can also use toothpicks to incise animal and plant motifs. Optional: Students can use squeeze-bottle fabric paint to create animal designs and patterns onto sculpted clay.
  10. If students have difficulty in forming Liu Sheng’s body, have them make a slab of clay and cut out a body shape. It can then be sculpted to include three-dimensional features. Afterwards, student can press sequins into the clay and use pins to secure them. The beads and sequins can be used to simulate the jade plaques. Also remind students to sculpt Liu Sheng’s headrest, which has dragon heads sculpted on both sides.
  11. * Students can use the line drawing examples of tomb objects for reference when they design their miniature tomb items. It is important that the placement of the objects is historically correct. This is because students will later be asked to brainstorm why objects were grouped and placed in certain areas of the tomb.
  12. Once groups complete their projects, have students put their tombs together to be viewed by the entire class.
  13. Hand out the Interpreting Burial Artifacts and have students debate these questions in their groups. At the end of the period students will present their conclusions to the class.


Art Tips:

  • As students finish clay objects, have them put the “artifacts” in a protected shoe box so they will not be damaged. Small clay projects dry out quickly overnight, and unfired clay (greenware) is very fragile. When all of the burial objects are complete, group members can place them onto the cardboard tomb layout.
  • Students will need a little water to smooth out and shape the clay. In order to continue working on a clay project the following day, place the clay in a small plastic bag, sprinkle water of the object, and then seal the bag.
  • If the clay is not going to be fired, beads, sequins, and glitter can be impressed in objects to simulate jade and bronze.


Addressing Issues of Burial in the Classroom:

Discussing concepts of death, the afterlife, and ancient sacrifice in the classroom can be a sensitive topic. Here are some tips in introducing these historical events and belief systems:

  • Archaeologists, anthropologists, and art historians who study burial artifacts are faced with numerous ethical questions to which there are no definite answers. It is a sign of cultural sensitivity and awareness though, that these professions are questioning how burial artifacts are excavated and evaluated.
  • It is a part of human nature to address issues of life and death. The ancient Chinese belief in ancestor worship is based on respect for one’s parents, elders, and generations of relatives before them. These are values that are honored by many cultures throughout history.
  • The sacrifice of humans and animals was practiced thousands of years ago by many cultures in history. Archaeological examples of sacrifice have been found in tombs in Egypt, Crete, Latin America, etc. Our knowledge of ancient cultures around the world is largely based on the archaeology of graves and tombs. As a sign of respect for the dead, archaeologists sometimes rebury a tomb site after it has been studied.
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