Ancient Musical Treasures from Central China:
Harmony of the Ancients from the Henan Museum


Ancient Musical Treasures from Central China: Harmony of the Ancients from the Henan Museum presents extraordinary musical and archaeological treasures spanning nine thousand years of Chinese music and history.

Presented in partnership with the prestigious Henan Museum, MIM’s exhibition explores the harmony between music, people, heaven, and earth through more than sixty extremely rare instruments and artworks on display for the first time in the United States.

Ancient flutes and drums hark back to the dawn of Chinese civilization, giving us a glimpse of the musical life of an early agrarian society. Grand racks of bronze bells evoke elaborate rituals performed during the formative years of Chinese culture. Lively ceramic figures illustrate the joyful mixing of cultures during the time of the legendary Silk Road. Elegant silk strings entertain gatherings of refined music lovers and inspire poetic contemplation.

In addition to a collection of exquisite musical instruments, the exhibition also features beautiful music-related artworks made of materials such as ceramic and jade. Many of these instruments and artworks were excavated from tombs of nobility. Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • Bone flute, 7000 – 5000 BCE (approximately 7,000–9,000 years ago)
    This flute comes from a collection of several flutes that were excavated from the Peiligang burial sites and are collectively the oldest musical instruments in China. Crafted from the bone of a stork, this flute is precisely tuned to a five-note (pentatonic) scale, indicating a highly developed music system.
  • Bianzhong bell-chime, Spring and Autumn period, 770 – 476 BCE (approximately 2,500–2,800 years ago)

    This set of twenty-four bells from the court of a duke of Zheng State illustrates the extravagance of noble families and is one of only ten surviving sets made in the latter half of the Zhou dynasty to play a flashy new style of music developed known as zhengsheng. Each bell—among four bo bass bells and twenty niu—was specially crafted to produce two distinct musical tones.

  • Bronze “divine beast” drum stand, Spring and Autumn period, 770 – 476 BCE (approximately 2,500–2,800 years ago)
    Full-bodied depictions of mythical beasts are exceptionally rare, and this drum stand example is one of the finest uncovered to date. Malachite has been inlaid into the bronze body in phoenix and dragon patterns; many of the beast’s features are made up of small dragons and its face is framed by two persimmon flowers.
  • Tricolor glazed pillow depicting scholarly qin performance, Northern Song dynasty, 960 – 1127
    This tile tells the story of Prince Qiao of the Zhou dynasty. Qiao was said to have learned the true meaning of Daoism from the great priest Fuqiugong. Upon his epiphany, Qiao sat down to play the sheng mouth organ, which is the clearest indication that ancient Chinese music featured harmony, and attracted a mythical fenghuang bird to dance before him.
  • Musician and dancer figurines in a pavilion, Han dynasty, 202 BCE – 220 CE (approximately 1,800–2,200 years ago)
    This unusual three-story tower houses an ensemble of musicians and dancers for the nobleman’s entertainment, as well as a complement of guards armed with crossbows. Many Han tombs included ceramic models of the palatial homes that deceased noblemen wished to inhabit in the afterlife.
  • Red ceramic drum, Yangshao culture, 5000 – 3000 BCE (approximately 5,000–7,000 years ago)
    Ceramic drums such as this are some of the most characteristic instruments used by the Neolithic Yangshao people. The drum would have had a membrane made from animal skin stretched across the large opening and held tight by the hooks around the rim.

Using interactive technology to explore the exhibition, guests will see, hear, and feel the harmony of the ancients.

In partnership with

Presenting sponsor

Supported by Liz Merchant, Hao and Michelle Wang Foundation, Angelo and Micheline Addona, Babette and Richard Burns, Joe and Elizabeth Chan, and Perry and Ann Sells



Opening Weekend of Ancient Musical Treasures from Central China: Harmony of the Ancients from the Henan Museum
Signature Event  |  November 10–12

Wu Man
Performing Traditional, Ancient, and Historical Music of China

Concert  |  November 11