How China became China

By Zhao Xu | China Daily | 2017-10-21 07:52
How China became China

Stone lion made by Liu Han from Luoyang city. [Photo provided to China Daily]


Reflecting on the wild imagination and majestic aesthetic of the Han Dynasty, Shan says it was underlined by the religious beliefs of the Han people, beliefs that informed their attitude regarding death.

"The people of Han, especially its ruling elite, were steeped in the idea of deification, and they relied on imagination to build the flight of stairs between their world and the world of immortality," she says, pointing to the nine-tailed fox and the three-legged crow that appears as brick relief in the exhibition. And in the overall design, they surround a female figure known as Mother Queen of the West, who was believed to hold the secret medicine to ward off aging.

The journey to eternity is lit up by, among other lamps at the show, a piece of painted pottery, one measuring more than one meter. With mountains interspersed with rivers and roaming wild animals and human beings forming its base, the lamp tree grows upward to form three tiers, each with a tray for lamp oil at its center and soaring birds as well as dragons carrying winged men on the rim.

"They are the heralds of another world," Shan says. "In a sense, the pursuit of immortality lifted the art of Han from the trenches of the mundane, into a realm where imagination found no boundary."

But that does not mean those aiming high did not seek all the pleasures of the here and now - quite the reverse.

On view at the exhibition are a gilt bronze rhinoceros, an elephant and their two grooms, all unearthed from the tomb of Liu Fei, a Han Dynasty vassal king, in Jiangsu province.

"It's very likely the king raised these exotic animals in his own garden, animals coming from outside the Han borders," Shan says. (The king probably had also listened to bears roar - the animals continued to embellish his afterlife as jade mat weights.)

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