In the Han period, Confucianism was established as the state orthodoxy; Buddhism was introduced in China by monks traveling from India; and Taoism merged with popular superstitions and increased its following. Taoists and Buddhist monasteries multiplied in the turbulent centuries after the collapse of the Han dynasty. See Religion

Confucians were first brought in by the Han court to clear up unresolved matters concerning rites and ceremonies. Later they began educating the children in royal household as well as students at the Imperial University. Emperor Wu Di (140-87 B.C.) elevated Confucianism to a cultural philosophy, royal religion and state cult. Within the Han dynasty, the Mandate of Heaven became state ideology.

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “ It was only with the founding of the Han dynasty (202 B.C.-220 CE) that Confucianism became “Confucianism,” that the ideas associated with Kong Qiu’s name received state support and were disseminated generally throughout upper-class society. The creation of Confucianism was neither simple nor sudden. [Source: adapted from “The Spirits of Chinese Religion” by Stephen F. Teiser; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia]

Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia ; Early Imperial China ; National Geographic article ; Battle of Red Cliff Wikipedia

Good Websites and Sources on Early Chinese History: 1) Robert Eno, Indiana University; 2) Chinese Text Project ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization ; 4) Ancient China Life ; 5) Ancient China for School Kids ; Books: Cambridge History of China Vol. 1, The Ch’in and Han Empires (Cambridge University, 1986); The Culture and Civilization of China, a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press); Mysteries of Ancient China: New Discoveries from the Early Dynasties by Jessica Rawson (British Museum, 1996); “Early Chinese Religion” edited by John Lagerwey & Marc Kalinowski (Leiden: 2009); A fully annotated translation of the “Shiji” text appears in William Nienhauser, et al., The Grand Scribe’s Records (Bloomington), v. 1. According to Dr. Robert Eno: “The principal source for the information here is Sima Qian’s “Shiji”. Translations for all “Shiji” passages are based on the standard text edition (Zhonghua shuju) and have been made in light of the scholarly translations in William Nienhauser et al., The Grand Scribe’s Records, Vol. 1 (Indiana University, 1995), and Burton Watson’s fine literary translation, Records of the Grand Historian, Vol. 1 (Columbia University, 1961; rev. 1993). For an overview of the events of the civil war period, see Michael Loewe, “The Former Han Dynasty,” in The Cambridge History of China: The Ch’in and Han Empires (Cambridge University, 1986), pp. 110-19.

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland ; 2) WWW VL: History China ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) e-book ; Links in this Website: Main China Page (Click History)

Huang-Lao Ideology

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “When Sima Qian and other early historians discuss the intellectual trends of the early Han, they frequently refer to a school of thought known as “Huang-Lao.” Never is this term systematically explained, and for many centuries scholars have puzzled over its meaning. It was understood from early times that “Huang” referred to Huang-di, that is, the Yellow Emperor. “Lao” was short for Laozi. Interpreters reasoned that this was probably an alternative name for Taoism, but no one was sure. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Yellow Emperor

“In 1973, archaeologists working near the city of Changsha in southern China uncovered a tomb that held the bones and the goods of the ruler of one of the early Han kingdoms that had been located in that area. The date of the tomb has been determined to be in the 180s B.C., or during the reigns of Hui-di or Empress Lü. Among the grave goods were found a set of silk scrolls and bamboo slips with texts written on them. Among these texts were two different copies of the “Dao de jing”. The other texts were previously unknown. All the texts were in legible condition, but the characters were not always of standard form, and over the years, the materials had rotted in places, leaving gaps large and small. /+/

“One of the previously unknown texts, which was actually a collection of four smaller texts written together on the same scroll as the “Dao de jing”, attracted a great deal of attention. It was given the unofficial title, The Four Classics of the Yellow Emperor, the name of a lost text recorded in the bibliography monograph of the “Han shu”(History of the Former Han). It does indeed appear to be a collection of Huang-Lao texts, combining texts concerning Huang-di – the Yellow Emperor – with text resonant with Daoist ideas, all appended to the canon attributed to Laozi. Whether these chapters represent set listed in the “Han shu”is a matter of speculation, but interpreters have legitimately attempted to reconstruct the ideology of Huang-Lao on the basis of them. /+/

“As any quick survey of the texts will indicate, these documents are deeply syncretic, that is to say they draw together selected ideas from many different schools and attempt to present them in a harmonious arrangement. Among these schools, Laozi-style Daoism is clearly foremost. However, Legalism and certain militarist schools contribute a very significant portion of these ideas as well. Mohist and Confucian influences can also be detected, but their contributions are generally scattered and do not shape the overall structure of the texts. “In addition to bringing together these schools of thought, one of the four texts casts its ideas as the teachings of the Yellow Emperor or of his advisors. It is this that has led scholars to identify the texts as products of the Huang-Lao School. The historical texts assure us that from the time of Hui-di through the reign of Jing-di, the Han court was dominated by policy-makers who regarded these texts as the best available guides for government.” /+/

Yin-Yang Five-Forces Theory During the Han Period

Dr. Eno wrote: “During the early Han, the conception of the universe as governed by yin and yang and the five forces became characteristic of almost every school of thought.” The ideology was a pervasive undercurrent in the Huang-Lao texts and was a great influence in the reformulation of Confucianism undertaken by Dong Zhong-shu. These theories were a part of Warring States naturalism and are often traced to the philosopher Zou Yan. However, it was during the Han that they came to have their greatest influence. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“While theories concerning yin and yang and the five forces dominated the Han view of the world, the intellectual excitement of these theories seems somewhat elusive now. There are 2 cases where Han writers attempt to fashion a grand system by showing how the two powers of yin and yang and the five forces fit together well with cosmic systems that correlate them with the ten heavenly stems, and twelve earthly branches, and the sixty-four hexagrams of the Yi jing (we also see the twelve-year cycle of Jupiter and the twenty-eight lunar-lodge constellations figure in such designs). It is hard not to hold one’s breath while reading through some of these numerical acrobatics, but there is a certain undeniable level of tedium. The impulse to control the cosmos through dense classification and mechanistic dynamics that these theories express contrasts rather unfavorably with the earlier interest in the protean concept of qi, which underlies many of these later theories, and which was absorbed into their frameworks. /+/

“The role of yin-yang and five force theory in the life of imperial China was probably felt most intensely at the center, in the life of the emperor and his ritual attendants. This was particularly true after 135 B.C., when Dong Zhongshu’s adaptation of these theories to Confucianism became the foundation of an emperor-centered ideology. However, even before that time, a detailed manual for the administration of a state according to these concepts had been elaborated as a set of twelve dispersed chapters in the late Warring States text, The Almanac of Lord Lü. These chapters, corresponding to the months of the year, portrayed the progression of annual cycles through the five force fields and some of the host of correlated phenomena listed in the tables above.” /+/

“While the twin powers of yin and yang, taken in isolation, may have enhanced the creativity of some aspects of Chinese thinking by their broad and flexible natures, the five forces and the dense gridwork that those concepts generated seem stifling by comparison. The mechanistic nature of the five force “organic” cosmos led to the creation of a wealth of true pseudo-sciences, most of which emerged from fangshi cults. These appear to have strongly inhibited the development of true science in China (though there were surely more powerful social factors bearing on this issue). The five force models were systematic enough to support elaborate explanatory and predictive uses, and also complex and incoherent enough to provide secondary explanations and margins of error that could be used to mask the true nature of frequent failures. /+/

“The ideas of yin and yang and of the five forces exerted their greatest influence during the Han, but they persisted as key concepts in Chinese cosmology throughout the traditional period. Even today, Chinese culture continues to exhibit strong interest in these concepts, which play major roles in some forms of the martial arts, in the much used art of geomancy [feng shui], and in various types of popular religion and religious Daoism.” /+/

Five Forces and Phenomena Attached to Them

“An idea of the plastic nature of these concepts can be conveyed by illustrating how they were applied to a very broad range of phenomena. For example, the five forces were each assigned to a direction and a season (with the sixth month, midsummer, considered a separate season). This seasonal concept allowed the forces to be correlated with phases of the yin-yang cycle of polar influence as follows: 1) WOOD: East, Spring, Rising Yang; 2) FIRE: South, Summer, Greater Yang; 3) EARTH: Center, Midsummer, Balanced Yin and Yang; 4) METAL: West, Autumn, Rising Yin; 5) WATER: North, Winter, Greater Yin. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Five elements

With these as starting points, the system that emerged became a grand correlative scheme: WOOD was associated with: A) the number: 8; B) the color: green; C) the astral body: stars; D) the planet: Jupiter; E) the weather: wind; F) the sense organ: eye; G) the emotion: anger; H) the organ: spleen; I) the tissue: muscles; J) the taste: sour; K) the smell: goat-like; L) the animal: sheep; meters) the sage ruler: Emperor Yu; N) the tool: compass. The list could be extended indefinitely. Musical notes, constellations, government ministries, geographical regions of China, sacrifice locations – all were incorporated into this system. /+/

FIRE was associated with: A) the number: 7; B) the color: red; C) the astral body: sun; D) the planet: Mars; E) the weather: heat; F) the sense organ: tongue; G) the emotion: joy; H) the organ: lungs; I) the tissue: blood; J) the taste: sour; K) the smell: burning; L) the animal: sheep; meters) the sage ruler: King Wen; N) the tool: measures. /+/

EARTH was associated with: A) the number: 5; B) the color: yellow ; C) the astral body: earth; D) the planet: Saturn; E) the weather: thunder; F) the sense organ: mouth; G) the emotion: desire; H) the organ: heart; I) the tissue: flesh; J) the taste: sweet; K) the smell: fragrant; L) the animal: oxen; meters) the sage ruler: Yellow Emperor; N) the tool: plumb lines. /+/

METAL was associated with: A) the number: 9; B) the color: white; C) the astral body: constellations; D) the planet: Venus; E) the weather: cold; F) the sense organ: nose; G) the emotion: sorrow; H) the organ: kidney; I) the tissue: skin & hair; J) the taste: acrid; K) the smell: rank; L) the animal: dogs; meters) the sage ruler: Emperor Tang; N) the tool: T-square. /+/

WATER was associated with: A) the number: 6; B) the color: black; C) the astral body: moon; D) the planet: Mercury; E) the weather: rain; F) the sense organ: ear; G) the emotion: fear; H) the organ: liver; I) the tissue: bones; J) the taste: salty; K) the smell: rotting; L) the animal: pigs; meters) the sage ruler: First Emperor; N) the tool: balance. /+/

Five Forces Theory and Politics in the Han Dynasty

Dr. Eno wrote: “However, five forces theory held a very important place in politics for a time. One of the aspects of the theory concerned the succession of dynasties, a matter into which Zou Yan had inquired early on. It was believed that each dynasty was governed by one of the five forces, and that the governing force was meant to determine many of the ritual features of the government, such as the color of the imperial robes and insignia, the geographical location of its sacrifices, and so forth. It was believed, for example, that the Yellow Emperor had ruled through the force of earth, the Zhou through the force of fire, and so forth. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The First Emperor, in his devotion to all forms of superstition, was very concerned to adjust his governance to the force according to which his dynasty was believed to rule. His court scholars reasoned that since he had conquered the Zhou, a dynasty of fire, the Qin must be a dynasty of water, because water conquers fire. Accordingly, the Qin rulers worshipped the Yellow River, wore black robes, and so forth. /+/

“When Liu Bang succeeded to the throne, he paid no attention to these issues. Just as he retained the forms of Qin administration and law, he also continued to wear black robes, sacrifice black oxen to Heaven, and generally continue the rituals of the Qin. His failure to attend to issues of such importance seemed a clear reflection of his limited education. After his death, this became a matter of concern to the erudites at court. /+/

“By the reign on Wen-di, the need to fix an appropriate system for the Han had become a major concern. The problem was that there was complete disagreement concerning what the “force” of the Han was. Some argued that since the Han had defeated the Qin (water), the force of the Han was earth (earth “conquers” water). Others, however, said that conquest was not the manner in which the forces succeeded one another. As with the seasonal arrangement, so dynastic forces “gave birth” to one another. Water gives birth to wood, so that was the Han force. Still others argued that the Qin had never actually received the Mandate, and hence had not been a real dynasty. Therefore the Han sign should be earth, which fire gives birth to. And others yet agreed about the Qin not being a legitimate dynasty, but, holding to the “conquest” order of the forces, designated the Han sign as water. Such was the vigor of the Han metaphysical imagination! /+/

“It was not until 104 B.C. when, in the course of a massive calendrical reform that fit emperor Wu-di’s reign into immense cycles stretching back to the beginnings of time, the Han finally settled on earth as its force and changed its ritual appurtenances accordingly.” /+/

First Month of Spring

Chapters, known as the “Monthly Ordinances,” were collected together during the Han and included as a long section of the Confucian classic, “Records of Ritual.” The description of the first month in that compendium is translated below. Accounts of the remaining months conform to the basic structure presented in this chapter. The comments in brackets are by Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University ]

According to a section on nature’s seasonal signs the “Monthly Ordinances” in the “Records of Ritual”: “In the first month of spring, the sun is in the constellation Yingshi, and the constellation Shen reaches the zenith at dusk while the constellation Wei is at the zenith at dawn. [The anchor point for the text’s ritual cosmology is the astronomically determined calendar. The constellation Yingshi includes stars in the Greek constellation Pegasus; Shen includes stars Orion; Wei corresponds closely to Scorpio.] [Source: “Monthly Ordinances,” part of the Confucian classic, “Records of Ritual” <<<]

“Its cyclical signs are jia and yi, its divine ruler is Tai Hao, its attendant spirit, Gou Mang. Its creatures are scaly, its musical note jue, its pitch-pipe taizu, its number 8. Its taste is sour, its smell goatish; its sacrifice is at the inner door for which the spleen of the victim is essential. [These various categories are determined by correspondence with the force of Wood. Each of these items belongs to a set of five (e.g., cyclical sign pairs, members of the “five high deities,” basic animal types, pitches, etc.) that were assigned to the Five Forces] <<<

“The east wind releases what is ice-bound; the hibernating insects and reptiles first stir; the fish rise up from beneath the ice; the otter sacrifices its fish; the wild geese return. [These natural phenomena seem drawn from a type of “farmer’s almanac” inventory, and became emblematic of the season in popular culture and literature. The otter’s “sacrifice” was a fanciful construction of the actual phenomenon of otters collecting captured fish on river banks] <<<


Rituals of the Calendar and Seasons of Spring

The section on Rituals of the Calendar for Spring in the “Monthly Ordinances” in the “Records of Ritual” reads: “This month is the calendrical initiation of spring. Three days prior to the date set for spring, the Grand Scribe shall report to the Son of Heaven, saying: “On such and such a day spring will begin. The prevailing force will lie with Wood.” [“Grand Scribe” is a literal translation; during later eras the post would be as well described as “Grand Historian” (this is the office held by Sima Qian). However, the same officer was in charge of calendrical calculations based on the heavenly bodies, and also the prediction and interpretation of portents, such as eclipses, planetary conjunctions, comets, and so forth. The title is thus sometimes rendered as “Grand Astrologer,” and, as this text makes clear, could also be understood as “Grand Astronomer.] [Source: “Monthly Ordinances,” part of the Confucian classic, “Records of Ritual.” Robert Eno, Indiana University <<< ]

“The Son of Heaven shall thereupon fast and purify himself. On the first day of spring he shall personally lead the three chief ministers, nine bureau chiefs, the lords of domains, and the court grandees to the eastern suburbs to greet the spring. On his return he shall hold court and bestow rewards upon the ministers, bureau chiefs, and grandees. He shall order the chief ministers to bestow his grace and proclaim his orders, to present awards and distribute alms to all down to the masses of common people. Once these are distributed, none will lack his just deserts. The actions of the ruler are beneficent in spring, paralleling the actions of nature. He shall order the Grand Scribe to preserve the records and receive care of the regularities, observing the sun and moon, stars and constellations so that there will be no error in the calculations of their fixed locations and relative positions and no deviation in the calculation of their courses, based on their past constant motions.” <<<

The section on Rituals of the Season for Spring in the “Monthly Ordinances” in the “Records of Ritual” reads: “In this month, on the first occurrence of the eighth cyclical Heavenly stem day, the Son of Heaven shall pray to the Lord on High for abundant harvests. Then, selecting the auspicious Earthly branch day, he shall personally bear a ploughshare and handle in his carriage, standing flanked by the charioteer and the man-at-arms and, leading the three chief ministers, nine bureau chiefs, the lords of domains, and the court grandees, shall personally plow the Field of the Lord. The Son of Heaven shall plough three furrows, the three chief ministers five, the bureau chiefs and lords of domains nine. On their return, they shall assemble in the Grand Chamber where the emperor shall take a chalice and toast all of them. This is called “the toast of wine in recompense for labors.” <<<

The Emperor and Timely Governance

According to the section on The Emperor’s Person in the “Monthly Ordinances” in the “Records of Ritual”: “The Son of Heaven shall dwell in the left-hand apartments of the Green Hall of Yang. He shall ride in a great belled chariot drawn by “azure dragon” horses and decked with green pennants. He shall wear green robes with pendants of azure jade. His meals shall be wheat and mutton, his vessels coarse and cut with holes. Ideally, the cosmology that underlay Han Confucianism tightly constrained the actions of the ruler. As the cosmic center, his every act had to harmonize with and drive the proper motion of the cosmos. The holes in vessels here seem to reflect the dynamic of qi flowing freely as the frozen winter thaws.” /+/

The section on Timely Governance reads: “In this month the qi of Heaven descends, the qi of earth rises upwards; Heaven and earth are in synchronous harmony and the grass and trees burgeon forth. The king shall order the work of fields to begin. He shall order the inspectors of the fields to reside in the eastern suburbs outside the town walls, to repair the boundary markers of the fields, to inspect the pathways and irrigation ditches, to examine well the rises and hills, the slopes and heights and lowlands to determine the appropriate crops for each. They shall themselves go in person to guide the people where the five grains should be sown. Once the work of the fields has been laid out and prescribed with field lines aligned for fair distribution, farming can proceed without confusion. In this month, the Director of Music shall be ordered to open the schools to train the students in dancing.”

Tips on Sacrifices and Timely Acts from the “Records of Rituals”

According to the section on Timely and Untimely Acts in Spring in the “Monthly Ordinances” in the “Records of Ritual: “ Now the schedule for sacrifices will be determined. Orders will be given for offerings to the spirits of the mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes. No female creature may be offered in these. It shall be forbidden to cut down trees, to overturn nests, to kill young animals; neither those still in the womb nor the newborn shall be killed, nor fledgling birds of flight, neither animals babes in the den nor eggs in the nest. The multitudes of people shall not be gathered for state service, nor shall work be done on inner or outer walls. The bones and corpses of those who have died in the open shall be buried. [Source: “Monthly Ordinances,” part of the Confucian classic, “Records of Ritual.” Robert Eno, Indiana University <<<]

“In this month it is forbidden to mobilize troops. He who mobilizes troops will surely be met with destruction from Heaven. This prohibition on taking up arms means that one may not initiate war. In all things one must not deviate from the dao of Heaven, nor destroy the principles of earth, nor bring confusion to the great guidelines of man. <<<

“If in the first month of spring the ruler follows the ordinances proper instead to summer, then the rains will not come in season, the grass and trees will wither early, and indeed the country will be plunged in fear. If the ruler follows the ordinances proper instead to autumn, then the people will be afflicted by great pestilence, violent winds and torrential rains will arrive in tandem, and brambles, darnel, tumbleweed and artemisia will all infect the fields. If the ruler follows the ordinances proper instead to winter, the rivers will flood over crumbling banks, frost and snow will grip the land, and from the first seeds sown none will sprout.” <<<

Han Tombs

Han tomb figurines

By the Han Dynasty it was common for emperors and other noblemen to decorate their tombs with pottery replicas of warriors, concubines, servants, horses, domestic animals, trees, plants, furniture, models of towers, granaries, mortars and pestles, stoves and toilets---almost everything found in the real world so the deceased could have them in the next world.

Peter Hessler wrote in National Geographic, compared to the Zhou “the Han, left a collection of funeral goods that is less military in character. The tomb of Han Jing Di, who ruled from 157 to 141 B.C., has yielded an amazing array of spirit goods designed to reflect the needs of everyday life: reproductions of pigs, sheep, dogs, chariots, spades, saws, adzes, chisels, stoves, measuring devices. There are even official chops, or ink stamps, to be used by netherworld bureaucrats."[Source: Peter Hessler, National Geographic, January 2010]

Even people outside the Imperial court had elaborate tombs. A relatively modest tomb that probably belonged a high military officer yielded 2,000 figures. In 2002, a terra-cotta army comprised of hundreds of foot-tall soldiers was found near the Weishan mountains in Shandong Province, about 300 miles south of Beijing. The soldiers were part of a massive tomb believed to belong to a nobleman closely connected to the ruling family in the first half of the Han Dynasty. The figures were well organized. At the front were cavalrymen on red horses, followed by ranks of infantrymen with some brightly-painted musicians thrown in. The site was discovered by tree planters. Only a small portion of the site has been excavated thus far. Archeologists believe there could be thousands of clay soldiers at the site.

Han Dynasty Jade Suits

The greatest expressions of the quest for immortality were the jade suits that appeared around the 2nd century B.C. About 40 of these jade suits have been unearthed. The jade suit of the 2nd century B.C. Prince Liu Sheng unearthed near Chengdu, Sichuan province was made of 2,498 jade plates sewn together with silk and gold wire. Liu Shen was buried with his consort who was equally well clad in a jade suit. Sufficient room was made for the prince's pot belly.

Jade suits were believed to slow decomposition and effectively preserve the body after death. A jade suit unearth in Jiangxi Province was made of roughly 4,000 translucent pieces of jade held together with gold wire. Designed to form fit and cover the body, it has the shape of a robot from 1950s B science fiction movie.

Describing jade suits found in the the Han Tomb of Liu Sheng, Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “Although their coffins had collapsed, Liu Sheng and Dou Wan were each found in a well-preserved jade suit. Liu Sheng's was made of 2498 pieces of jade, sewn together with two and a half pounds of gold wire (Dou Wan's was smaller). Each suit consists of 12 sections: face, head, front, and back parts of tunic, arms, gloves, leggings, and feet. It has been estimated that a suit such as Liu Sheng's would have taken ten years to fashion. Along with the jade suits, Liu Sheng and Dou Wan each had a gilt bronze headrest inlaid with jade and held jade crescents in their hands. Archaeologists had known of the existence of jade burial suits from texts, but the two suits found at Mancheng are the earliest and most complete examples ever discovered. During the Han, jade funerary suits were used exclusively for the highest ranking nobles and were sewn with gold, silver, or bronze wire according to rank. The practice was discontinued after the Han.” One of the suits was 188 centimeters long. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, /=\]

20080302-jade suit of liu sheng 113 bc.jpg
Jade suit of Liu Sheng, 113 B.C.

Treasures from the Han Tomb of Liu Sheng

Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “ In 1968 two tombs were found in present-day Mancheng County in Hebei province (review map). The first undisturbed royal Western Han tombs ever discovered, they belong to the prince Liu Sheng (d. 113 B.C.), who was a son of Emperor Jing Di, and Liu Sheng's consort Dou Wan. The structure and layout of the tombs departs from earlier traditions in significant ways. For the first time images of daily life began to appear in tombs in the form of wall reliefs and earthenware models. Before this time, representations of scenes from life had been rare, a minor artistic concern when compared to the interest in shapes and surface decoration. In the tombs at Mancheng, however, the bronzes are mostly unadorned vessels meant for everyday use. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, /=\]

Liu Sheng's tomb contained over 2,700 burial objects. Among them, bronze and iron items predominate. Altogether there were: A) 419 bronze objects; B) 499 iron objects; C) 21 gold items; D) 77 silver items; E) 78 jade objects; F) 70 lacquer objects; G) 6 chariots (in south side-chamber); H) 571 pieces of pottery (mainly in north side-chamber); I) silk fabric; J) gold and silver acupuncture needles (length: 6-7 centimeters); J) an iron dagger (length: 36.4 centimeters width: 6.4 centimeters); K) three bronze leopards inlaid with gold and silver plum-blossom designs; L) bronze weights (height: 3.5 centimeters, length: 5.8 centimeters; M) a bronze ding with two ears fitted with movable animal-shaped pegs to keep the cover tight; N) a double cup with a bird-like creature in the center that holds a jade ring in its mouth and its feet are planted on another animal. /=\

There was also a bronze incense burner inlaid with gold (height: 26 centimeters). According to Ebrey: “Three dragons emerge from the openwork foot to support the bowl of the burner. The bowl is decorated with a pattern of swirling gold inlay suggestive of waves. The lid of the burner is formed of flame-shaped peaks, among which are trees, animals, and immortals. There are many tiny holes in the peaks. Oil-burning lamps were a common means of night-time illumination in this and later periods. A bronze lamp (height: 48 centimeters) has an ingenious movable door to regulate the supply of oxygen and thus the strength of the fire. Smoke from the fire would go up the sleeve, keeping the room from getting too smoky.” /=\

2,100-Year-Old King’s Mausoleum

In August 2014, archeologists announced they discovered a 2,100-year-old mausoleum built for a king named Liu Fei in present-day Xuyi County in Jiangsu, Liu Fei died in 128 B.C. during the 26th year of his rule over a kingdom named Jiangdu, which was part of the Chinese empire. reported: “Although the mausoleum had been plundered, archaeologists found that it still contained more than 10,000 artifacts, including treasures made of gold, silver, bronze, jade and lacquer. They also found several life-size chariot and dozens of smaller chariots. [Source:, August 16, 2014, The journal article was originally published, in Chinese, in the journal Kaogu, by archaeologists Li Zebin, Chen Gang and Sheng Zhihan. It was translated into English by Lai Guolong and published in the journal Chinese Archaeology +++]

“Excavated between 2009 and 2011, the mausoleum contains “three main tombs, 11 attendant tombs, two chariot-and-horse pits, two weaponry pits” and the remains of an enclosure wall that originally encompassed the complex, a team of Nanjing Museum archaeologists said in an article recently published in the journal Chinese Archaeology. The wall was originally about 1,608 feet (490 meters) long on each side. A large earthen mound — extending more than 492 feet (150 meters) — once covered the king’s tomb, the archaeologists say. The tomb has two long shafts leading to a burial chamber that measured about 115 feet (35 meters) long by 85 feet (26 meters) wide. Sadly, the king’s coffins had been damaged and the body itself was gone. “Near the coffins many jade pieces and fragments, originally parts of the jade burial suit, were discovered. These pieces also indicate that the inner coffin, originally lacquered and inlaid with jade plaques, was exquisitely manufactured,” the team writes. +++

“A second tomb, which archaeologists call “M2,” was found adjacent to the king’s tomb. Although archaeologists don’t know who was buried there it would have been someone of high status. Although it was looted, archaeologists still discovered pottery vessels, lacquer wares, bronzes, gold and silver objects, and jades, about 200 sets altogether,” the team writes. The ‘jade coffin’ from M2 is the most significant discovery. Although the central chamber was looted, the structure of the jade coffin is still intact, which is the only undamaged jade coffin discovered in the history of Chinese archaeology,” writes the team. +++

“In addition to the chariot models and weapons found in the king’s tomb, the mausoleum also contains two chariot-and-horse pits and two weapons pits holding swords, halberds, crossbow triggers and shields. In one chariot-and-horse pit the archaeologists found five life-size chariots, placed east to west. “The lacquer and wooden parts of the chariots were all exquisitely decorated and well preserved,” the team writes. Four of the chariots had bronze parts gilded with gold, while one chariot had bronze parts inlaid with gold and silver. The second chariot pit contained about 50 model chariots. “Since a large quantity of iron ji (Chinese halberds) and iron swords were found, these were likely models of battle chariots,” the team writes. +++

“A series of 11 attendant tombs were found to the north of the king’s tomb. By the second century B.C. human sacrifice had fallen out of use in China so the people buried in them probably were not killed when the king died. Again, the archaeologists found rich burial goods. One tomb contained two gold belt hooks, one in the shape of a wild goose and the other a rabbit. Another tomb contained artifacts engraved with the surname “Nao.” Ancient records indicate that Liu Fei had a consort named “Lady Nao,” whose beauty was so great that she would go on to be a consort for his son Liu Jian and then for another king named Liu Pengzu. Tomb inscriptions suggest the person buried in the tomb was related to her, the team says. +++

“About seven years after Liu Fei’s death, the Chinese emperor seized control of Jiangdu Kingdom, because Liu Jian, who was Liu Fei’s son and successor, allegedly plotted against the emperor. Ancient writers tried to justify the emperor’s actions, claiming that, in addition to rebellion, Liu Jian had committed numerous other crimes and engaged in bizarre behavior that included having a sexual orgy with 10 women in a tent above his father’s tomb.” +++

Items in 2,100-Year-Old King’s Tombs Offer Hints Of Han-Era Life

Han emperors and noblemen commonly decorated their tombs with pottery replicas of warriors, concubines, servants, horses, domestic animals, trees, plants, furniture, models of towers, granaries, mortars and pestles, stoves and toilets, and almost everything found in the real world so the deceased would have everything he needed in the next world. reported: “When archaeologists entered the burial chamber they found that Liu Fei was provided with a vast assortment of goods for the afterlife. Such goods would have been fitting for such a “luxurious” ruler. “Liu Fei admired daring and physical prowess. He built palaces and observation towers and invited to his court all the local heroes and strong men from everywhere around,” wrote ancient historian Sima Qian (145-86 B.C.), as translated by Burton Watson. “His way of life was marked by extreme arrogance and luxury.” [Source:, August 16, 2014 +++]

“His burial chamber is divided into a series of corridors and small chambers. The chamber contained numerous weapons, including iron swords, spearheads, crossbow triggers, halberds (a two-handled pole weapon), knives and more than 20 chariot models (not life-size). The archaeologists also found musical instruments, including chime bells, zither bridges (the zither is a stringed instrument) and jade tuning pegs decorated with a dragon design. +++

“Liu Fei’s financial needs were not neglected, as the archaeologists also found an ancient “treasury” holding more than 100,000 banliang coins, which contain a square hole in the center and were created by the first emperor of China after the country was unified. After the first emperor died in 210 B.C., banliang coins eventually fell out of use. In another section of the burial chamber archaeologists found “utilities such as goose-shaped lamps, five-branched lamps, deer-shaped lamps, lamps with a chimney or with a saucer ….” They also found a silver basin containing the inscription of “the office of the Jiangdu Kingdom.” +++

“The king was also provided with a kitchen and food for the afterlife. Archaeologists found an area in the burial chamber containing bronze cauldrons, tripods, steamers, wine vessels, cups and pitchers. They also found seashells, animal bones and fruit seeds. Several clay inscriptions found held the seal of the “culinary officer of the Jiangdu Kingdom.” +++

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University <|>; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua;; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated November 2016

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