After posting the Japanese funerary artworks of Haniwa from the 3rd through the 6th centuries, I was curious what other cultures around the world were making for funerary art at that time. First I posted Haniwa, then I posted Roman Catacomb frescoes, and today I have ceramic figurines from ancient China. These ceramic attendants were placed in tombs to serve the deceased in the afterlife. They depict soldiers, officials, musicians, mythical beasts, and animals. These archeological finds break my 3rd-6th century time frame, because I can’t possibly post about China’s tomb figures without including the Han and Tang dynasties, which bracket the time periods between 206 BCE to 907 CE, a couple centuries past my 3rd – 6th century search. The Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) was not highly sophisticated for materials, but the artworks were prolific, and I found myself attracted to the humble simplicity of the earthenware forms. After the Han dynasty, figurines are comparatively sparse, and then in the Tang dynasty (618 – 907 CE) pottery production rises to a zenith. Tang dynasty figures are made with fine porcelains instead of chunky earthenware, and decorated with more advanced glazes and refined details. Tang dynasty was a golden era for art with no shortage of variety or skill. Here is a very rough overview of funerary art in ancient China, by dynasty: Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) Earthenware tomb figures made during the Han dynasty were humble soldiers, dancers, musicians, and animals. Below, a collection of animals from the Chinese zodiac. Below: Eastern Han dynasty horse, telling the world’s first dad joke. Han Dynasty’s Tiny Dancers Above: Female Dancer, 2nd century B.C. China, Earthenware with pigment; H. 21 in. (53.3 cm); W. 9 3/4 in. (24.8 cm); D. 7 in. (17.8 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art The Han dynasty figurine below is not the most exquisite figurine for materials technique, but she’d be my number one choice to boogie down with in the afterlife. This 2,000 year old boogie queen sold for only $188 on online auction June 29, 2022. That’s way less than a ticket to see Taylor Swift, and the boogie queen is with you for all eternity. The Han sculptures below are from the Metropolitan Museum. They depict everyday scenes, such as typical architecture for a multi story home, dancers, acrobats, a musician, a warrior that looks like a soccer player, a mother breastfeeding her baby, and a very elaborate money tree village. Above: An uncommonly elaborate money tree stand. It depicts a multi-level village with tree-like columns with sun and moon. It is decorated with musicians, hunters on horseback, figures, birds, dogs, bridges, caves, balconies, caves, and ramps. (Met Museum) “Liubo Board and Players. Playing Liubo (game of sixes) was thought to offer protection from malicious entities. Often immortals were depicted playing it indicating its magical significance.” (Met Museum) This wine ewer has a bird’s head spout, a painted feathered body, and a bear standing in for each of the legs. I’m not really sure why we all don’t have at least one of these. Acrobats. Good move. I’d want a circus to entertain me in the afterlife, too. Drummin, so you’d have your own soundtrack. A mythical beast; a combination of rhinoceros, dragon, and tiger. He’s guarding the door, but nothing scares off an archaeologist. Pre or Early Han Dynasty: China’s Famous Terracotta Army, Qin Shi Huang (259–210 BCE) The Han period is also the time of China’s famous Terracotta Warriors and Horses, beginning in 259/246 BCE. The creation of China’s Terracotta Army is estimated to have taken several decades. The army was constructed during the reign of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (259–210 BCE), who, when he was throned as King of Qin at the age of 13, ordered it be built as part of his burial site compound. Who says young minds can’t plan ahead? The army consists of thousands of life-sized clay soldiers, horses, and chariots, all crafted to accompany the emperor in the afterlife. He died at age 49, likely still demanding more horsies. Three Kingdoms (220 – 280 CE) Tomb figures continued the Han traditions, depicting a range of figures, from warriors to officials. This is a turbulent period in China. Below, a horse anxiously smiles for the camera. Western Jin Dynasty (265 – 316 CE) Tomb figures evolved to include Buddhist influences, with sculptures of guardian deities and mythical creatures protecting the deceased. Below, a spear thrower with an overbite. Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 – 420 CE) There were tomb figures made during the Jin Dynasty, but unfortunately I was unable to find examples, so I turned to Dall-e for pics. I asked the Ai drawing program to product pictures of “chinese terracotta warrior searching on google images for a tomb figure, and not finding one.” Sixteen Kingdoms 304 to 439 CE Squeezing in with an overlapping dynasty (China’s a big place!), the Sixteen Kingdoms was a turbulent and diverse period that lasted from 304 to 439 CE. Figures depicted a range of subjects, from warriors and officials to everyday scenes, yet all I could find were these figurines that look like men wearing baggy two part horse costumes. Northern and Southern Dynasties (420 – 589 CE) Tomb figures exhibited regional variations, reflecting the divided political landscape, and showcased both secular and spiritual themes. Below: two men, Northern Wei dynasty, 386-534 AD, earthenware. Sui Dynasty (581 – 618 CE) Tomb figures reflected the grandeur of the dynasty, with sculptures of armored soldiers and elegantly dressed court figures. Below: Ladies to gossip about you for all eternity, and the best salt and pepper shakers ever. Northern Qi (550–577) dynasty Tomb Guardian (Zhenmushou), mid-to-late 6th century China, Earthenware with pigment; H. 12 1/4 in. (Metropolitan Museum) Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 CE) Yippee it’s the Tang Dynasty! The development of porcelain and glazes allowed artists to replace the comparatively less refined earthenware figurines from previous dynasties with brightly colored highly detailed little sculptures. Figures reached new heights of craftsmanship, featuring diverse subjects such as cross dressing polo players, foreign envoys, and livelier horses. It’s the golden era. Artists are well paid, productive, and innovative. The fish face was a bit of a surprise for me. It’s disturbing, but I only found one, and there are plenty more horses. Look: Why are there so many horse figures in ancient Chinese tombs? Flexin’ Status: Horses showed off wealth and power. Ghost Roadtrippin’: Horses were how people got around, so hooking the departed up with horse statues was like ensuring they could cruise comfortably in the afterlife. As a parallel, Jeff Bezos is worth around $200 billion. If he dedicated $150 billion for his burial, you could bury him underground with 2,500,000 Teslas and still have $50 million for the party. Imagine the send-off! Burial Swag: Horses showed respect and support for the dead. People were saying “We got you, even in the afterlife.” Warrior Vibes: If someone had battlefield cred, horses in their tomb could remind everyone, again. Arty Stuff: Horses look cool. They add style and flair, and artists got to show off their skills. I mean, have you ever tried to make a life size horse??? It is NOT easy. How do you make those skinny crooked legs hold up that big barrel body?!? Spiritual Horsepower: Horses were tied to gods and higher realms. Giving the deceased some equine wingmen was like giving them a VIP ticket for the next life. Trading Card: Horses were upper class currency. Trading or gifting them built connections between different places and people. Above: Grumpy old queens in fancy outfits riding other grumpy old beard headed monsters. Look at that sassy hand on hip. He’s not taking your guff. I know this is a large collection of images, but please don’t scroll past the chicken attendants. Never rush in the presence of chicken attendants. Above: Even in the afterlife, you’ve gotta have your own personal farming crew, keeping you fed and comfy. But farmers weren’t just about food – they represent diverse layers of society. Farmers keep the economy chugging along. By having these farmer figures in the tomb, they were showing how everyone on their team is part of the grand scheme of things. Above left: The camel is your ride on the silk trade road. Above right: Tang sculptors achieved true three dimensionality for the first time! The S-curve of the body implies the potential for movement. These impressive guardians stand triumphant atop a supportive beast, a stoic deer, and a questioning bull. The fierce expressions and full armor assure they are ready for the afterlife dance party. (Met Museum) Below: If you wanted your own backup singers in the afterlife, here’s your crew: So there you have it. A random smattering of funerary arts from China 250 BC – 900 BCE. Who knew that death could be so fun? More fun filled funerary arts coming soon!