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Chinese Tomb Demon

One of the largest states during the Warring States period of China (475-221 BCE), the Chu held onto much of their traditional beliefs despite pressure from the former Zhou dynasty to adopt new beliefs. One of these
Tomb Demon, Warring States Period to Western Han Dynasty (475 B.C. - 9 A.D.)
Han people; China
Wood and paint; 28 x 25 1/2 in.
Gift of Dr. Ellyn Shander, M.D.
beliefs can be shown in the tomb guardian. Carved from wood and sporting antlers, the entire sculpture is covered in black and red lacquer. There are still many questions about these strange statues and why one was placed in Chu tombs with each coffin. Where questions outnumber answers, theories will always abound. Some speculate that the tomb guardians are statues of Chu gods of death and the underworld, placed in the tombs to watch over the deceased and scare away lesser demons that would prevent their spirits from entering the afterlife. Other theories say that since the majority of the statues are placed in the entryway of the tomb, they are instead meant to warn off human looters who would otherwise try to steal the grave goods that were traditionally buried with wealthy and influential people. Still other people believe that the statues are not meant to resemble any one spirit or god but instead are an amalgamation of several features that had special meaning to the Chu people. While other features of the tomb guardians, such as the antlers, do show up in other Chinese tombs, the tomb guardians themselves are unique to the Chu culture. After the fall of the Chu to the Qin Dynasty, the tomb guardians disappear. Other grave statues begin to reappear during the Han Dynasty, but nothing quite like the Chu tomb guardians were ever seen again until archeological excavations began to discover well preserved Chu tombs in the 1930’s. This makes the tomb guardian one of the most mysterious and unique items in our Ancient Arts of China: A 5,000 Year Legacy exhibition. All text and images under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. Information subject to change upon further research.
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