Granary jar "Mingqi"


The Western Han dynasty, Shaanxi province, 202BC - 6AD, China, private collection from Finland.

The Han dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China (202BC to 220AD). Spanning over four centuries, the Han dynasty is considered a golden age in Chinese history, and influenced the identity of the Chinese civilization ever since. The era was separated into two main periods, the Western Han (202BC- 9AD) and the Eastern Han (25AD-220AD). Although it was briefly interrupted by the short lived Xin dynasty (9AD-23AD).

It was during the Han Dynasty that the famous silk roads were established. These trading routes ran from the capital of Chang’an (Xi’an) to the east coast of the Mediterranean. Because of increased trade in Chinese silk, African ivory and Roman incense, and improved travel safety, the contact between East and West flourished. All these influences of trading and travel led to great technical innovations and artistic refinements in China, such as the development of porcelain, celadon pottery and cobalt blue glazes. The Han people, comprised at the time more than 50 million inhabitants, and occupied a large, very prosperous agricultural region. They cultivated rice, as opposed to the peoples, living to the north of the Yellow River, who cultivated millet. Starting in 140 BC, the Emperor Wu of Han, seeking to combat the rise of the local aristocracies, launched the recruitment of civil servants and undertook big projects as the Great Wall of China. He put in place a state system of "Ever-level granaries" (chang ping cang) destined to prevent famines and to control prices. Pottery made during the Han dynasty provides a valuable insight into the social and financial context of China. Burial objects were often made of soft earthenware and applied with a copper lead glaze, which was poisonous and therefore unsuitable for daily use. These containers served as granaries and it was not rare for a peasant to have several around his farm. This stunning granary jar belongs to the mingqi tradition, reduced models of edifices, people or animals left in the tombs of nobles and big landowners in order to surround them with the familiar objects from their lives as they go to the great beyond. Mingqi served to provide the deceased with necessities and comforts in the afterlife. The deceased person's po was said to remain in the realm of the tomb while the hun ascended to heaven. To appease and make worthwhile the deceased's po, mingqi claimed relevant and liked by the deceased were placed in his tomb. Upon placing mingqi in the tomb, humans, according to the Confucian ideal, were harmonizing the cosmos by striking a balance for the comfort of the deceased who is also comforted in heaven.

A gorgeous cylindrical pottery model of a granary with a slanting, stylized roof-shaped top, the centre of which has an aperture. The body is slightly tapered towards the bottom with a pair of incised lines surrounding the upper, middle, and lower surface of the body. The jar is covered in a deep, vibrant glossy green lead glaze, leaving only the interior and the base unglazed, revealing the reddish pottery body. The outside is heavily oxydized due to the lead and copper in the green glaze, creating a wide spectrum of deep brownish green shades in the colouring. Good condition. Intact. Age-related wear and irridescence to the base. Glazing and firing flaws. Notable unevenness to surface. With chips around top aperture. Also with chipped losses around flared top. Size approx. 23,0cm x 15,5cm x 15,6cm. Weight c. 1581g.

References, citations and sources:

Dream of Ideal Life in Ancient China: Ceramic Miniatures of Architectures, Household Goods, People and Animals, Aichi.ken Toji Shiryokan, Seto, 2005, no. 14, p. 34.

The Complete Works of Chinese Ceramics.Vol. 3, Qin, Han, Shanghai renmin meishu chubanshe, Shanghai, 1999, no. 121, pp. 132, 259.

Department of Asian Art. “Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2000)

Colburn Clydesdale, Heather. “The Vibrant Role of Mingqi in Early Chinese Burials.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (April 2009)

Life and Immortality in The Mind of Han China, Ying-shih Yü, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 25 (1964 - 1965), Published Harvard-Yenching Institute, pp. 80-122.

Deupi, Jill J.; Covaci, Ive; and Swergold, Leopold, "Immortality of the Spirit: Chinese Funerary Art from the Han and Tang Dynasties Exhibition Catalogue" (2012). Immortality of the Spirit - Ephemera. 1.

Chinese, Design, 39:5, 1937, pp. 20-24, DOI: 10.1080/00119253.1937.10741402