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Western Han dynasty (206 BCE–9 CE)
Jade (nephrite)
H. 10.4 cm, W. 42 cm
Excavated 1996, Shuangrushan, Changqing County
Collection of Changqing County Museum
(cat. #35)


This pillow remained largely at its original location during excavation, thus allowing archaeologists to restore it without much difficulty. It is composed of fourteen jade pieces and a bamboo core. The upper section comprises eight small pieces and a large panel with engraved patterns and the lower section an undecorated baseboard. Between the two is a rectangular bamboo core. From each end of the pillow extends a large animal face with a broad nose, round eyes, and small ears. It is probably the face of a bear, a popular motif of the Han period. The pillow is supported on two short feet that are decorated with engraved scrolls.

To date all early examples of pillows are from the Han period, the earliest being that from a Western Han tomb at Houloushan, Xuzhou, Jiangsu province.[1] This pillow, formed by four writhing dragons in gilt bronze, is the most ornate and most structurally complex among them. The upper side and the two ends are inlaid with jade dragons outlined with gold foil. A similar example, also made of gilt bronze and carved jade, was found in the tomb of Liu Sheng, king of the Zhongshan state of Western Han, at Mancheng, Hebei province.[2] Another well-known pillow is from the tomb of Liu Yan, a king of Zhongshan state in the Eastern Han dynasty, at Dingzhou, Hebei.[3] It is carved from a large block of green jade and densely covered with incised scrolls. The archaeological finds in general suggest that pillows were common in the burials of the Han dynasty and continued into later times. The use of jade in the pillows had to do perhaps not only with the display of the wealth and status of the deceased but also with the belief in the protective power of the stone.

all text & images © China Institute Gallery


1. Xuzhou bowuguan, “Xuzhou Houloushan Xi Han mu fajue baogao” [Excavation report for the Western Han tomb at Houloushan, Xuzhou], Wenwu, no. 4 (1993), pp. 40–43.

2. Zhongguo shehui kexueyuan, Mancheng Hanmu fajue baogao, vol. 1, pp. 78, 80–81.

3. Hebei sheng wenhuaju wenwu gongzuodui, "Hebei Dingxian Beizhuang Han mu fajue baogao" [Excavation report of the Han tomb from Beizhuang, Dingxian, Hebei province], Kaogu xuebao, no. 2 (1964), p. 143

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