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Two pigs
Western Han dynasty (206 BCE–9 CE)
Jade (nephrite)
L. 10.4 cm, W. 2 cm
Excavated 1996, Shuangrushan, Changqing County
Collection of Changqing County Museum
(cat. #36)


This pair of reclining pigs are carved out of a rectangular block of jade. While the bulky bodies largely retain the shape of the stone, the carefully modeled snouts and gently dished ears have a realistic look. Deeply beveled cuts combined with light engraved lines describe their legs and trotters. The undersides of the pigs are completely flat.

Jade pigs were one of the most common tomb furnishings of the Han (206 BCE–220 CE) through Six Dynasties (265–589) period, their representation ranging from naturalistically descriptive to completely abstract. They are often called “hand warmers” since many were found in the hands of tomb occupants. In fact, their placement in hands did not become a general practice until the Eastern Han period, and they are also believed to be weights.[1] The meaning of such a tradition remains unknown, but because pigs were regarded as a symbol of wealth, it was probably desirable for the dead to hold them as they stepped into the afterlife.

all text & images © China Institute Gallery


1. Rawson, Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to Qing, pp. 319–20.

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