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Green-glazed stove
Eastern Han dynasty (25–220 CE)
Clay with green glaze
H. 38 cm, L. 39 cm, W. 30 cm
Excavated from Donggu River, Gaotang
Collection of Shandong Provincial Museum
(cat. #25)


Models of stoves, both in bronze and ceramic, were popular during the Han dynasty but became rare in later periods. Our stove is quite unusual for its large size. A rectangular opening, surrounded by incised decoration, was placed on the side of the stove for inserting the fuel. The body serves as a firebox and the smoke would have vented through the long, curving chimney opposite the opening.[1] On the top surface of the stove body are three circular openings covered by vessels. The two shallow pans would have held food for cooking. The deep basin typically would have had a grating so the upper section could be used as a steamer. Some models of stoves are also accompanied in the tomb by figures of chefs, as is the case in our exhibition (cat. no. 24).[2]

The ceramic stove in our exhibition would have been used by the model chef to prepare the delicacies most favored by our tomb occupant in the afterlife. Our knowledge of food preparation in the Han dynasty is quite rich. An actual stove would have risen to waist height.[3] The “Neize” chapter (Guide to the Domestic Virtues) of the Liji, written in the first century BCE, provides details of the ingredients, preparation, and presentation of the cuisines of the elite.[4] Tombs 1 and 3 at Mawangdui provide archaeological evidence for the text. These tombs, which date from 186 to 168 BCE during the early Western Han dynasty, were excavated in Changsha, Hunan province. Tomb 1, belonging to the matriarch of an aristocratic family, Lady Dai, was particularly well preserved because it had been lined with clay. Her body was also in good condition; it was revealed that she had died at the age of fifty with back problems and perhaps gastric ailments, as melon seeds were found in her stomach. Tomb 1 contained forty-eight bamboo baskets of prepared meats and fruit, and fifty-one ceramic containers, mostly filled with food, as well as sacks of cereals, vegetables, and rice. The preferred meal of Lady Dai was laid out on lacquered dishes with chopsticks ready to be consumed, with bamboo slips identifying each dish. Comparable information was also found in Tomb 3, which was occupied by her son.

all text & images © China Institute Gallery


1. This stove is similar in form to known examples of bronze stoves in the shape of turtles. In those stoves, the body of the creature represented the firebox, and the curving neck, head, and mouth formed a chimney to vent the smoke. For an example of a bronze stove in the shape of a turtle see, Liu et al, Recarving China’s Past, no. 19.

2. The same ceramic group of chef, stove, dog, and chicken were excavated from Tomb 1 located in Hebei province at Yujia Village in Qianan District. Qianan District Cultural Protection Institute, “Hebei Qianan Yujiacun yihao Hanmu qingli” [Summary of no. 1 Han tomb at Yujia village, Qianan district, Hebei province], Wenwu, no. 10 (1996), p. 36, fig. 19, nos. 3 (chef), 8 (stove), 10 (chicken), and 11 (dog), also shown in pp. 37–39. Also found in the same tomb were a ceramic well and a ceramic incense burner (boshanlu).

3. Colin Mackenzie in Annette Juliano and Judith Lerner, Monks and Merchants: Silk Road Treasures from Northwest China (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. with The Asia Society, 2001), p. 85, no. 19a.

4. Michele Pirazzoli-t’Serstevens, The Han Dynasty (New York: Rizzoli, 1982), pp. 50–52. For more information on the tomb of Lady Dai see Hunan sheng bowuguan et al., Changsha Mawangdui yihao Hanmu. In addition to the food found in her tomb, there were also bamboo cases filled with garments and silk fabrics, eight containers of herbal medicine, and musical instruments, some of which have markings indicating their tone scales.

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