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Wellhead with pulley and bucket
Eastern Han dynasty (25–220 CE)
H. 49.5 cm; W. (square base) 48 cm
Unearthed 1969, Jining City Park
Collection Shandong Provincial Museum, Jinan
(cat. #26)


By the Eastern Han dynasty, tomb contents reflected the importance of agriculture to the economy and preserved for the next world the routines of daily life in an agrarian land-owning society. Tomb chambers often contain clay models of pigsties, pigs, goat pens, goats, chickens, dogs, lamps, farmhouses, watchtowers, granaries, grain mills, stoves, and wellheads. Clay models of wellheads were both popular and varied during the Han. There were two basic types. The first, probably the most common, consisted of a rectangular base with stamped decoration on four sides; it usually had a wooden superstructure, lost over time, which once supported a clay gabled roof and was sometimes mounted with a pulley system for raising and lowering a bucket. The second type was a cylindrical wellhead with a superstructure to support a circular roof and pulley system, and an occasional rooster standing on top.[1] Inventive and lively variations of decorative subjects and elements, such as a toad sitting on the rim of a well, occurred within these two categories.

This is a very rare cast bronze model of a wellhead, complete with an elaborate base. The square wellhead sits on a pyramid-shaped platform with a trough between the sloping sides and the outer rim of the square base; thin raised lines create a zigzag pattern on the sides of the platform. Although square, the wellhead has the basic form of a typical Han rectangular clay wellhead that has been translated into bronze. At each corner of the wellhead, the rims intersect and extend outward beyond the square of the well, creating a cross; the intersection is marked by the raised square top of the vertical post; the bottom edge of the well also has extended intersecting flat beams.[2] The four recessed outside walls of the well are undecorated. The superstructure supports a winch or pulley that would hoist the bucket; the surviving bucket has a deep, rounded form and an indented rim with two handles pierced with holes for a rope.

The construction of this bronze model, as well as the clay examples, suggests that the actual wellheads were originally constructed of wood. To date, no other bronze wellhead of this size and weight has been found.

all text & images © China Institute Gallery


1. A number of publications and catalogues about the Han dynasty and clay mingqi are available. Certainly, the pioneering analysis of clay mingqi was done by Ezekiel Schloss in Art of the Han (New York: China House Gallery, 1979) and in his major work, Ancient Chinese Ceramic Sculpture from Han Through Tang, 2 vols. (Stamford, Ct.: Castle Publishing Co., Ltd., 1977). Rectangular wellheads are illustrated in Schloss, Art of the Han, pp. 36–37 and a cylindrical one on p. 38. For an example of a rectangular wellhead with modern wooden posts to support the clay roof see Kaikodo Journal 9 (Hong Kong: Kaikodo, 1998), pp. 136–37, no. 50; see also Schloss, Ancient Chinese Ceramic Sculpture, p. 233, for examples of wellheads that were painted in late Han and early Six Dynasties (5th century) tomb walls.

2. For a clay example with crosses at the corners of the wellhead on the top rim but not at the bottom, see Schloss, Art of the Han, p. 36, no. 12.

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