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Chariot fitting—yoke saddle ornament, ejiao
Western Han dynasty (206 BCE–9 CE)
Gilt bronze; H. 4.4 cm, L. 8.5 cm,
Excavated 1996, No. 3 chariot, Shuangrushan, Changqing County
Collection of Changqing County Museum
(cat. #28)


During the Han dynasty, processions of chariots shaded by parasols or occasionally by canopies were among the most popular subjects painted, stamped, or carved on the walls of tombs and shrines.[1] Often accompanied by riders on horseback, chariots with parasols in particular seem to gallop across the walls of tombs housing high-ranking nobles and officials. Although the rise of cavalry in the fourth century BCE reduced their role in warfare, chariots retained their importance as indicators of rank and wealth.[2] A third-century BCE poetic description of the affluent early Chinese metropolis of Linzi in Shandong characterizes the populace as enjoying the luxuries not only of chariots, but also of musical instruments, fighting cocks, and games of dice and soccer; the streets of Linzi were “so choked with chariots that the hubcaps struck against one another.”[3]

Life-size chariots and their horses were often buried with the dead of noble or royal rank, thus continuing to confer status after death; this practice began in the Shang and continued through the Han dynasty. Chariots shaded with parasols appeared in graves as early as the Western Zhou but became more prevalent around the late sixth to early fifth century BCE and were increasingly popular in the Qin (221–206 BCE) and Han (206 BCE–220 CE) dynasties. These were the most lavishly embellished vehicles, with elegant fittings of gilt bronze (cat. nos. 28, 31, 39–44) and gold and silver inlay (cat. nos. 29, 30).[4] Unmistakable symbols of wealth and status, these chariots not only maintained the luxurious lifestyle of the deceased but were also thought to carry him on his final journey to the land of the immortals.

Examples of chariot fittings as well as other grave goods from at least two Western Han rock-cut royal tomb sites in Shandong, one at Shuangrushan, Changqing county, and the other at Jiulongshan in Qufu county (see p. xx, fig. 1), are included in this exhibition.[5] Shuangrushan Tomb 1 remained undisturbed until its excavation, preserving over 2,000 burial items, including life-size one- two-and four-horse chariots along with a half-size chariot and a miniature one. The following four gilt bronze and inlaid chariot fittings, catalogue nos. 28 through 31, come from the surviving chariot burials at Shuangrushan. At Jiulongshan the four royal tombs contained some twelve life-size chariots and the remains of fifty horses as well as several miniature chariots. The site yielded four of the gilt bronze chariot fittings in the exhibition (cat. nos. 39–44).

This small gilt bronze ornamental fitting is shaped like a fantastic arched animal. At the front, its head has a flat pig-like snout with two raised ridges across the top and two bulging eyes accentuated by two raised ridges: one forms an eyebrow and the other, the edges of the eyelids. This second ridge continues along the side to the top of the head, where it is transformed into low-relief bands that become curled horns. Another band runs between the horns, along the animal’s arched back, and ends in a T-shape. The body ends in a tail shaped as three large saw-teeth.

Called an ejiao, literally “yoke horn,” this ornamental fitting was placed at the curved ends of the yoke saddle that was fitted around the horse’s neck (for diagram of chariot parts, see appendix 1).[6] The head of this fantastic creature resonates with the same energy as the heads on the bronze lamp- or iron-stand (cat. no. 10) and on the large stone striding bixie that guarded the spirit roads approaching tombs. Fittings and stone sculpture alike were invested with apotropaic power to protect the deceased and to ward off evil. A very similar fitting was excavated from the late second-century BCE Western Han tombs of Prince Liu Sheng and Lady Dou Wan at Mancheng, Hebei.[7] A slightly different gilt bronze ejiao, with an open loop in the center and no saw-tooth tail, was excavated from the Western Han tombs at Jiulongshan, Qufu county (cat. no. 40).

all text & images © China Institute Gallery


1. There seem to be two major styles of chariots visible on the walls of the Wu family shrines. One has a parasol or umbrella covering the driver and occupant. The second has what is perhaps technically a canopy because it is anchored to the chariot box by four poles; sometimes this type of canopy occurs with a chariot that has a three-sided enclosure for the occupants. See Wu Hung, The Wu Liang Shrine: The Ideology of Early Chinese Pictorial Art (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1989), p. 57, fig. 30, and the complete set of rubbings of the Wu Family Shrines in the catalogue by Liu et al., Recarving China’s Past (forthcoming). Ceremonial processions of chariots and riders on horseback form an important and integral part of the imagery carved on the stone slabs of the Wu family shrines in Shandong. See also the detail of a chariot procession in a tomb painting from Anping county, Hebei province, published as a copy in Wong, Treasures from the Han, p. 13. These are among the many representations of chariot processions in Han tombs.

2. See Anthony J. Barbieri-Low, “Wheeled Vehicles in the Chinese Bronze Age (c. 2000–741 B.C.),” Sino-Platonic Papers 99 (February, 2000), pp. 1–98, 8 color plates, for a thorough and valuable discussion of the development of chariots in Bronze Age China.

3. See Lawton, Chinese Art of the Warring States Period, p. 15.

4. Apparently, the impression of a wooden parasol survived in an early Western Zhou chariot pit at Liulihe in Beijing, but evidence of cast bronze parasol or canopy fittings did not appear until the Eastern Zhou dynasty. Parasols were not necessarily fixed permanently to the chariot; they could be removed or hand-held. See Colin MacKenzie, “From Diversity to Synthesis: New Roles of Metalwork and Decorative Styles during the Warring States and Han Periods,” in Inlaid Bronze and Related Material from pre-Tang China (London: Eskenazi, Ltd., 1991), p. 10. See also Jenny F. So’s entry discussing the bronze cylinder fitting for a chariot canopy inlaid with gold and silver in Miho Museum, South Wing (Shiga: The Miho Museum Catalogue), no. 108, p. 212.

5. For the tombs and chariot burials excavated from Shuangrushan, Changqing county, see three articles in Kaogu, no. 3 (1997), pp. 1–9, 26, 4 plates; pp. 10–15; and pp. 16–26. China Archaeology and Art Digest 2, no. 1 (Jan.–March, 1997), pp. 65–66, contains a summary of the Kaogu article (pp. 16–26), mentioned previously, which focuses on the restoration and study of a chariot from Tomb 1. The excavation report of the Jiulongshan tombs in Qufu county was published in Shandong sheng bowuguan, “Qufu Jiulongshan Hanmu fajue jianbao” [Brief excavation report of the Han tomb at Jiulongshan, Qufu], Wenwu, no. 5 (1972), pp. 39–54; and after p. 64, back cover, figs. 1–6.

6. See Barbieri-Low, “Wheeled Vehicles,” Table 2: Translation of Key Technical Terms for Chinese Chariotry, p. 86.

7. Zhongguo shehui kexueyuan kaogu yanjiu suo and Hebei sheng wenwu guanli chu, Mancheng Hanmu fajue baogao [Report of the Han Tombs Excavated at Mancheng] (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1980), vol. 2, plate 223:3.

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