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Chariot fitting—parasol spoke ornament, gaigong
Western Han dynasty (206 BCE–9 CE)
Gilt bronze
L. 12.8 cm; D. 1.3 cm
Excavated 1996, No. 2 Chariot, Shuangrushan, Changqing County
Collection of Changqing County Museum
(cat. #31)


As discussed previously, chariots with parasols or canopies are powerful symbols of wealth and rank. Rulers, nobles, princes, and high-ranking officials used these vehicles in life and in death, choosing to have their chariots, complete with lavish fittings and horses, interred in their tombs. The twenty-two gilt bronze caps that had been preserved in the royal tombs excavated at Shuangrushan were used to cover and to embellish the end of the spokes that supported the parasol (see appendix 1). All twenty-two are identical.

Each small cap was designed as a four-petaled flower; a circle, which rises in the center, is inhabited by a seated bear articulated in relief. The four petals have been positioned directly opposite each other, symbolically pointing north, south, east, and west, directions that are further emphasized by the pointed shape of each petal. The four cardinal directions plus the center position were fundamental to Chinese cosmology. Their role became more formalized by the end of the Han, when they were represented by fantastic and real animals—the Green Dragon of the East, the Red Bird of the South, the White Tiger of the West and the Black Warrior (Tortoise and Snake of the North)—as seen on the post-Han pottery tiles in the exhibition (cat. nos. 46–49). The interior of each petal is bifurcated by an incised line flanked on each side by a raised spiral. In contrast to the fantastic feline or leonine creatures depicted on the stand (cat. no. 10), chariot fitting or ejiao, (cat. no. 28), and the crossbow fitting (cat. no. 32), this animal resembles a sitting or squatting bear, with a long tapered snout, pointed ears, furry head, round belly, and large claws. Similar animals ornament bronze objects found in the tombs of Liu Sheng and Dou Wan at Mancheng, Hebei.[1]

all text & images © China Institute Gallery


1. Zhongguo shehui kexueyuan, Mancheng Hanmu fajue baogao, vol. 2, plate 233:5, 6.

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