Height: 2.000 inches
Collected by Sir Marc Aurel Stein
Asia OA 1937.4-16.129-137
Room 33: Asia
Agate belt set
Tang dynasty (AD 618-906)
A set of nine agate plaques carved with foreign musicians
This agate belt set consists of one tail piece and eight square plaques. The front of the longer tail piece is carved with a dancer and two musicians; the smaller square plaques with Western or Central Asian musicians, each playing a different instrument.
Foreign musicians and entertainers were a common decorative theme on jade belt sets. The representation of a foreign image on a traditional Chinese material (jade) seems to have been particularly appealing. Western-style music was very popular in China during the Tang dynasty. Musical influences from places as diverse as Kucha and Qoco, Kashgar, Bukhara and Samarkand, India and Korea were all gradually assimilated into the Chinese repertoire. Entertainers were often demanded as tribute from regions under China's political control, and foreign orchestras were commanded to perform at court. Emperor Xuanzong (reigned 712-56) is said to have employed 30,000 musicians. Dancers, magicians, contortionists and other entertainers performed for the Chinese court and in the market places of major cities.
The images on such plaques provide us with useful information on the variety of costumes worn by these foreign musicians and the instruments they played.
J. Rawson, Chinese jade: from the Neolith (London, The British Museum Press, 1995, reprinted 2002)
C. Michaelson, Gilded dragons: buried treasur (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)