Height: 25.600 cm (max.)
Asia OA 1933.11-14.1
Room 33: Asia
Ceramic Liubo players
Eastern Han dynasty, 1st-2nd century AD
It is an ancient Chinese belief that the world one passed into after death was similar to the living world. Therefore, to maintain one's status in the next world, a tomb should be provided with all the things one had used in this life.
In the early part of the Western Han dynasty (206 BC - around 100 BC), tombs contained models of soldiers, as they had in the time of the first Qin emperor (221-206 BC). Slightly later, the burial goods would include ceramic models showing life among the nobility and the rich. In the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25-220), the tombs of ordinary people - including farmers, musicians and dancers - contained models representing their daily lives.
The figures in this group are gambling. They are playing Liubo, a game thought to be popular among both mortals and immortals. The board is marked with divination symbols, and the game pieces show the animals of the four directions: the White Tiger (West), the Green Dragon (East), the Vermilion Bird (South) and the Tortoise, with a snake coiled around its body, known as the Dark Warrior (North).
The models are made of earthenware, covered with a green lead glaze. Lead glazes were used only for burial goods, because they are poisonous.
S.J. Vainker, Chinese pottery and porcelain, (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)