Glazed pottery pond with figures
Eastern Han dynasty (AD 6-220)
A model for the afterlife
The ancient Chinese believed that the afterlife was like this one. Therefore, one must be buried with things necessary to maintain one's rank and lifestyle in the next world.
The types of human figures and objects buried in tombs changed over time. In the early Western Han dynasty (206 - about 100 BC), tomb figures represented the military power of emperors and generals. In the middle Han, figures of servants and entertainers signified the daily life of the powerful nobility as they enjoyed banquets and festivities. By the latter part of the dynasty, relatively humble tombs contained models of objects from ordinary people's lives. At this time, human figures were less common than replicas of buildings, granaries and even whole farmyards of animals.
This pond holds fish, frogs, a tortoise and ducks, with a number of creatures encircling the rim. A man is catching fish in an imaginary net, while others are shooting birds (now lost) in a tree.
In 1964, a pottery pond scene was excavated in Henan province that was also full of ducks, frogs, and fish. Inside the pond, however, instead of a tree, was a waterside pavilion with a human figure, probably the tomb's owner.
S.J. Vainker, Chinese pottery and porcelain, (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)
J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)