Height: 43.700 cm (from base)
Asia OA 19188.8.131.52
Room 33: Asia
Wooden guardian figure
Eastern Zhou period, 4th century BC
A shaman figure?
Figures like this were placed as guardians in tombs in the Chu state in Hunan and Hubei province. The history of Chu is not known before the fall of the Zhou dynasty in 771 BC (ending the Western Zhou period, whose rulers fled eastward, but never again ruled a unified state). From this time Chu became an increasingly important force, occupying a large part of China by the time of the Warring States period (fifth-third century BC).
The Chu followed many of the Zhou's ritual practices, but also had independent beliefs and customs of their own (in fact, the northerners considered the Chu to be non-Chinese). The southerners venerated and feared a large number of spirits. Shamans were used to intercede and communicate with them. The wearing of antlers seems to have been significant in shamanistic rituals. Carved wooden figures with antlers probably represented the shamans or their powers. The antlers on this figure are made of dry lacquer. This figure also has a long protruding tongue.
The Chu are renowned for their sculptural tradition and wood carving skills, which also embraced more realistic creatures, such as cranes and deer.
J. Rawson (ed.), Mysteries of Ancient China: ne (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)
J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)