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Ancient Chinese Figurines
Most ancient figurines have come down as funerary objects. They have their origin in the institution of immolation or burying the living with the dead.
Immolation was practiced in the period of slavery. In 1950, excavations made of a Shang Dynasty (c.17th-11th century B.C.) aristocrat's tomb at Wuguan Village, Anyang, Henan Province, brought to light the remains of 79 slaves who had been buried alive with their dead master. Besides, in 27 pits arranged in rows in front and at the back of the tomb were discovered, buried en masse, the skeletons of 207 other slaves beheaded in immolation.
The cruel custom of burying the living with the dead, though replaced by the burying of tomb figureins, lingered on and was practiced in isolated cases under nearly every dynasty. In the Ming, according to contemporary notes, a human sacrifice was entertained to a sumptuous temple to meet his last day before being led down to an underground temple to meet his horrible end. At the funeral of an emperor, palace maids were reportedly pushed, one after another, onto bed-like racks, and their heads into nooses, and were hanged after the racks had been removed. When Emperor Changzu of the Ming died in 1424, sixteen persons were buried alive with him. In the eastern and western "wells" on either side of the Changling Mausoleum are the remains of his immolated concubines.
After the Qin and Han dynasties, tomb figurines began to be used instead of human beings. And vast numbers of them, dating from the Warring States Period down to the Ming have been unearthed. They are of various descriptions but most are made of pottery and porcelain, next come wood and lacquer, and occasionally jade. They represent people of different status and walks, court officials, generals, cavaliers, attendants, musicians, dancers and acrobats. As a rule, they are nicely modeled in different postures, constituting an valuable part of China's ancient art.
Jade figurines first appeared in China during the 8th to 3rd century B.C. A number of tiny jade figurines were unearthed in 1974 from a mausoleum of the ancient state of Zhongshan. Most of them appear to be females, though some are lads. They have their hair done up on buns on the head double buns for women and single one for the boys. They all stand, holding their hands before the chest. The females are clad in tight-sleeved dresses, buttoned down the middle, and chequered long skirts. The hairdo and costume must be true-to-life reproductions of those prevalent in Zhongshan at the time.
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