The Han Dynasty, a dynasty in ancient China, ruled from 206 B.C. to 220 A.D. during which the Silk Road, a bridge between the East and the West, was opened. Unprecedented achievements in politics, economy, culture and arts were made at that time. The political and ideological system established during the Han Dynasty has produced an important and profound impact on the continuation and development of Chinese civilization for more than 2,000 years.
The Han Dynasty stone carvings in Shandong Province, China, began and flourished in the Han Dynasty and existed for more than 400 years. It is a special art of stone carving, that is, pictures were mostly carved on tomb gate towers, ancestral halls, coffin chambers, stone coffins, and sarcophagi mainly for funeral rites and customs. The content of the stone carvings of the Han Dynasty in Shandong covers activities such as farming and handicrafts production, cooking, feasting and scenes of everyday life, and music and dances and other entertainment. At the same time, the superb level of artistic expression indicates a perfect integration of artistic decoration with architectures themselves. The lively pictures, smooth lines, changing layouts, and rich content present the people with a colorful world of art.
I Han Dynasty Tomb Gate Towers and Ancestral Halls in Shandong, China
(1) Huangshengqing Gate Tower in Pingyi County
Built in 86 AD, Huangshengqing Gate Tower (Gate tower is also referred to as Que in Chinese, meaning a freestanding, ceremonial gate tower in traditional Chinese architecture) is one of the earliest surviving Han Ques in China. It has five layers of images on its four sides, including Chinese characters, human portraits, horse-drawn carriages, strange birds and exotic animals, etc.
Figure 1 Huangshengqing Que (Gate Tower) in Pingyi County, Shandong Province
(2) Xiaotangshan Stone Ancestral Hall
Built in the period of Emperor Zhang of the Eastern Han Dynasty (76-88 AD), Xiaotangshan Stone Ancestral Hall is the most complete and earliest surviving ground building of its kind in China. The inner walls and beams of the stone ancestral hall were engraved with exquisite patterns representing the high artistic level of Han stone carvings at that time.
Figure 2 Façade of Xiaotangshan Stone Ancestral Hall
Figure 3 Side Face of Xiaotangshan Stone Ancestral Hall
Figure 4 Carvings on the inner wall of Xiaotangshan Stone Ancestral Hall: People riding camels and elephants
Figure 5 Carvings on the inner wall of Xiaotangshan Stone Ancestral Hall: riding in horse-drawn carriages
(3) Stone carvings of the Wu Family Tombs in the Han Dynasty
The Wu Family Tombs were built in the period of Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling (147-189) of the Eastern Han Dynasty. The remaining stone carvings of the tombs include a pair of lions, statues, two Ques, steles, inscription tablets and many pictorial carvings, which form a relatively complete and representative group of architectures with stone carvings preserved to this day since the Eastern Han Dynasty. The carvings are well-known for the exquisite techniques and rich content.
Figure 6 Stone carvings of the Wu Family tombs: stone gate tower
Figure 7 Stone carvings of the Wu Family tombs: stone gate tower
Figure 8 Part of the carvings on the stone gate tower in Wu Family’s tombs
Figure 9 Stone carvings of the Wu Family tombs: Stone Lion (front)
Figure 10 Stone carvings of the Wu Family tombs: Stone Lion (side)
图10 武氏墓群石刻——石狮 （侧面）
Figure 11 Stone carvings of the Wu Family tombs: picture on the east wall
The top part of the picture shows immortals, Parts 2, 3 & 4 portray historical stories, and the bottom part depicts scenes of ride in horse-drawn carriages and scenes of kitchen activities.
Figure 12 Stone carvings of the Wu Family tombs: picture on the west wall
The top part of the picture shows immortals, the second part portrays legendary Chinese emperors, the third and fourth parts depict historical stories, and the bottom part portrays scenes of riding in horse-drawn carriages.
II Han Dynasty Tombs with Stone Carvings in Shandong Province, China
(I) Han Dynasty Stone Tombs in Beizhai, Yinan County
Tombs here can be divided into three main chambers, namely, in the front, in the middle and at the back, with several side rooms on both sides of the main chambers. The overall layout is rigorous and reasonable, and the decorative structure is gorgeous and complex. It is just like a luxurious underground residence. The contents of the stone carvings are all-embracing and colorful, ranging from imaginary gods and ghosts and auspicious signs to real scenes such as riding in horse-drawn carriages, guests offering condolences, to sages in historical stories and grand scenes of music and dances. The carving techniques of the pictures are also diverse, reflecting the terrific skills of the craftsmen in the mature stage of the development of stone carvings in the Han Dynasty.
Figure 13 Stone carvings of Beizhai Stone Tomb, Yinan County: Tome Gate
Figure 14 Picture of cavalrymen of Hu ethnic group in lintels of Tomb Gate
Figure 15 Carvings of foot soldiers of Han nationality on the lintels of Tomb Gate
Figure 16 Stone carvings of Beizhai Stone Tomb, Yinan County: Portrait of East Prince
Figure 17 Stone carvings of Beizhai Stone Tomb, Yinan County: Portrait of Queen Mother of the West
Figure 18 Stone carvings of Beizhai Stone Tomb, Yinan County: an octagonal supporting pillar in the front chamber
Figure 19 Stone carvings of Beizhai Stone Tomb, Yinan County: an octagonal supporting pillar in the middle chamber
Figure 20 Stone carvings of Beizhai Stone Tomb, Yinan County: picture of expressing condolences
Figure 21 Stone carvings of Beizhai Stone Tomb, Yinan County: picture of singing & dancing
Figure 22 Stone carvings of Beizhai Stone Tomb, Yinan County: Barn & Kitchen
Figure 23 Stone carvings of Beizhai Stone Tomb, Yinan County: riding in horse-drawn carriages
(2) Wubaizhuang Han Dynasty Tomb in Linyi County
Wubaizhuang Tomb is located in Linyi City, Shandong Province, China. Stone carvings here represent the highest level of artistic skills at the peak of the art form in the Han Dynasty. The tomb is also the largest and most complex one with the highest standard among all Han Dynasty tomes in Shandong Province, China. 44 pieces of stones with 59 images have been unearthed, which are distributed at the entrance, in the front chamber and the middle chamber, on the pillars, columns and lintels of the tomb. The contents of the carvings mainly reflect the scenes of real life, gods and immortals, exotic animals, and historical stories, covering all aspects of Han society. Its uniqueness is that it has the characteristics of Western carving art, and is a proof of the exchanges between China and Western civilization in ancient times.
Figure 24 Stone carvings of Wubaizhuang Tomb, Linyi County: tomb gate top
Figure 25 Stone carvings of Wubaizhuang Tomb, Linyi County: stand column
Figure 26 Stone carvings of Wubaizhuang Tomb, Linyi County: stand column
Figure 27 Stone carvings of Wubaizhuang Tomb, Linyi County: hexagonal stand column
Figure 28 Stone carvings of Wubaizhuang Tomb, Linyi County: stand column
Figure 29 Stone carvings of Wubaizhuang Tomb, Linyi County: stand column
Figure 30 Stone carvings of Wubaizhuang Tomb, Linyi County: stand column
III Stone Carvings with Various Themes in Shandong, China
The Han dynasty stone carvings unearthed in Shandong, China cover a wide range of themes, including real life scenes of the Han dynasty such as farming and handicraft production, their clothes, food, houses, transportation, entertainment, historical stories, gods and ghosts, etc. The carvings provide an important source of images and information for us to study the laws and regulations, social conditions, and folk life, etc. of the Han Dynasty.
(I) Farming and handicraft making
As a traditional agricultural country, China achieved unprecedented achievements in agricultural production and handicraft making during the powerful Han Empire which lasted for more than 400 years. Cattle were used in farming in the Han dynasty, and farming-related scenes include farmers weeding and hoeing, sowing seeds, and picking up horse manure, etc., which are all manifestations of intensive farming then. Iron smelting, weaving, and salt production were three major handicraft industries that were particularly developed in Shandong Province in the Han Dynasty, and images of iron smelting and weaving are more common in stone carvings.
Figure 31 Stone carvings on the inner part of the side of stone coffin unearthed in Xiangchenggudui, Jinxiang County
Figure 32 Stone carving in Zoucheng City Flourmill: farming activities
Figure 33 Stone carving in Longyangdian, Tengzhou City: Collecting horse manure
Figure 34 Stone carvings of iron smelting and farming in Huanganling, Tengzhou City
Figure 35 Stone carving in Longyangdian, Tengzhou City: weaving
(2) Courtyard life
In the Han Dynasty, there were many wealthy and powerful clans in Shandong, China, and the powerful landlords had economically developed manors and lived in great luxury. Hundreds of mansions, pools, corridors, pagodas and pavilions were built. Served by a large number of servants, the masters always sat in the center of the majestic hall, receiving a constant stream of guests, who were entertained with singing, dancing and lavish banquets. When going out, they rode in large horse-drawn carriages with a large entourage. All these demonstrated their noble social status, impressive and dignified manner and ostentation and extravagance, which were vividly reflected through the images of courtyard architecture, foods, music and dances, and carriage riding in the stone carvings of the Han Dynasty.
Figure 36 Stone carving in Jiuxian Village, Qufu City: Picture of a couryard
Figure 37 Stone carving in Panjiatuan, Fei County: Picture of a pavilion
Figure 38 Stone carving in Liangcheng Township, Weishan County: Picture of a waterside pavilion
Figure 39 Stone carving in Wulipu, Linyi City: kitchen activities
Figure 40 Stone carving on the lintel of tomb gate, Wubaizhuang, Linyi City: kitchen activities
Figure 41 Stone carving in Quanfuzhuang Han Dynasty Tomb, Licheng District, Jinan City: singing & dancing
(3) Wars between the Han Nationality and Hu Ethnic Group (Hu-Han War)
Since Zhang Qian was sent to visit neighboring Western Regions as a special envoy in the Han Dynasty, the Silk Road was opened and China's foreign exchanges gradually became more frequent. During this period, there were both peaceful exchanges and war conflicts. The two sides of the war were mainly the Han empire and the northern minority Xiongnu ethnic group, which fought the so-called war between the Han and the Hu. There are many classic Hu-Han War pictures on the stone carvings of the Han Dynasty in Shandong, showcasing scenes of fierce fighting between the two sides, and scenes of celebrating victories after the war.
Figure 42 Stone Carving in Songshan, Jiaxiang County: Hu-Han War
Figure 43 Stone Carving in Wulaowa, Jiaxiang County: Hu-Han War
Figure 44 Stone Carving in No. 1 Tomb, Gaoli Village, Zoucheng City: Hu-Han War
(4) Historical stories
The themes of the historical stories in the Han Dynasty stone carvings in Shandong Province mainly include the ancient Chinese emperors and loyal officials, disciples of Confucius, filial sons and daughters, brave assassins and righteous men, etc. Most of the contents promote the Confucian doctrine of loyalty, filial piety, justice, morality and the ethics of the three cardinal principles and five rules that governed ancient China.
Figure 45 Stone carving in Songshan, Jiaxiang County: Picture of historical stories
Figure 46 Stone carving in Songshan, Jiaxiang County: Picture of historical stories
Figure 47 Stone carving in Beizhai Tomb, Yinan City: Historical story of Cangjie creating Chinese characters
(5) God, ghosts and auspicious signs
In order to meet the needs of the ruling emperors, the Han Dynasty only promoted Confucianism while banning all the other schools of thought. On this basis, some scholars further advocated other doctrines such as Interaction between Heaven and Earth, Yin, Yang and the Five Elements and Divination, thus mystifying the Confucianism. Shandong Province was always a region with active alchemists and rampant superstitious ideas since the Qin Dynasty. Therefore, the auspicious images of gods and other signs are common in the stone carvings of the Han Dynasty in Shandong, including images of blue dragons, white tigers, rosefinch, black tortoises, and fierce gods and monsters, which are intended to eliminate disasters and prevent misfortunes. By carving images of Queen Mother of the West, the Eastern Prince, Fuxi, and Nuwa, feathered people and gods, people hoped to become immortals at that time.
Figure 48 Stone carving in Beizhai Tomb, Yinan County: Fuxi, Nuwa & East Prince
Figure 49 Stone carving in Beizhai Tomb, Yinan County: Gods, monsters, Queen Mother of the West
Figure 50 Stone carving in Beizhai Tomb, Yinan County:Juezhang & feathered people