Wu Family Shrine: Wu Liang Ci (Rubbing of stone relief.
HAN DYNASTY Anonymous
2nd c Chinese Han Sculpture
(active 206 BCE - 220 CE)
Jianxiang. Shandong. China.
The powerful Han dynasty, which lasted for over 400 years (206 BCE to 240 AD) established the prototype for all later Chinese dynasties and for much of Chinese culture. The Chinese word denoting someone who is Chinese means "a man of Han."
The sophistication of the Han upper class can be seen in this rubbing from the Wu family shrine. The scene has been interpreted as depicting homage to an emperor of the Han dynasty, who is shown seated and of larger size than those bowing to him. Women are depicted in the upper floor of the two story building, and additional notables are shown in two wheeled carts accompanied by their retainers in the bottom register.
All the figures on this rubbing of an ancient relief are shown in silhouette, with rounded contours which create a lively rhythm across the surface of the composition. The surface is flat and space is implied, not depicted three-dimensionally, although the wheels of two of the carts do overlap. Figure size does not imply distance but rather importance. The figures in the central register are larger than those of the women above or the approaching cavalcade below, with the emperor shown largest of all. The horses, with their tiny prancing legs are particularly elegant and infused with the breath of life. This work incorporates stylistic characteristics which are typical of Han relief sculpture.
The theme of respect for the emperor is a Confucian theme; the Confucian emphasis on social order and respect for authority clearly made Confucianism attractive to the Han emperors. Confucian scholars returned to court to serve the emperor in various official capacities, as they continued to serve subsequent rulers.
During the Han period the Daoist philosophy, which had deeply influenced the thought of earlier periods, was revived as a religion which offered healing for the body and immortality of the soul. In its search for immortality, it became more and more intertwined with magic and complex mythological symbols. Mythological themes represented by the various creatures on the roof probably derive from Daoist sources. A mixture of Confucian and Daoist motifs is found in much Han art, creating a confluence of mysticism and rationality that is typical of much Chinese art.