Only Chinese version is available
Bear in green glaze
Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE)
Height: 8 cm
During the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), images of bears often appeared in the everyday life of people on the Central plains or of nomads like the Huns. Bears were found in the forests in northern China bordering Russia nowadays. The Chinese character for bear, Xiong, dates back to many millennia ago: it was a tribal totem; the legendary Yellow Emperor has another name Youxiong, which means “Possessor of bears”; and the King of the State of Chu in the south, who was a descendant of the Yellow Emperor, had Xiong as his family name. The ancients believed that bears had the natural power of rebirth. During the Zhou dynasty (ca. 11th century – 256 BCE), bear skins were used in funerals and sacrifices for warding off demons. Objects decorated with bears were discovered in areas as remote as Guangdong. One example is a relic in the Mausoleum of the King of Nanyue in Guangzhou. Furthermore, the bear is a symbol of auspiciousness. The idiom “seeing a bear in a dream” is a sign of pregnancy with the coming of a male offspring. Another idiom, “a flying bear in a dream”, is a propitious sign for a ruler suggesting that an able and virtuous person would appear to serve him well in state affairs. During the Warring States period (475 – 221 BCE), bears were kept as pets by the imperial household. But by the Han period, they became hunters’ prey for food.
Bear-shaped weights to keep mats in shape were commonly used during the Han dynasty. It was a time when everybody sat or slept on mats, emperors or commoners notwithstanding. Weights were used to prevent the mat corners from rolling. These weights were mostly made of bronze, sometimes of other materials like iron, stone, jade, copper, amber, etc. They were often in the shape of animals, in which the bear was being one of the most popular.
Images of bears were also featured on vessels in pre-Qin times, such as on the legs of the food containers, burners and tripods. Other than being a symbol of bravery and fierce energy, the bear is also considered to be able to connect the three realms of heaven, earth and mankind with its height and size. Bear-shaped mat weights therefore also implied the power to ward off evil.
This green glazed bear is a typical burial object of the Han period. The overall design and shape give it a simple, rustic charm that makes it stand out among the other burial objects shaped as domestic livestock for the deceased.
—Collection of Hong Kong Heritage Museum, donated by The Tsui Art Foundation