Performance from Western Han Dynasty 'captured' in pottery

The plate features colored pottery figurines in acrobatic stances, singers, dancers, and musicians from the Western Han Dynasty. [Photo/Jinan Daily]

More than 2,000 years ago, during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), a clay plate measuring 67.5 centimeters long and 47.5 centimeters wide recorded an impressive aerobatic and musical performance.

The plate features colored pottery figurines in acrobatic stances, singers, dancers, and musicians from the Western Han Dynasty, and is now part of the collection of the Jinan Museum.

Photos show four pottery figurines performing acrobatics. The first two acrobatic figurines are doing handstands, while the other two are performing challenging acrobatic movements – one is bending backwards and the other is doing a move called "diaohua", which means twisting one's body to pick up a flower with the mouth. [Photo/Jinan Daily]

Many of the moves of modern acrobatics can be found on this small clay plate.

According to historical records, acrobatics back in the Qin and Han dynasties (221 BC-220 AD) were extremely difficult and even as thrilling and entertaining as they are today.

To the left of the acrobatic figurines are two fairy-like dancers performing the long-sleeve dance, which was popular during the Han Dynasty. The pottery dancers swing their sleeves up while bending their waists back, which is a signature move in this dance. [Photo/Jinan Daily]

The figurine in the front, wearing a long vermilion robe, seems to be singing or chanting loudly. [Photo/Jinan Daily] 

Behind the pottery performers is a band consisting of two female musicians playing the sheng, an ancient wind instrument from the Han Dynasty, and five male musicians playing percussion instruments like the chime. [Photo/Jinan Daily] 

On both sides stand seven spectators with their hands folded. [Photo/Jinan Daily] 

The whole clay plate was like a photo of a public performance, showcasing the moment of singing and dancing in that era.

The mixed performance is Baixi (a hundred plays), which dates back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) and flourished in the Western Han and Eastern Han dynasties (206 BC-AD 220).

According to Cihai, a large-scale dictionary and encyclopedia of the Chinese language, Baixi refers to a diverse range of performances including ancient aerobatics, singing, dancing, martial arts, and beast training.

Initially, Baixi was considered a crude and unsophisticated folk art that lacked the refinement needed to be performed in the royal court. But thanks to Liu Bang, who rose from a grassroots leader to become the Han emperor, the performances were eventually showcased to the royal court and grew in popularity.

This group of pottery figurines is extremely rare in China because of its age, richness of content and completeness.



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