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Pottery from the State of Yan in the Warring States Period 战国燕

Tile End with Dancing Yin Yang Design
Pottery Designs from the State of Yan in the Warring States Period 战国燕

On this tile, men and women dance together, symbolizing fertility, joy, and balance, the epitome of Yin and Yang or the duality of opposites. This tile end dates to the Warring States period and was found in the area of the Yan State, in what is now modern Beijing and Hebei province.

The Yan were an ancient culture that developed from various Neolithic cultures that occupied the area around the Yellow River and areas to the north. The Yellow River used to have a more northerly course, ending at what is now Tianjin in Hebei Province. The Yan were expanding and elaborating their culture at the same time that other Neolithic cultures were entering the bronze age. Some of the earliest finds of bronze and copper implements have been found in ancient Yellow River settlements. During what were the Xia (~2000 BC to ~1500 BC) and Shang (~1700 BC to 1045 BC) dynasties in the east central portion of China, the Yan were establishing their own hierarchical governance.

In the last part of the Shang dynasty, the Zhou tribes who occupied the area around today's Xi'an developed acquistive tendencies and attacked and conquered the Shang, thus establishing the Zhou dynasty (~1045 BC to 221 BC). After they absorbed the Shang the Zhou continued their expansion to the north and attacked the Yan. It was a fairly east task. They were not prepared for a well trained invasion army. Up to that point the Yan had not built city walls. They didn't need them. After the Zhou had established their rule, the walls went up and architecture followed the designs of the central Zhou culture. Yan became one segment of the larger territory and found that it was necessary to defend itself.

During the second half of the Zhou dynasty, in what is called the later or Eastern Zhou (770 BC - 256 BC), the central authority of the Zhou dissipated and the kings and dukes of the various territories established independent States or countries. From about 770 BC to about 475 BC give or take a decade, the various Dukes of the territories fought skirmishes with one another and gradually established their independence from the central authority of the Zhou. This was called the Spring and Autumn Period. By around 475 BC there were seven independent states, namely; QI, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao, Wei and Qin. They also started started doing serious battle with one another for territory and for the right to take over from the Zhou. That second part of this period is called the Warring States period (475 BC to 221 BC).

The earliest roof tiles in the collection date to the Warring States period, and include samples from three different States; the Yan, Qi, and Qin States. There are no tiles from the other States. In addition, there is a large selection of later tiles from the Han dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD).

China Index >> Historical Beijing in Pictures >> Neolithic and Early Dynasty Pottery and Roof Tiles

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Last update: September 2013
© Marilyn Shea, 2013