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Tile End with Double Oxen under a Tree  太和树下双牛纹半瓦当

Tile End with Double Oxen under a Tree
Pottery Designs from the State of Qi in the Warring States Period 战国齐

The State of Qi (1046 - 221 BC) was located roughly in the area called Shandong today. It is on the east coast and juts out into the Pacific such that the isthmus is bordered by the Gulf of Jili on the north and the Yellow Sea on the south. On land it is south of the State of Yan, east of the States of Zhao and Wei, and north of the State of Chu. The Yellow River forms its southern border with the State of Chu.

Each of these states was largely an independent kingdom during the Warring States Period (475 - 221 BC). Theoretically there was an overarching governance by the Zhou dynasty, but it had devolved into meaninglessness.


Just in case that is a bit meaninless, here is a brief history of China up to that point. Historians break Chinese history into dynasties depending on what family was in power during the period. The first dynasty is called the Xia (see-ahh) dynasty, the second is called the Shang dynasty, and the third is called the Zhou dynasty. With each of the three early dynasties the land mass controlled increased. Basically the controlling power sent out armies and explorers and created vassal states and sent cousins and nephews and younger sons to rule them.

The Zhou dynasty started in either 1121 or 1027 BC depending on the history book you access. When you go back that far, it doesn't really make a lot of difference. The Zhou people came out of the west and pretty much pummeled the Shang dynasty in the east and took over. They centralized everything that they could think of and put their relatives in power. They, as well as most of their neighbors, had a religious political system that was formalized during the Zhou dynasty with traditions of rites, rituals, and priviledge.

The pecking order of power was symbolized in everything, but most importantly in the relationships with the heavens. The emperor was king on earth and would be in heaven. The emperor got his power from heaven. The heavens were inhabited by all sorts of good and evil things and the evil things could get you at any moment if you weren't careful. Sacrifice and worship helped to keep everything on the up and up and keep the evil away from your door. The setup was largely similar to that of other bronze age civilizations.

Histories break the Zhou dynasty into two parts: The Western Zhou (1121 or 1027 to 771 BC) and the Eastern Zhou (770 - 256 BC). The reason they did this is because the dynasty pretty much fell apart around 800 BC to pick a nice round number and the ruling family ruled in name only. Around 771 BC they moved the capital to the east to escape the barbarians who were challenging their power in the west and settled down to a few hundred years of waning power and general dissipation.

The histories break this Eastern Zhou dynastic period into two periods: The Spring and Autumn period and then beginning in 475 BC, the Warring States period. The Spring and Autumn period was full of wars and battles as was the Warring States period but the boundaries were more fluid. The Spring and Autumn period was named for a book written back then, not because it was a time of peace. During both the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods the Zhou family continued to be religious symbols but held little political or military power.

The power had switched to local rulers who controlled land masses that could be more easily defended. During this time what was the Zhou dynasty was only central and northeastern China of today. Each of those local rulers got their original power by being appointed by the Zhou emperor to go out and be a vassal ruler. Thus it was important to them to maintain the fiction of the Zhou right of kings to maintain their own right of rule. Each of the states assumed that they were the natural inheritors of the right and started to perform the pecking order rights of their betters. It would be like the governor of Kansas started playing Hail to the Chief whenever he entered a room.

Since there were a bunch of kings and dukes acting like emperors there was a lot of finger pointing, arguing, and battles. Each of them raised an army to defend their territory and hunkered down to a couple hundred years of on again off again wars. Each of the states was named either for an indiginous people who had been brought into the Zhou dynasty or for one of the original families. For instance, the Yan State was named for the Yan people who had developed pretty independently until brought under the more warlike Zhou.

Each of the areas had local customs, religious beliefs, and their own languages. Even within the individual kingdoms or states there were variations. What had happened with the expansion of the Shang and Zhou dynasties was that the central religious superstitions became over-arching and absorbed the local superstitions and spread them. If a local group had a mythical beast of protection called the BA BA and their neighbors had one called the Chu Chu, centralization declared them to be the same thing and gave them the characters (written symbols) 饕餮 which in modern Mandarin is pronounced Tao Tie. Gradually over a few hundred years the manner of drawing the BA BA or Chu Chu became more similar as trade and travel spread ideas. The local name was maintained within the local language, but the written form in both areas was 饕餮.

Now you should understand that although the tile end shown above dates to the same era, it comes from a different political division which was pretty well arbitrary in the first place. What is more interesting is trying to figure out how much of the culture reflected the larger Zhou culture and how much was based on local beliefs and customs. The group of tiles collected here could lead one to suppose that there were differences between the Yan and Qi peoples based on their roof tiles, but be careful because this museum may simply have had good luck at acquiring tiles from a certain village or building site and that at another site the tiles would have looked just like those found in Yan.

That said, the collection of roof tiles from the State of Qi are largely zoomorphic - they are animals of one type or another; tigers, oxen, monkeys, dogs, birds, and others. The tile shown above is of oxen under a tree. The use of a tree as a centering design element was common.

This tile end dates to the Warring States period and was found in the area of the Qi State, what is now modern Shandong province.

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