Civil Official

North China; Tang period, 8th century

Civil Official
North China
Tang period, 8th century
Earthen ware with multicolored lead glazes and traces of pigment (sancai ware)
H. 40 ¾ in. (103.5 cm)

Background

Ceramics
Ceramics have been produced in China for more than eight thousand years. The range of objects has been enormous: architectural, burial, utilitarian, luxury, trade, and ceremonial. The amount of Chinese ceramic objects preserved today is only a small portion of the huge numbers produced.

Tombs
Archeological discoveries reveal that in early Chinese history, sacrificial victims were buried with the bodies of royalty and the nobility. By the 5th century B.C.E., these practices began to change and tomb figurines were substituted. These tomb furnishings, which included models of attendants, entertainers, and pets as well as reproductions of the daily world of home and farm, attest to the belief in an afterlife in which the activities of the world continued.

The Chinese Bureaucracy
It was during the Eastern Zhou period (770-256 B.C.E.), a time of political fragmentation, that rulers, trying to expand their control over the people and land, tried new techniques of governing. Rather than give authority to hereditary lesser lords, they sent out their own officials (men who would advance themselves through their own talents) and thus created the beginnings of centralized bureaucratic control.

This trend was consolidated during the Qin dynasty (211-206 B.C.E), which created a unified China and continued during the succeeding Han dynasty (202 B.C.E.-220 C.E.). In order to curb the power of the aristocracy, Han emperors governed through officials appointed by the court for their merit, not their birth, who were subject to dismissal or discipline.

After a period of disunity, North and South China were reunited under the Sui Dynasty (581-617 C. E.), but it was during the succeeding Tang dynasty (618-907 C.E.) that China became an expansive, cosmopolitan empire. The capital city, Chang'an, became the world's largest city, attracting traders and pilgrims from all over Asia. Foreign influences enriched Chinese art and culture. As a means of strengthening imperial power, Tang rulers appointed officials who were imbued with the Confucian values of loyalty to the ruler and duty to the people. Written examinations had been introduced during the Sui dynasty to identify true Confucians and test literary abilities and knowledge of the Confucian Classics. The Tang expanded this examination system, set up state schools, and issued authorized versions of the Classics.

Confucius
Confucius (Kongzi, "Master Kong" ca. 551-479 B.C.E.) lived in China during the latter half of the Zhou dynasty (eleventh century-256 B.C.E) As a philosopher and teacher, Confucius influences far more people today through classic writings, such as the Analects, than he did during his lifetime. He created a philosophy that later became a major influence in the organization of Imperial Age China and was adopted and modified in other countries such as Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

Confucius emphasized principles for self-guidance. The key to producing a harmonious life, he wrote, is in how we treat others-our ancestors, leaders, parents, spouses, neighbors, and friends. The foundation for harmonious relationships is found in the principles of benevolence (ren); ritual/ceremony, often rendered as propriety/politeness (li);reciprocity, "Do unto others…" (shu); and filial piety, showing respect for one's elders (xiao).

Two other concepts that were predominant in Confucius's worldview were Heaven (Tian) and Way (Dao). His heaven represented a celestial power connected with the will of mighty ancestors such as the widely known Yao, Shun, and Yu. The Way, on the other hand, constituted a natural path for humanity. Whereas Heaven emphasized the choice, the Way required a yielding heart-mind (xin); both were crucial for achieving harmony in the earthly realm.

How to look at this work

This standing figure wears a high hat. His face is composed, his lips closed. From the neck up, he is grayish in color. He wears a two-piece costume. The top is predominately orange with a green and cream patterned rectangular patch across the front. The stand-up collar is also cream and green as are the very long sleeves into which his hands are tucked. The bottom skirtlike garment flares out at the bottom. It is cream with green trim. Green shoes with curled up toes peek out from his skirt.

The man stands on a pedestal base that is shaped to conform to the shape of his skirt.

The shape of his hat and his rectangular badge identify him as a civil official.

Function

This figure was made to be placed in a tomb. He would have been one of a much larger group of figures as well as a variety of articles of daily life, interred with the deceased person to provide for his or her daily needs after death. The large size of this statue, as well as the use of a shaped pedestal, suggest that it may have been in the tomb of a member of the court or perhaps even of the imperial family. Given the rigid regulation of tomb sizes and burial goods during the Tang dynasty, it is unlikely that a the court. The folded hands indicate that his position was subservient to that of the decreased: only someone of status would have had any authority over a civil official. Tomb furnishings were perhaps placed as an act of homage to the ancestry. They also attest to the wealth, status, and interests of the deceased.

How this object was made

Tomb figures were generally made of earthenware (a type of clay) and shaped in molds. Often the body was only roughly molded, and body and head were made in separate molds. Arms, hands, and held objects were often worked by hand after the main structure had been taken from the mold. This figure was coated with a three-color lead glaze known as sancai (pronunciation "san-tsigh"), and then fired in a kiln. Earthenware is fired at temperatures between 800 and 1100 C. Additional color may be painted on after firing.

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