What is this object?
This is a ceramic model of a granary barn or storehouse, made as a burial object (mingqi) during the Eastern Han dynasty (25‒220 CE). This particular house is tall and rectangular. One worker carries a sack of grain up the stairs while another awaits his approach. Two bears are positioned on the ground floor as guardian figures.
How does this object reflect society at that time?
Burial objects such as this are plentiful from this period. The Asian Art Museum collections from this time include other farm scenes, well-heads, animals, cookware, stoves, houses, jars, incense burners and a rare set of gate pillars. There are entertainers and a figure of an exorcist. A flour mill in the collection attests to the introduction of the millstone, and other agricultural innovations during the Han that produced a booming economy. The major grains at this time would have been millet and rice, wheat and barley, depending on the region. In addition to grains, and whatever meats could be eaten, the staple dish was geng, a thick soup or meat broth. Meals were served on low platters (as people were not yet sitting in chairs). Tablewares of wealthier families would have been lacquered. Model buildings like this provide excellent information on early Chinese architecture. Some can be disassembled to view component parts. Watchtower models and house models allow us to see construction techniques and room arrangements. This model, along with others, allows us to glimpse at aspects of grain harvest and storage.
What was the purpose of these models?
Models of real-life objects were placed in tombs to provide for the deceased’s soul, which needed real-life provisions in the afterlife, for sustenance and reassurance. This was not the life-sized world of the scale created by the First Emperor, but a facsimile version produced for a growing population wanting to enjoy the burial privileges of the aristocratic elite.