Archive for the 'China' Category

Object: Bronze Foo Dog


Foo Dog/Lion Statue
Unknown Date
Materials: Bronze

This is a bronze Foo Dog statue from Asia. It is 18” in height, 30.5” in width, and 10.5” in diameter. It has a detachable tail. Its mouth is open and there is a globe located under its right paw.

 Lion-Dog or Foo Dog statues can be found throughout Asia and Southeast Asia and are made of everything from porcelain to bronze. Historically, lions have represented wisdom, royalty, pride, and protection in many cultures around the world. These Lion-dog or Foo Dog statues are highly symbolic in Buddhism. Lions are viewed as iconographic figures in Buddhism because they protect “cosmic law and order,” serving as guardians for monasteries and shrines. One ancient story involves Buddha taming a wild lion. This tame lion would follow at Buddha’s heels like a “faithful dog.” Additionally, Buddha’s teachings are often referred to as the “Lion’s Roar” because of their power and strength.

Foo Dogs also feature prominently in ancient Chinese culture. During the Han Dynasty (206 BCE- 220CE) people began placing two lion statues in front of an image of Buddha. However, it was not until the beginning of the Heian period (794-1185 CE) that Lion-dog statues began to appear outside of temples and shrines. These statues were meant to honor the Buddha and protect the inhabitants of the site.

Since the Han Dynasty, Lion-dog statues are usually found in pairs: one female and one male. This bronze Foo Dog is also part of a pair. It is considered a male because of the globe located under its paw, which signifies protection of its territory and home. An open mouth on a male Foo Dog usually indicates an ending. On the other hand, for Female Foo Dogs, an open mouth symbolizes beginnings. Female Foo Dogs also have a cub under their left paw symbolizing strength and protective maternal instincts.

Foo Dog statues can still be found throughout Asia and Southeast Asia today, many still guarding homes, temples, and palaces. They appear in various shapes, sizes, and colors, and continue to symbolize protection. It is not uncommon to find Foo Dogs or other guardian statues outside of homes all around the world.

[Bryanna Evans]


Object: Porcelain Dish

Dynastic China
Qing Dynasty, ca. 1796-1820
Materials: Porcelain, assorted colored glazes

Porcelain is made from a special type of clay called Kaolin, giving porcelain its distinctive white color.  The Kaolin is processed, shaped by the potter, given a primary glaze and then fired to over 1200°C to make the undecorated object. The porcelain is then ready for the application of colorful enamels, which make up the surface decoration.  With a second firing, the enamels bind to the glaze forming a smooth, bright surface.

The porcelain ceramic style was first developed in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) and became popular with the Chinese Emperors. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279) mass production of porcelain began with many of these beautiful objects being exported.  Porcelain became popular with the wealthy in Europe during the Medieval Period but the techniques remained a trade secret until German alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger successfully recreated them in 1708. Böttger’s work is an early example of industrial espionage as Böttger used reverse engineering techniques that remain popular in a wide range of modern industries.

This Qing Ceramic Dish are decorated with many colorful fruits and butterflies which demonstrate the influences of the European style through enamels and symbols. With such high demand and variation in the works, forgeries are common. Many of the porcelain pieces for sale today are imitations of the classic porcelain style. This great demand has also revitalized traditional porcelain techniques ushering in a golden age for hand-crafted Chinese porcelain.The following video demonstrates how porcelain bowls are made using an electric potter’s wheel instead of traditional foot powered wheel.

Work Cited

Asia Society the Collection in Context. “Dish.” 2007.

Gates, William C. “Asian Art Galleries: A History of Porcelain.”

Koh, NK. “Relationship between Falangcai, Yangcai, Fencai, and Famille rose.” November,

McGregor, John. “Porcelain: A Short History from 1708 to World War I.” 2005.

Nilsson, Jan-Erik. “Marks on Later Chinese Porcelain.” 2000. china-marks.htm

“Ten Rules on ‘How to Deal with Fakes.” 2000.

Seattle Art Museum. “Glossary.” In Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe.

[Travis Bates}

Object: Bronze Head

Bronze Head
Dynastic China
Location: Asia, China
Unknown Date
Materials: Bronze

We can learn a great deal by looking at the details of objects to uncover the mystery of what they mean. This Chinese statue is an excellent example. It is a large 32-inch tall hollow cast bronze head of a woman. By looking closely at the head, we can see she has an elaborate hairstyle with an ornate headpiece. The headpiece has a miniature figure of Buddha in front, over her forehead. Her eyes are closed, as if asleep, and she has a slight smile on her lips. There is no evidence that there was ever a body attached to this head. So what are we to make of this unusual object?


First, we look at how it was made. The process of bronze casting is very old, beginning in China around 1600 BC, in what was known as the Shang Dynasty. Bronze is an alloy, or combination, of copper and tin and forms a very durable metal. While we do not know how old this statue is, it certainly developed out of this long-standing bronze working tradition.

With her serene facial expression, this head may represent the figure of Kuan Yin (Kwan Yin) or “She Who Hears the Cries of the World,” goddess of mercy, compassion, kindness, and love in the Buddhist faith. This Chinese Buddhist goddess is said to be based on a real woman. According to one legend, Kuan Yin’s father murdered her and she went down to the underworld. When she got there, she recited words from the Buddhist holy books, preventing the god of the underworld from torturing the souls of the dead. He was not pleased, so he sent Kuan Yin back to be alive once more. After returning to the world of the living, she spent all her time studying Buddhist ideas and teachings, learning from the Buddha. As a result of her dedication and her compassionate nature, the Buddha made her immortal, and she became the goddess of mercy and compassion.

In paintings, Kuan Yin is often depicted as wearing white robes and sitting on a lotus flower, which also symbolizes peace. Sometimes she is even shown with a thousand heads and a thousand arms, so that she can more effectively bestow her mercy on the world. Stories about Kuan Yin seem to have begun with stories about a male Indian boddhisatva (holy person) called Avlokitesvara. By the 1st Century AD in China, Kuan Yin not only changed names, she also changed genders! She is known my many different name all across East Asia, and a wide range of different stories are told about her.

If you want to see this bronze statue for yourself, come by the Sam Noble Museum! It is currently on exhibit in our Orientation Gallery, the first gallery to the right after you enter the main part of the museum!

Take a look at this great video by the San Diego Museum of Art on the history of Buddhism:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Tomb figure

Horse tomb figure
Henan Province, China
T’ang Dynasty (618-906 CE)
Materials: ceramic, slip

The ancient Chinese believed the human soul had two parts. When a person died they believed that these two parts separated, with one entering into the spirit world (also known as the hun), and the other (called the po) staying here on earth inside his or her tomb. In the T’ang Dynasty the upper-classes were buried with hundreds of clay objects called mingqi. Mingqi were representations of all the things that were important to individual and could include figures of people and animals, pots and bowls, and other everyday objects. These figures would ensure that the part of the soul that remained inside the tomb would have an enjoyable afterlife. Many aspects of the tomb were regulated by the government. The size of the tomb and the number of mingqi allowed depended on the rank and status of the deceased. Higher ranking officials were able to stock their tombs with large collections of tomb figures. Popular figures included representations of servants, entertainers, horses and camels. In particular, the horse was a symbol of the aristocracy and horse tomb figures, like the one in the Sam Noble Museum collection, were placed in nearly all high-ranking tombs. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Decorative box

Decorative box
Chinese (?)
ca. 1910
Materials: metal, enamel

This small decorative box is a lovely example of cloisonné decoration. Cloisonné is a technique for decorating metal objects that dates back to at least the 13th century BCE on the island of Cyprus. This technique uses fine metal wire, bent or hammered to form complex designs on the surface of a metal container or object. The spaces enclosed by the wire are filled with a colored glass paste, or enamel. Once all the design is filled with enamel the object is heated to “melt” the paste into a solid glass-like substance. As it is heated the glass paste often shrinks and the process must be repeated several times to fill in the designs. Once all the openings, or cloisons, are completely filled with enamel the surface of the vessel is polished to ensure the metal partitions are visible. Sometimes the exposed metal work is then gilded. The cloisonné technique has been used by many cultures, and historic examples have been found in Greece, Britain, the Byzantine Empire, as well as China and Japan.

The following video shows a modern artist making a piece of cloisonné jewelry. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Opium Pipe

Opium pipe
Dynastic China
Asia: China
prior to 1950
Materials: Wood, ivory, brass, and ceramic

Pipes of this type were used in Dynastic China to smoke the drug opium. Opium has been ingested as a medicine and painkiller for thousands of years. Sometime in the middle of the 17th century people also began to smoke the drug for recreational purposes. It soon became a major trade good for a number of colonial powers operating out of Asia, like the East India Company. Opium is made from the seed pod of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), and contains varying amounts of alkaloids such as morphine, codeine, thebaine and papaverine that are still used in various pharmaceuticals and street drugs today. Opium is a highly addictive narcotic and its use as a painkiller must be strictly controlled. The addictive effects of opium were well known as early as the 1830s when it was said that nearly 9 of 10 Chinese men were thought to be opium addicts. This widespread addiction led Chinese officials of the Qing Dynasty to attempt to eliminate the substance from their country and further restrict trade with Britain, leading to the Opium Wars. Pipes of this type were designed with special pipe-bowls that were meant to vaporize the drug, rather than burn it like other types of pipe. Opium pipe-bowls were usually made of ceramic and depicted traditional Chinese symbols of longevity, wealth, and happiness.

The following video gives additional information on the opium poppy plant. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Shoe

Lotus shoe
ca. 1924
Materials: Cloth and leather

So called “lotus” shoes, or slippers, were developed in China as footwear for girls and women who had had their feet artificially shortened through the process of foot-binding. These shoes are generally cone shaped, sometimes with a wedge style heel, and were meant to resemble a lotus bud. Foot-binding, the process of breaking and tightly wrapping the feet of young girls, ensured that a girl would have

The drawing above illustrates how the bone structure was rearranged when a girl’s foot was bound. The toes extend below the heel, the bones in the arch of the foot are bent, and the toes are broken.

extremely small feet as an adult and also prevented her from doing most manual labor jobs. Thus small feet were were a sign of wealth and a status symbol in China for thousands of years. At the height of its popularity, women without bound feet were considered nearly un-marriageable. So much so that even Western missionaries running orphanages in China during the 19th century were forced to permit the practice. The entire process took many years to complete, in the end, foot binders sought to produce an adult foot measuring roughly 7-10 centimeters (or 3-4 inches) in length. In contrast, the average shoe size for an American woman in 2009 was a size 9, meaning that her foot was 25 centimeters (or 9.8 inches) in length. This shoe, while similar in shape to true lotus shoes, is roughly 6 inches in length and may have been meant for a child with unbound feet or produced solely as a tourist item. The practice of foot-binding was officially banned in 1911, but continued to be found in remote areas of China up until the late 1940s.

Below you will find a video showing an elderly Chinese woman who had her feet bound as a child as well as additional images of lotus shoes.

Other examples of lotus shoes can be found at the University of Missouri’s Museum of Anthropology, the Bata Shoe Museum, the Temple Shoe Museum, the Children’s Museum Indianapolis, and others.  [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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