Lacquered Suitcase with Patterns of 28 Xiu

Hubei Provincial Museum

Hubei Provincial Museum
Wuhan, China

The character “Xiu” means to rest at night. It is also an astronomy word in traditional Chinese. Ancient Chinese people divided the sky into 28 Xiu based on the fact that the “handle” of the Big Dipper rotates over time. Each Xiu includes a number of stars and the relative orientation of the Xiu and the Big Dipper changes as seasons change. When the “handle” of the Big Dipper points in east, it is Spring time; in south, summer; in west, autumn and in north, winter.

On this suitcase there are four handles and on the arc-shaped lid of the case is an inscription “Zhi Hu”, suggesting the case is designed for nightclothes. On the lid there also writes “Jia Yin San Ri”, meaning an astronomical phenomenon which was recorded in China’s earliest almanac Xia Xiao Zheng. “Jia Yin San Ri”, according to the almanac, on the evening of the third day of the fist (or, thrid) lunar month, Can Xiu(Orion, Lepus, Columba, Eridanus) moved to the center of the sky while the “handle” of the Big Dipper points at south. This phenomenon could only be observed along the Yellow River. This writing indicates that ancient Chinese already observed all 28 Xiu and had basic understanding of astronomy.

The suitcase has a black lacquer base, upon which painted red stars, cloud, cross and sun-shaped patterns. On two sides of the case painted two of the Four Mythical Creatures: the Black Dragon that symbolizes the East and the White Tiger that symbolizes the West. These creatures were also believed to appear as astrological images in the sky. This case is, so far, the earliest evidence that matches the record of 28 Xiu and the Four Mythical Creatures.


  • Title: Lacquered Suitcase with Patterns of 28 Xiu
  • Location: Unearthed from Leigudun Tomb (No.1 ), Suizhou, Hubei
  • Medium: Lacquer ware
  • Excavation Date: 1978
  • Dynasty: Around 433 B.C. (the East Zhou Dynasty and the early Warring States Period)
  • Dimensions: 71 cm×47 cm×40.5 cm

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