This Silk Painting Featuring Figure,Dragon and Phoenix, which was excavatedfrom a Chu Tomb on theChenjiaHill that dates back to the late years inthe Warring States Period, was one of the earliest existing paintingsof that period.The right section of the lower half isthe side view of a lady, who has combedher hair into a coroneted bun. Dressedin loose-sleeved long gown, the lady is girdled with awide belt, which makes her waist very slim. A lean waist was believed to be one of the necessities for beauties by the Chu people. In front of the lady is a phoenix flying on unfolded wings. To the left of the phoenix there is a coiling horned dragon on rise with its claws extended.
In the Chinese culture, both phoenixes and dragons are imagined animals and endowed with superstitious power. What is worth mentioning is that this delicate painting is actually a funeral flag(Mingjing銘旌), which was a common funeral offering made of silk and attached to a bamboo stick. The ancients believed that the funeral flag had the power of ushering the soul of the deceased. So they would hold the flag high all the way from the funeral to the tomb, and covered it on the coffin before it was buried, meaning that both the soul and the body were in the tomb. Based on similar funeral flags unearthed in theZidankuChu Tomb and the Mawangdui Han Tomb, both in Changsha, many scholarsbelieved that the lady in the painting wasactually the occupant of the tomb, whowas praying that the dragon and phoenixwould lead her tothe Land of Immortality.