The Marquis Yi of Zeng ı Lacquer Objects

Lacquer objects

By Hubei Provincial Museum

Hubei Provincial Museum

Lacquered suitcase with Painting of Hou Yi - Part2Hubei Provincial Museum

Due to groundwater infiltration, the tomb was found completely immersed in the water, which protected the lacquer objects from being damaged by the oxygen. After the excavation, Hubei Provincial Museum carried out a long research of dehydration of those objects containing a large amount of water, so that today they still shine as they did over two thousand years ago.

Lacquered Suitcase with Patterns of 28 XiuHubei Provincial Museum


Delicate lacquer objects were commonly used during this period.

The Inner Coffin of Zeng Hou YiHubei Provincial Museum

The coffin of Zeng Hou Yi consists of two pieces. This inner coffin has cambered surface and the inside appears to be rectangular.

The Inner Coffin of Zeng Hou Yi - SideHubei Provincial Museum

The complicated decoration has a red lacquer base and the patterns are painted with black, yellow and gold pigment.

On both sides of the coffin are window-like patterns and warriors with horns on head and halberds in hand.
They are surrounded by complicated paintings of dragons, snakes, birds, beasts and spirits.

The warriors are looking around the coffin chamber, guarding the soul that is supposed to sleep in the coffin.

The Inner Coffin of Zeng Hou Yi - PartHubei Provincial Museum

The sophisticated patterns on the coffin.

Lacquer painted duch shaped wooden boxHubei Provincial Museum

This mandarin duck shaped box was discovered floating on water in the west chamber.

The duck’s head can be turned into different directions since it is connected to the body via mortise. On the back there is a square lid with empaistic dragons, under which there is storing space. The duck has a black lacquer color base.

Its neck and stomach is painted with red lacquer and decorated with small yellow circles. Jagged lines in red and yellow are painted on the wings and the tail and dragon scales are painted on the feet.

On both side of its stomach, two paintings are surrounded by rope shaped frame, presenting a scene where people play drums and bells while dancing.

The paintings present us with useful information about ancient performance and a convincing way by which chime bells were played.

Lacquered Suitcase with Patterns of 28 XiuHubei Provincial Museum

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.

Lacquered Suitcase with Patterns of 28 Xiu - Part1Hubei Provincial Museum

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.

“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 case is, so far, the earliest evidence that matches the record of 28 Xiu and the Four Mythical Creatures.

Lacquered Suitcase with Patterns of 28 Xiu - Part2Hubei Provincial Museum

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.

Lacquered suitcase with Painting of Hou YiHubei Provincial Museum

In the time of legendary emperor Tang Yao, there were ten suns on the sky and people suffered a drought and famine. A man named Hou Yi shot off nine suns and saved all on ground. The pattern on the suitcase pictures this story and provides original material for this legends Warring States Period.

Lacquered suitcase with Painting of Hou Yi - Part1Hubei Provincial Museum

The suitcase is consist of a arc-shaped lid and a square case that symbolizes Chinese idea of the world where sky is rounded and earth is square.

The suitcase has a black lacquer base and on the lid painted Hou Yi shooting the sun. In the painting, suns are painted as three-feet ravens.

Lacquered suitcase with Painting of Hou Yi - Part2Hubei Provincial Museum

In the painting, Hou Yi already shot down one of the ravens. On the end of his arrow tied a rope, which is a common feature on ancient arrows. The rope enables a hunter to drag back what he shoots down.

Lacquered suitcase with Painting of Hou Yi - Part3Hubei Provincial Museum

On the suitcase there are also mushroom shaped cloud, beside which writes “Min Si Wei Fang, Ri Chen Yu Wei, Xing Sui Zhi Si, Suo Shang Ruo Chen, Qin Se Chang He”, meaning that people offer sacrifice to Fang Xiu (the constellation that was roughly today’s Scorpio, Libra, Ophiucus and Lupus) and pray for fine weather and a prosperous life.

Lacquered Lidded Wooden Dou with Patterns of Dragons and PheonixesHubei Provincial Museum

Dou is a kind of food container. This piece of lacquer ware is actually an imitation of a Bronze Dou yet the vivid decorations made the imitation more artistic than the original one.
The Dou is held high like a goblet and on each side of the Dou there is a large handle with embossed dragons. The Dou has a black lacquer base, above which painted red patterns of net, phoenixes and water chestnuts.

Cup-shaped Lacquered VesselHubei Provincial Museum

This vessel was unearthed from the east tomb chamber. It has a red lacquer base, upon which painted patterns of rope, dragon and thunder with gold and scarlet lacquer.

The patterns are symmetrical. The vessel looks like an up-side-down cup and on the top there are two holes. The function of the vessel remains mystery.

Lacquered Wooden Table with Beast-face-patternsHubei Provincial Museum

This lacquered table was made for daily usage. People would sit in front of it while sitting on the ground.

Lacquered JinHubei Provincial Museum

The first Emperor of the Zhou Dynasty believed that his people should learn from the lesson from the former dynasty, Shang, whose emperor lived a luxurious life. Therefor he warned his people from intemperance and named the vessel that contains other wine vessel “Jin”, meaning prohibition.

Lacquered Se - Part1Hubei Provincial Museum


The Marquis Yi of Zeng loved music, therefore we found a large number of instruments in the central and East chambers. Many of them changed the archeological history.

Lacquered SeHubei Provincial Museum

“Se” was a popular musical instrument in the Zhou Dynasty. There are different kinds of Se: Se that decorated with gems are called “Bao Se” and ones with painted patterns are called “Jin Se”.

Lacquered Se - Part2Hubei Provincial Museum

The Se was first painted with black lacquer and then covered with red lacquer, upon which patterns were painted with lacquer in black, yellow and silver. Its replica is able to make beautiful, deep low pitch sound and is suitable to portrait the scenery of lofty mountains and mighty rivers.

Lacquered 10-string QinHubei Provincial Museum

This Qin is the earliest that ever found in China.
As an early Qin, it already has the basic features that can be seen in Qin from later times,
such as “Yueshan”(the wooden piece the holds up the strings), “Jiaowei”(the slightly slimmer end of the trunk) and “Yanzu”(the wooden piece at the bottom that holds up the Qin).

Lacquered 10-string Qin - PartHubei Provincial Museum

It consists of a trunk and a removable baseplate, creating a sound chest that magnifies the vibration of the strings. It is painted with merely black lacquer. On one side of the Qin there are 10 string holes yet all the strings had decayed before it was discovered.
On the other side there is a leg at the bottom to tie the string to.

Lacquered Five-string InstrumentHubei Provincial Museum

Some researchers claimed this piece to be a Yun Zhong that is used for tuning up chime bells. It is hollowed out to create a voice box. It is inferred from the string holes that there used to be five strings.

Lacquered Five-string Instrument - Part1Hubei Provincial Museum

Lacquered Five-string Instrument - Part2Hubei Provincial Museum

On the right side painted groups of birds, 12 in each group. The legend is Huang Di, the legendary ruler, commanded Linglun to create music and Linglun listened to the twitter of 12 phoenixes and made 12 tones.

Lacquered Five-string Instrument - Part3Hubei Provincial Museum

On the left side back painted a man kneeling on the heads of two dragons, on his ears there are two snakes. He could be Xia Hou Qi from a legend in Shang Hai Jing. In the legend, he goes to the heaven to search for music.

Lacquered Bamboo ChiHubei Provincial Museum

Chi is an instrument similar to a bamboo flute. In the Zhou Dynasty, Chi was often played with Xun and in the Warring States Period, it was often used at ceremonies and feasts, together with chimes, chime stones, drums and panpipes. These two Chi were the first Chi we ever found.

Lacquered PanpipesHubei Provincial Museum

Panpipes were one of the main instruments that were used in court. Panpipes are consist of bamboo pipes of different length, therefor they are sometimes called “Cenci”, meaning different length.

The two panpipes unearthed from the Zeng Hou Yi mausoleum are the earliest that have been discovered. When unearthed, one of them could make at least five scales that were still pleasant to the ear.

Color Lacquerd ShengHubei Provincial Museum

In the Zhou Dynasty, instruments were divided by the material they were made of: metal, stone, string, bamboo, calabash, clay, leather and wood. Among these eight categories, Sheng is a “calabash instrument”. Six Sheng were unearthed from the Zeng Hou Yi mausoleum, each consist of a calabash chest and several arundo pipes.

Sound is made by the vibration of the reed pieces that are on the bottom of the pipes when air is blew into Sheng.

Lacquered Wooden Sika DeerHubei Provincial Museum

The deer is carved out of a whole piece of wood and is decorated with real antlers. The head is rotatable. It was put in the east tomb chamber with musical instruments such as Qin and Se and on its legs there is a vertical hole. Therefor it is inferred that the deer could have been a drum base and was used are a part of the instrument.

The deer is covered in black lacquer base and yellow seed-shaped patterns. Its eyes, mouth and nostrils are highlighted with red lacquer.

Model of an Armored WarriorHubei Provincial Museum


Lacquered Shield with Patterns of Dragons and PhoenixesHubei Provincial Museum

Shield was a kind of defensive weapon. In the Warring States Period, people made shields by putting numerous layers of lacquer on a leather base.
After the lacquer was properly dried, it became a nice, hard surface, upon which patterns are painted.

Lacquered Shield with Patterns of Dragons and Phoenixes - PartHubei Provincial Museum

Dragon and Phoenix are two animals that were often used in decorative patterns.
Chinese believed dragons are animals with holy power and phoenixes would bring peace and order to the world.

Model of an Armored WarriorHubei Provincial Museum

From the Zeng Hou Yi mausoleum, 13 suits of armor were discovered. This is a replica worn by a model of a warrior. The Jia used on his shoulders, elbows and trunk were made into different shapes and sewed with silk ribbon.

Credits: Story

Hubei Provincial Museum

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Wonders of China
From ancient monuments to contemporary art, be inspired by the wonders of China
View theme
Google apps