During the Shang Dynasty, the Central Plain of China enjoyed a warm and humid climate and provided a suitable habitat for elephants. The archaeological ruins of Anyang, one of the Shang capitals, yielded large amounts of ivory and elephant bones, indicating that the Shang nobility sacrificed elephants in their rituals. The Lüshi Chunqiu [Spring and Autumn Annals of Master Lü] records the Shang people’s taming of elephants, 'The Shang people trained elephants, which they used to oppress the Eastern Yi people. The Duke of Zhou consequently chased them with his armies to the Jiangnan region.' The Tomb of Fu Hao yielded two jade elephants carved in the round, measuring 6-6.5 cm in length and 3-3.3cm in height, with upward-curling noses, slightly open mouths, eyes in the form of the chen character, ears close to the shoulders, and incised throughout with double lines. See Zhongguo gu qingtongqi xuan/A Selection of Ancient Chinese Bronzes, Beijing, 1976, pl. 91.
Han dynasty jade elephants carved in the round have yet to be found archaeologically, but some Han dynasty gilt-bronze elephants are extant, including four excavated in an Eastern Han burial site at Lijiacun, Koudian, Yanshi, Henan. See Nanjing Museum and Xuyi Cultural and Media Bureau, 'Jiangsu Xuyiai xian Dayunshan Xihan Jiangdu wangling yihao mu [Royal Mausoleum No. 1 of the Vassal King of Jiangdu State of the Western Han dynasty]', Kaogu/Archaeology, Beijing, vol. 10, 2013, p. 36, fig. 57:1. Measuring 4.2 cm in length and 3.5 cm in height, these finely carved pieces are small and light. Together with other bronze animals such as horses, oxen and deer, they were placed in a bronze zun. Another relevant example is a gilt-bronze elephant recently excavated from the tomb of Liu Fei, Prince of Jiangdu of the Western Han Dynasty (and a stepbrother of Liu Che, Emperor Wu of the Han), Dayunshan, Xuyi, Jiangsu. Measuring 30.5 cm in length and 20 cm in height, this carving is depicted with large round eyes, ears pulled back, a long backward-curling nose and a tail that hangs towards the left. Aside from its silver-gilt ivory, the elephant body has a polished surface, with only incised lines of various lengths indicating the folds of its skin on its nose, neck, back, and limbs. This method of linear articulation persisted in Ming dynasty stone sculptures, including the stone elephant along the spirit path of the Xiaoling Mausoleum in Nanjing.
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