If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

House model

Enlarge this image. House model, Eastern Han dynasty (25–220). China; Sichuan province. Low-fired ceramic. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B60P1802.
What is this object?
This is a ceramic model of a house, made as a burial object (mingqi) during the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220). Models like this one were made to represent everything from simple goat or pig pens to the most elaborate towers and palaces. Because very few ancient Chinese buildings have survived intact, these models, along with descriptions from ancient texts, give a good representation of what the buildings might have looked like.

How was it made?

Mingqi were made in response to the growing demand for burial objects in various workshops throughout China during the Han dynasty. They were made of earthenware and either grey or lead glazed. It is not known exactly when and how lead-glazes were introduced. Taoist alchemists may have influenced potters by experimenting with the chemical properties of metals in a search for the elixir of immortality. Ironically, lead was poisonous, and was therefore only used on burial items. The body of the vessel would have been reddish in color. Green was produced by adding glaze containing copper oxide. The vessel was fired twice in the kiln. Brown glazes were popular in the western Han, whereas green lead-glazes became popular in the eastern Han.

How does this object reflect society at that time?

Burial objects such as this are plentiful from this period. The Asian Art Museum collections from this time include other farm scenes, well-heads, animals, cookware, stoves, houses, jars, incense burners and a rare set of gate pillars. Some can be disassembled to view component parts. Watchtower models and house models allow us to see construction techniques and room arrangements.

What was the purpose of these models?

Models of real-life objects were placed in tombs to provide for the deceased’s soul, which needed real-life provisions in the afterlife, for sustenance and reassurance. This was not the life-sized world of the scale created by the First Emperor, but a facsimile version produced for a growing  population wanting to enjoy the burial privileges of the aristocratic elite.

Want to join the conversation?

  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    I wonder if our modern times that includes so many examples of architecture that wont last such as massive stucco tract homes etc. will be forgotten when they are inevitably replaced with something else in the future. Since we no longer bury our dead with relics left over from their lifetime. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future with this regard...I of course, won't be alive to witness it.
    (6 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • female robot grace style avatar for user Dana Hager
      The difference being that we have many modes of storage and as we advance we copy previous information on the new medium. Consider the vinal to tape to cassette or eight track to CD to DVD to mpeg and so on. None of these are gone today.
      (3 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user The Q
    What is the purpose of the keyhole shaped cutout?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Crystalline Alicorn
    What is an alchemist? Also, did the insides of the house have any furniture or was it only a decorated outside?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Pip
      Alchemy was a medieval form of chemistry, which focused on the transformation of matter. Alchemists aimed to convert base metals into gold, and to find an elixir of life (you've probably heard of the Philosopher's Stone, that was one of the things that alchemists were trying to create). The problem with alchemy was that a lot of the practices were based more on magic than science, so their attempts at making gold and finding eternal life did not amount to much. But they did discover many other things, which formed the beginning of what we now call chemistry! Hope this helps. :)
      (1 vote)
  • blobby green style avatar for user George Ingraham
    How large is this house model ?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user