Central Watchtower

Period: Eastern Han dynasty (25–220)

Date: 1st–early 3rd century

Culture: China

Medium: Earthenware with green lead glaze

Dimensions: H. 41 in. (104.1 cm); W. 22 5/8 in. (57.5 cm); D. 11 3/4 in. (29.8 cm)

Classification: Tomb Pottery

Credit Line: Purchase, Dr. and Mrs. John C. Weber Gift, 1984

Accession Number: 1984.397a, b


The Han dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.) established China's lasting model of imperial order and imposed a new national consciousness that survives today among the Chinese, who still refer to themselves as the "Han people." The most important manifestation of Han imperial order was architecture: vast palatial complexes, towered gateways, and city walls were built as symbols of power and prestige as well as for defense.

This glazed ceramic model of a watchtower shows all the essential features of Han architecture. The basic unit is an enclosure defined by four corner piers with a widely overhanging tile roof supported by a system of cantilevered brackets. In addition, the house has a second roof over the first story, which is elevated on a stepped platform; an exterior staircase; elaborate latticework screens that shield the third story; and a circular central window on the top floor.

A great variety of architectural models were placed in Han tombs for use in the afterlife. This imposing mansion symbolizes the high status of the person buried in the tomb. Stylistically, the date and northern Chinese provenance of this house are confirmed by a number of archaeologically excavated pieces, most notably a green-glazed model of a four-story tower discovered in an Eastern Han tomb in Gaotang County, eastern Shandong Province.