Recovering the Tripod from the Si River


Not on view

This rubbing was taken from a stone engraving on a chamber wall of the Wu Family Shrine in Jiaxiang, Shandong Province, constructed about A.D. 151. It illustrates the failed attempt of the tyrannical first emperor of the Qin dynasty (r. 247–210 B.C.) to retrieve from the Si River one of the legendary Nine Tripods, a symbol of the legitimacy of the state since antiquity.

The image shows a dramatic moment during an attempt to lift the tripod from the water. A dragon head emerges from the vessel and bites through the ropes. The tripod begins to sink back into the river under the gaze of the large figures on top, one of whom is probably the emperor. The failure may presage the doom of his empire (221–207 B.C.), the most short-lived in Chinese history.

Recovering the Tripod from the Si River, Unidentified, Rubbing of mid-2nd-century stone engraving; ink on paper, China

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