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Money Tree



Sculptures of musicians were often included in Han tombs as a source of entertainment for the occupant. China, Figure of a Squatting Drummer, Eastern Han dynasty, 1st–2nd century, earthenware, Gift of funds from the Regis Foundation


Sculptures of dancers in performance dress were often included in Han tombs as a source of entertainment for the occupant. China, Female "Long Sleeve" Dancer, Western Han dynasty, 2nd century BCE, earthenware, Gift of funds from Ruth and Bruce Dayton


 


key idea
The Afterlife in the Tomb

Made during the Eastern Han (25–220) dynasty, this money tree was found in a tomb in the Szechuan province of China, a site where more than 50 money trees have been discovered. Most tombs were stockpiled with furnishings that mirrored the extravagant homes of their inhabitants. Indeed, tombs incorporated all aspects of luxe lifestyle, including sculptures of servants, guards, farmhands, musicians, and jugglers. The money tree was thought to provide a source of eternal income for the tomb occupant; it represents a renewable, sustainable, never-ending source of prosperity and sustenance, while also symbolizing rebirth and eternal life.

Furthermore, placing a money tree in a tomb likely had spiritual significance for Han dynasty citizens. The tree's verticality represents the soul's journey from the earthly to the spirit world. At the time, coins were thought to emit supernatural light, guiding and helping to sustain the deceased's journey to the immortal world. The imaginary animals composing the tree base likely served as vehicles to the afterlife.



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Animals, such as this celestial horse, were often included in Han tombs to serve as vehicles to the afterlife. China, Celestial Horse, Eastern Han dynasty, 1st century, bronze with traces of polychrome, Gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton
   
November 2012