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Gilt-Silver Wine-Drinking Game Set

Inscribed: Lunyu yuzhu, “The Analects Jade Candle”

Height: 25.4 cm. (10 in.)
Diameter at the lotus base: 6.8 cm. (2 3/4 in.)
Length of each of 20 lots: 16.4 cm. (6 1/2 in.)

Tang dynasty 唐
8th-9th century

The pagoda-shaped vessel rises from a cylindrical stand nestled in a double layer of simulated lotus petals. The removable lid is surmounted by a lotus leaf with curled leaf tips enclosing a bud-shaped knob, which is fitted with a chain linked to a loop on the body. A rectangular cartouche on the side of the body encloses a four-character inscription Lunyu yuzhu, “Analects Jade Candle.” To the left is a coiling three-clawed dragon and to the right a phoenix in flight, both amid scrolling vines. Pairs of confronting dove-like birds encircle the base with further birds on the cover on a ground of vines. The etched decoration overall is gilded against a uniform ring-punched silver ground. Twenty silver “drinking lots” of paddle shape accompany the container, each incised with a line from the Analects followed by a phrase to designate the identity of a particular participant in the game, followed by a symbol/character designating a measure.

The Lunyu, popularly known as “The Analects,” is a collection of maxims formulated by Confucius (d.479 B.C.) in conversations with friends. The yuzhu,“Jade Candle,” in the inscription is represented by the cylindrical container and the bud or flame-shaped finial its burning wick. Each of the twenty individual strips is inscribed with single line from the Lunyu. For example, “To have friends come from distant places, is it not a joy?” is inscribed on one of them. Each quote is followed by the designation of an individual or participant who was expected to consume the quantity of liquor indicated by the last characters inscribed on the lot.1

We are aware of only one other Analects Jade Candle drinking game set, that one among a large hoard of silver objects discovered in Jiangsu province in 1982.2 That set consists of 50 strips and a number of additional pieces that were apparently standard Tang drinking-game equipment. The designs present on the two gilt-silver Analects game containers and the workmanship involved in their production are typical of high-quality 9th-century, Tang-period metalwork as seen in a good number of excavated finds, including the material from the base of the pagoda of the Famen temple in Xi’an. Interestingly, the paraphernalia in silver and gilt-silver from the Famensi was intended for use in the preparation and consumption of tea. The citizens of Tang knew how to imbibe, in style.

1. For a detailed description of the game see Donald Harper, “The Analects Jade Candle, a Classic Tang Drinking Custom” in Tang Studies 4, 1986, pp. 69-89.

2. See Zhongguo wenwu qinghua, “Gems of China’s Cultural Relics,” Beijing, 1990, no. 119 and Liu Liang-yung, ed., Chin Yin Ch’i, Taipei, 1996, p. 121.

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