Tomb plaque marker on a tortoise base



219–316 CE
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General Description

This tomb marker consists of a central plaque with Chinese writing that describes the deceased as a forty-five-year-old woman who died in the early 4th century CE. Chinese grave markers often include the tortoise, like the one supporting the plaque here, and a dragon, which you can see forming the top of the sculpture.

The tortoise and dragon are two of the four "spiritually endowed" directional deities. The other two deities are the phoenix and the unicorn. The tortoise, which is a symbol of the north and winter, was also important in Chinese Buddhist belief because it symbolized longevity. Many Buddhist temples keep resident tortoises; to feed one was a commendable act. Thus early Chinese beliefs passed into Buddhism. This example has a snake's head and a dragon's neck, indicating supernatural power.

Excerpt from

  • Anne Bromberg, Label text, 2016.

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