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Dated Inscriptions on Certain Mirrors (A.D. 6–105): Genuine or Fabricated?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 March 2015

Michael Loewe*
Willow House, Grantchester, Cambridge CB3 9NF, U.K.


In his study (1943) of 132 bronze mirrors whose inscriptions specify a date between A.D. 6 and 536, Umehara Sueji examined thirty-eight of Han times (A.D. 6–220), accepting that they are genuine. However, inconsistencies and anomalies both in the inscriptions and the decorative details of the mirrors give reason to doubt the authenticity of seven of these which bear dates between A.D. 6 and 105.

Copyright © Society for the Study of Early China 2002

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1. For these schemata, see Luoyang Shaogou Han mu 洛陽燒溝漢墓 (Beijing: Kexue, 1959)Google Scholar. Bernhard Karlgren set out a new style of study in his extremely valuable and comprehensive Huai and Han,” Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 13 (1941), 1125Google Scholar; but, as he well knew, this lacked the support of archaeological reports. His earlier article, Early Chinese Mirror Inscriptions,” Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 6 (1934), 979Google Scholar, includes translations and notes on the inscriptions of 257 mirrors of pre-Tang date.

2. Luo Zhenyu 羅振玉, Gu jing tu lu 古鏡圖錄 (preface dated 1916; Luo Xuetang xian-sheng quanji 羅雪堂先生全集, suppl. ser. 6), “Preface,” writes of the 300 rubbings that he was able to see; Liu Tizhi 劉體智, Xiao jiao jing ge jin wen tuo ben 小校經閣金文拓本 (preface dated 1935), “Preface,” 1a–b, refers to a total of 20,000 rubbings, of various types of items, reduced to 6,500 after his exclusion of duplicates and forgeries. A total of 118 bronze and nine (or eight) iron mirrors were found in ninety-five of the 225 Han tombs excavated at Shaogou (Luoyang Shaogou Hanmu, 160, 198).

3. For examples, see Wen wu 文物 1982.8, 72. For a whole series of inscriptions which refer to the Xin 新 period, see Tizhi, Liu, Xiao jiao jing ge jin wen, 16.65a69aGoogle Scholar.

4. See Wangdu er hao Han mu 望都二號漢墓 (Beijing: Wenwu, 1959), 13, pl. 16Google Scholar.

5. See Loewe, Michael, “State Funerals of the Han Empire,” Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 71 (1999 [2001]), 4244 and fig. 9Google Scholar.

6. See for example, Shuichi, Gotō 後藤守一, Kan shiki kyō 漢式鏡 (Tokyo: Yūzan kaku, 1926)Google Scholar; Karlgren, “Huai and Han”; Bulling, A., The Decoration of Mirrors of the Han Period (Ascona: Artibus Asiae, 1960)Google Scholar; and Kazuchika, Komai 駒井和愛, Chūgoku kokyō no kenkyū 中國古鏡の研究 (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1953)Google Scholar. For a study of these sequences, and the development of the regular types of TLV mirrors, see Luoyang Shaogou Han mu, 160–76; and Loewe, Michael, Ways to Paradise: The Chinese Quest for Immortality (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1979), 6270Google Scholar.

7. For ways in which such changes could come about, with the use of lead or lacquer to replace part of an inscription that had been erased, see Sueji, Umehara 梅原末治, Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō zusetsu 漢三國六朝紀年鏡圖說 (Kyoto: Kuwana bunseidō, 1943), 6, 11 and pl. 74Google Scholar. For the possibility, see also s.v. no. 5 below.

8. E.g., Umehara, Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, Han mirrors nos. 29, 31, 32, and Wei mirrors nos. 4 and 7.

9. Qian Dian published a series of rubbings of mirrors in his Wan hua bai shi xuan jing ming ji lu 浣花拜石軒鏡銘集錄 (included in the Bai yi lu jin shi congshu 百一廬金石叢書, preface by Wang Guowei 王國維, 1922). See also his Shi liu chang le tang gu qi kuan zhi kao 十六長樂堂古器款識攷.

10. Kōkogaku zasshi 考古學雜誌 (19171918) 7.5, 243–52Google Scholar; 7.6, 333–44; 7.7, 395–407; 8.5, 243–57; Tomioka, , Kokyō no kenkyū 古鏡の研究 (Kyoto: Maruzen, 1920)Google Scholar.

11. Tomioka, , Kokyō, 137–39Google Scholar.

12. Fu, Gui, Zhapu 札樸 8Google Scholar. The work was first published in 1813, then reprinted in Xin ju zhai cong shu 心矩齋叢書, 1883. My references are to the reprint in Xue shu bi ji cong kan 學術筆記叢刊 (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1992)Google Scholar, Zhapu 8, 311Google Scholar; see also Tomioka, , Kokyō, 126Google Scholar.

13. Hui, Huang 黃暉, Lun heng jiao shi 論衡校釋 (Taipei: Taiwan Shangwu, 1969)Google Scholar, “Shuai xing” 率性, 2.71. See also Lun heng, “Dingxian” 定賢, 27.1100; Bao pu zi 抱朴子 (Sibu bei yao ed.), “Deng she” 登涉, 17.7a; and Komai, Chūgoku kokyō, 167.

14. Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 543, pl.1–22Google Scholar.

15. Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 4453, pl. 23–9Google Scholar.

16. Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 54100, pl. 30–55Google Scholar.

17. Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 101–22, pl. 56–68Google Scholar.

18. Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 6Google Scholar; see also 145–59, pl. 69–74, where Umehara discusses a number of mirrors whose dated inscriptions he believes to have been added falsely. Possibly part or all of an existing inscription had been erased and replaced with the use of lead or lacquer. The items that he reviews bear dates of Yuankang 元康 3 (63 B.C.), Yuanchu 元初 1 (A.D. 114), Yuanchu 4 (117), and Jian′an 1 (196).

19. Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 6, pl.1:1Google Scholar.

20. In the transcription, xx indicates one character unread.

21. Luoyang Shaogou Han mu, 170, figs. 75:4–5 (type 8:1), 76:1 (type 8:2); and 175.

22. For other examples, see Luoyang Shaogou Han mu, 169, figs. 75:4–5, 76:1, 77:1, and pl. 45:1–2; and Bulling, The Decoration of Mirrors, pl. 24–25.

23. Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 7, pl. 2Google Scholar.

24. Youzhi, Mo, Song Yuan jiu ben shu jing yan lu 宋元舊本書經眼錄 (printed 1873), suppl., 2.4b–5bGoogle Scholar.

25. Si san gong shan bei 祀三公山碑 (Weng Fanggang 翁方綱, Liang Han jin shi ji 兩漢金石記 [dated 1789], 11.30a–33a; Shodō zenshū 書道全書, vol.2, [Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1958], nos. 68–69)Google Scholar; and Yanguang tai shi shi que 延光太室石闕.

26. See below. These are given in Fanggang, Weng, Liang Han jin shi ji, 5.29b and 30bGoogle Scholar.

27. Yirang, Sun, Zhou qing shu lin 籀廎述林 (dated 1916), 8.4a5bGoogle Scholar.

28. It is presumably this rubbing which has been reproduced in various publications. Umehara, Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, pl. 2, reports that it was in the possession of the Imperial Palace Museum; Shodō, 171, ascribes it to Shanghai wenwu baoguan weiyuanhui 上海文物保管委員會.

29. E.g., Tomioka, , Kokyō, 152Google Scholar; Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 9Google Scholar; Shodō, 171.

30. This proposal was dated before Wang Mang had assumed the position of emperor; see Han shu 漢書 (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1962), 99A.4069Google Scholar; and Xianqian, Wang 王先謙, Han shu bu zhu 漢書補注 (Changsha, 1900; rpt. Taipei: Yiwen, 1955), 99A.18bGoogle Scholar.

31. Mo Youzhi died in 1871.

32. Tomioka, Kokyō, pl. 27.

33. For other examples which mention this achievement, see Zhenyu, Luo, Gu jing tu lu, B.6bGoogle Scholar; and Tizhi, Liu, Xiao jiao jing ge jin wen, 16.66aGoogle Scholar. The erection of the Bi yong, by Xin, is mentioned in the inscription of the mirror shown in Moriya Kōzō shūshū hōkaku kiku shishi kyō zuroku 守屋孝藏蒐集方格規矩四神鏡圖錄 (Kyoto: Kyoto National Museum, 1969), pl. 2Google Scholar, which is however suspect, the center being circular rather than square.

34. For the early appearance of these markings, designated “cord-hook design,” see Harper, Donald, “Warring States Natural Philosophy and Occult Thought,” in The Cambridge History of Ancient China, ed. Loewe, Michael and Shaughnessy, Edward L. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 836–39Google Scholar.

35. Tomioka, , Kokyō, 163–66Google Scholar.

36. Some of these differences were pointed out in Loewe, , Ways to Paradise, 186–87 (X 1004)Google Scholar.

37. Luoyang Shaogou Han mu, 174, takes the view that sub-types 1 and 2 of these mirrors date from the time of Wang Mang to the middle part of Eastern Han, and sub-type 3 to the early and middle parts of that period.

38. Loewe, , Ways to Paradise, 103Google Scholar.

39. Loewe, , Ways to Paradise, 151, 163, 168, 174n24, 184, 200, pl. XXIIGoogle Scholar.

40. Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 9, pl.1:2Google Scholar.

41. For examples, see Tizhi, Liu, Xiao jiao jing ge jin wen, 16.67b68bGoogle Scholar. Mirrors of comparable quality and finish bear the same formula, with Han 漢 replacing Xin 新. In the opinion of the present writer, these are more likely to date from Eastern Han, after Wang Mang, than from Western Han times. See Loewe, , Ways to Paradise, 174n25Google Scholar.

42. Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 11, pl. 3Google Scholar.

43. For other examples of this type of mirror, without an outer inscription, see Luoyang Shaogou Han mu, 170–72, and Tizhi, Liu, Xiao jiao jing ge jin wen, 16.16a21aGoogle Scholar.

44. Luoyang Shaogou Han mu, table 67, lists type 8:1 mirrors at tombs nos. 114, 1108, 1009B, and 1029, all in period V (Middle part of Eastern Han); type 8:2 mirrors in tombs nos. 144 (period V), 1027 (period V–VI), 148, and 1035 (period VI [Later part of Eastern Han]). See also Kaogu 考古 2000.6, 524 (fig. 18:5) and 540–41, for a mirror of this style, from a tomb whose suggested date lies within the later part of Eastern Han.

45. Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 12, pl.4Google Scholar.

46. Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 14, pl.5Google Scholar.

47. For problems of the meaning, and the expression youjian 幽湅, “refined by means of a secret formula,” see Karlgren, , “Early Chinese Mirror Inscriptions,” 52Google Scholar.

48. Moriya Kōzō shūshū, pl. 34; Loewe, Ways to Paradise, pl. VII, 195 (mirror C 1201).

49. Neither 105 nor 402 carried a day bingwu in the fifth month; in 264 the nianhao 年號 was not adopted until the seventh month. Hou Han shu 後漢書 (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1965), 4.193Google Scholar (Xianqian, Wang, Hou Han shu ji jie 後漢書集解 [Changsha, 1915; rpt. Taipei: Yiwen, 1955], 4.15aGoogle Scholar), records an amnesty for gengwu 庚午, of the fourth month of Yuanxing 1 (A.D. 105); in Yuan Hong 袁宏 (328–376), Hou Han ji jiao zhu 後漢紀校注, ed. Tianyou, Zhou 周天游 (Tianjin: Tianjin Guji, 1987), 14.417Google Scholar, this is dated more correctly to bingwu, there being no day gengwu in the fourth month. Fang Xuanling 房玄齡 (578–648), Jin shu 晉書 (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1974), 10.254Google Scholar, records an amnesty for gengwu, first day of the first month of Yuanxing 1 (A.D. 402). Sima Guang's 司馬光 (1019–86) Zi zhi tong jian 資治通鑑 records two amnesties of this year, the one to accompany the establishment of the Heir Apparent, the other the introduction of the new regnal title; see Xin jiao Zi zhi tong jian zhu 新校資治通鑑注 (Beijing: Guji, 1956), 112.3536, 3541Google Scholar. The Zi zhi tong jian introduces the year in question under the heading of Yuanxing yuan nian. According to Hu Sanxing's 胡三省 note (Zi zhi tong jian, 112.3533), the regnal title of Longan 隆安 was restored in the third month, to be followed by changes to Da heng 大亨 and then Yongshi 永始. The Zi zhi tong jian retains the use of Yuanxing until the first year of Yixi 義熙 (405); see also Shijian, Wu 吳士鑑 and Chenggan, Liu 劉承幹, Jin shu jiao zhu 晉書斠注 (Jingshi, 1928; rpt. Taipei: Yiwen, 1960), 10.6b, noteGoogle Scholar.

50. Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 6Google Scholar.

51. Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 16Google Scholar.

52. Umehara cites the views of Jin Jing′an and Chang Renxia 常任俠 from Shuo wen 說文 3.4 (special number for the culture of Ba and Shu), not available to the present writer.

53. Umehara, Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, nos. 10, 18, 20, 21, and 24 are in the first month; nos. 8, 11, ?14, 15, 16, and 17 are in the fifth month; in some of these cases the day fell within the specified month.

54. Umehara, Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, nos. 12, 16, 17, and 24. For mirrors of late Eastern Han times, with depictions of the Queen and King, or inscriptions that mention her in connection with the theme of immortality, see Loewe, Ways to Paradise, 60, 83, 151n74, 155n196, 162–63, 168, 174n24, 184 (C 5001 and 5002), 200–201, and 225; pl. XVI and XXII.

55. Umehara, Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, nos. 8, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, and 37. In no. 8 the blessings are mentioned for a first and then a subsequent purchaser; in no. 24 the blessings are enunciated twice.

56. Umehara, Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, nos. 8, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 20, 21 and 22; for the shang fang, see Han shu, 19A.731, Han shu bu zhu, 19A.16a,b; Loewe, , Ways to Paradise, 166, 175n33, 179Google Scholar. How far the very special mirrors that were made by this department were available outside the imperial house can hardly be known (see Moriya Kōzō shūshū, nos. 25–32). They do not appear among the funerary goods buried in major tombs, such as those of the Kings (zhuhouwang 諸侯王). For the question of whether the addition of a name indicates the maker of the mirror or the family who ordered its manufacture, see Loewe, Ways to Paradise, 175n34.

57. Umehara, Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, nos. 20, 21, 24, 25, 27. 29, 30, 33, ?35, 36, and 37.

58. Umehara, Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, no. 28.

59. Umehara, Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, nos. 12 and 31. For “authored” mirrors, see Loewe, , Ways to Paradise, 175n34Google Scholar.

60. Wenwu 1962.12, 5455Google Scholar.

61. Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 97 (no. 59)Google Scholar.

62. Umehara, , Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, 5898 (e.g., nos. 5, 6, 54, 60)Google Scholar.

63. Kaogu 1986.6, 511–13Google Scholar.

64. Kaogu 1987.3, 265–72Google Scholar.

65. Kaogu 1987.7, 635–45Google Scholar.

66. Kaogu 2001.7, 673Google Scholar.

67. Kaogu 1993.7, 616–19Google Scholar.

68. Umehara, , Shōkō ko kyō shūei 紹興古鏡聚英 (Kyoto: Kuwana bunseidō, 1939)Google Scholar.

69. Umehara, Shōkō ko kyō shūei, pl.1, 2; Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, nos. 19, 38.

70. Umehara, Shōkō ko kyō shūei, pl. 63; Kan Sankoku Rikuchō kinen kyō, no. 22.

71. Umehara, Shōkō ko kyō shūei, 2.

72. Shilun, Wang 王士倫, Zhejiang chutu tong jing xuan ji 浙江出土銅鏡選集 (Beijing: Zhongguo gu dian yishu, 1957)Google Scholar.