Consumption and Materiality: Bronze Mirrors in Han China Reconsidered


Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Program in China Studies Early Career Fellowships




Mirrors, predominantly made of bronze, were the most mass-produced amongst the decorative arts of the Han empire (202 B.C.E.-220 C.E.). As the abundant record of recently excavated material attests, the mirror industry expanded exponentially in the Han period. While current scholarship has established a reliable chronology, a database of inscriptions, and an iconographic repertoire, it has not adequately treated the specular discs as material things (wu)—and things that interacted with their beholders to create multiple layers of meaning. Employing an interdisciplinary approach that synthesizes art historical methods and anthropological theories, I foreground the materiality of Han mirrors to understand their dual status as gifts and commodities.