Rippling black stripes on a rich orange coat. Gleaming white teeth and a focused gaze. A long tail tucked against a robust body. Most people would immediately recognize this animal as a tiger. But you might be surprised to learn that this ceramic beast about fifteen inches long was used as a pillow in 12th-century China. According to Chinese tradition, a pillow could give special qualities to the person who slept on it. Because the tiger has been a powerful symbol in China since ancient times, it made a good pillow.
KEY IDEA ONE
A Place to Rest Your Head
Many Americans today are accustomed to sleeping on soft, sometimes feathery pillows. But hard pillows and headrests, often made of wood, have been used in various cultures throughout the world in Africa, India, the Pacific Islands, and elsewhere. Ancient Chinese texts refer to pillows made of wood or bamboo, and such pillows were used in China into the 20th century.
Ceramic pillows began to appear in China in the Tang dynasty (618-906), and lots of them were produced in the Song dynasty (960-1279). Because they are so durable, they have lasted longer than other types of pillows made in those times. Modern scholars once believed that ceramic pillows were made only for use in tombs. The Chinese had a tradition of placing ceramic models of household objects in tombs, for use in the afterlife. But from written records and other evidence we now know that ceramic pillows had a practical purpose, too. However, it’s hard to tell which pillows were for everyday use and which were for tombs.