The ancient Chinese whimsical figurine of the storyteller
The tomb figurine of a bard, reputed as the “No 1 Figurine of the Han Dynasty (206 BCE- 220 CE)”, vividly portrays the image of a comedian storyteller of ancient China. The figurine holds a drum in his left arm and a drumstick in his right. The statuette demonstrates a slightly exaggerated mischievous facial expression that owns elongated body parts and is captured in a dynamic motion.
The artifact reflects a popular form of entertainment in the Han Dynasty – performing comedies accompanied by music and dances.
In 1957 this so-called “storyteller figurine” (shuoshu yong) was found in a Han tomb in Sichuan. In 1979 two similar statuettes, called “telling and singing figurines” shuochang yong, were excavated from a site of four Han tombs in the vicinity of Yangzhou, alongside twenty-eight other statuettes, defined as servants, dancers, jokers, etc.
The facial expressions of this series of figurines are incredibly fascinating; they do, indeed, seem to exhibit the enchanted smile of somebody carried away by his own story. One of the essential outcomes of discovering these expressive figures is the impetus they give to studies of early Chinese entertainment activities.