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Getting Kinky with the Han Dynasty

A new show at the Asian Art Museum explores the personal side of the ancients.

A bronze phallus dating from the Han dynasty.

 

File this under Some Things Never Change: When archaeologists pried into tombs where kings of the Chinese Han dynasty had been laid to their eternal rest, what do you suppose they found tucked in there with them, like some discreetly placed personal effect in one’s bedside-table drawer? That’s right, sex stuff.

More specifically, bronze phalli (read: dildos) with little holes drilled in to accommodate a harness. Two such specimens are among the 160-plus objects on display at the Asian Art Museum as part of Tomb Treasures: New Discoveries from China’s Han Dynasty, on view from February 17 to May 28. The pieces in the exhibition, dating from about 200 BC to AD 200 and found at a pair of tomb complexes near modern Shanghai, range from the ornate (a jade-and-gold-threaded burial body suit) to the more practical (a stone latrine). But they all point to the luxury—and the friskiness—these royals enjoyed during their lives and expected to retain thereafter.

 

Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco 

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