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By Christine Liu-Perkins,Sarah S. Brannen

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The top layer held three pairs of gloves, a scarf, a belt, and an embroidered mirror case—all made of silk. HUNAN PROVINCIAL MUSEUM 38 • At Home in Her Tomb Lavish Lacquerware In Han times the wealthy dined from lacquer dishes. The poor ate from dishes made of wood, pottery, or bamboo. As a symbol of Lady Dai’s wealth and status, 184 pieces of lacquerware were buried in her tomb. Her husband and son had even more. What is lacquer? It starts as sap inside a tree, chiefly the species Toxicodendron vernicifluum, also called the Chinese lacquer tree.

The coffin was decorated on the outside with silk brocade and embroidered silk and tied with two more silk bands. The silk-wrapped body of Lady Dai lay within this silk-decorated coffin. Feathers and strips of silk were glued onto thin silk, which was then pasted onto the lid and the four sides of the coffin. Strips of embroidered silk formed an outer border. HUNAN PROVINCIAL MUSEUM Lady Dai’s Silk Treasures • 47 Lady Dai was well supplied with silk in other parts of her burial chamber as well.

Each narrow strip had one column of characters written in ink with a brush. If the writer made a mistake, he could erase it by shaving it off with a knife. The strips were tied together and then either rolled up or folded accordion-style. Bamboo and wood provided a smooth surface for writing, and their supply was plentiful. However, the narrow strips offered limited writing space. When the bindings broke or rotted, the strips often fell out of order or were lost. Bulky, heavy books were also difficult to store and carry.

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