Sinology Sunday: Tangren recreates artifacts for Three Kingdoms drama

The whimsical geometric depictions of fantastical beasts were a mark of the Chu. Considering themselves descendants  of  phoenixes rather than dragons, the Shamanistic Chu were considered “heathen”  to many at the time.

Were you impressed at how gorgeous the new Tangren outfits for its   upcoming Three Kingdoms drama.  Yours truly happen to be currently in a Chu dynasty phase and immediately recognized them as strangely anachronistic.   In fact, half of the patterns for their character posters came directly from the same tomb, the famous No. 1 Chu Tomb of Jiangling Mashan  江陵马山一号楚墓, dated about five centuries before the story’s time.

So, in honor of our beloved Tangren that seems to try each time to be slightly more historically accurate (albeit via the laziest way possible), here’s a look at some of the patterns of Chu.

Wan Qian’s outfit (C) uses a facing Phoenix pattern from a silk robe(R). Left shows the colors of the original textile. The Chu were known for their fondness of slenderness, both in artistic style and in body shape. Rumor has it that in order to win the favor of one King of Chu, his chancellors starved so much that they couldn’t stand up by themselves.

The Kingdom of Chu is known for their vibrant imagination and beautiful artistry. Legend has it the people of Chu are the descendants of Zhurong, the god of the sun, fire, and the phoenix. Because they assimilated with the locals after moving South, they practiced Shamanism, leading the central plains states to consider them as “savages”. After repeat snubs from the central states, the leaders of Chu eventually famously stated, “We are savages, we don’t need the central states to give us a title.”  So they just declared themselves kings of the land and  began to take over neighboring kingdoms with complete disregard for the acceptable methods of war at the time (no sneak attacks, no attacking without provocation, etc.).  Eventually, they became powerful enough to take on the customs of the Central Plains and started taking on the world police role.

One row of embroideries depict hunting with chariots, while the other show a warrior battling a tiger. This particular pattern came from the collars of a robe (bottom photo).

The Chu Kingdom was eventually taken over by the famous first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. However, the Chu people continued resistance throughout his reign, and heavy Chu influences were founded even in later Han dynasty artifacts.  The Chu left us with some of the best bronze, clothes, and pottery from the Bronze Age, not to mention the famous Chu songs and by the likes of Qu Yuan.

Cao Pi (Tan Jianci)’s robe  feature  tigers, dragons, phoenixes, and flowers all intertwined together. Lower right is the original artifact.

One other thing about Chu outfits –  they were much more fond of color than those dull Confucians.   If you’re interested, the blog here has photos of the museum’s replicas of the four outfits were these patterns are from here.


With a love for nature and the mythical, the Chu were not afraid to flaunt their colors. See how the replica (R) and the original (L) are both  much more colorful than Tan Jianci’s outfit.

Based on the leaked photos, I believe there are at least two  more outfits that look like they used patterns out of this tomb. Below are some more patterns from the Chu tomb, let us know if you spot one of them on an outfit!

sources:  Eight Hundred Years of Chu,  江陵马山一号楚墓 by Jinzhou Museum (1985).


This Phoenix pattern is one of the most famous from the tomb due to its large Phoenix design. I haven’t seen anyone wear it yet, but I would bet it’s used  in the drama.

Two dragons and a phoenix intertwined. I think I spotted Ma Tianyu wearing this.

Geometric patterns and the sun.

Flower and Phoenix


Lots of phoenix and flowers

More phoenix and flowers

Phoenix and flowers (am I the only one who also sees a smiling face? )

8 thoughts on “Sinology Sunday: Tangren recreates artifacts for Three Kingdoms drama

  1. thank you for always updating!! <3 I find that the female outfit looks like Liu shishi's sound of desert outfit at first glance !

  2. Thank you thank you. I was really hoping you’d do a post on this drama and you’ve exceeded my expectations with these details. Thanks again!!

  3. Thank you for your fascinating post. Is this Jiangling Mashan in Hubei? Hubei provincial museum has some of these items? I haven’t had the time to watch the documentary yet.
    I did visit some provincial capital museums in Shanxi, Shaanxi, etc. Their extensive bronze collection from Shang dynasty was outstanding. But I’ve never visited Hubei area.

    • Most of them are located in the Jingzhou Museum in Hubei. Their collection:

      I have a huge list of museums I want to visit in China, and I’m jealous you got to visit the Shanxi and Shaanxi ones. My top city-level museums I want to go to are the Jinsha (for the sunbird and the mask) , Turpan (mummies), and Jingzhou museums.

      • Thank you!! I wish you live in-town so I can bug you all day to talk about C museums. :-D There are gazillion great C museums. I really enjoyed visiting Shaanxi’s Yonglegong murals, Shanxi’s Wutaishan temples too. I had to skip Zhengzhou museum even though I visited Kaifeng & Luoyang and flew via Zhengzhou. One needs to hire a driver or spend a lifetime taking buses to see these things.Several Xi An cab drivers I encountered were really mean and rude though. The most unpleasant aspect of it all. Xi An also has atrocious traffic and air. A lot of the C museum artifacts are a lot older than statues/temples in Kyoto, which has a much wider international reputation. I like Tang and post-Tang arts a lot, but also fascinated by pre-Qin bronzes (tons of these in the Taiyuan museum), jade, ceramic, etc. I think you need to group your museums by area and see which provinces/areas have the highest concentration of them and start from there? Do you know which museum has this?

        • I think the Fu Hao stuff are split between the National Museum and the Henan museum。

          I love pre-Qin bronzes. The best thing about pre-Qin bronzes is that they’re rare enough that most of them were discovered after 1949, so a lot of local museums have great collections (as opposed to Ming/Qing stuff that are often abroad or taken to Taiwan by the Nationalists ). And because China wasn’t unified back then, each collection is unique.
          If you like bronzes, I recommend the Poly Museum in Beijing. It’s really small and rarely visited ,but well curated. Plus, they have four of the zodiac heads from the Summer Palace.

          Xi’an is the city I want to visit the most in all of China, not only for their museums but also the food and Hua’shan. I’m sorry you didn’t have a good experience with the drivers. Hopefully with Uber they’ll be nicer. ;b

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