Jade Cup

Western Han Dynasty, 206 BC - 24 AD
Shanghai Museum

The Red Bird of the south is carved in deep relief on this cup, holding a ring in its beak; its tail billows out to the right. It stands beside a small tiger upon a horizontal branch. Although bird and tiger often have directional significance, it is not clear what symbolism is intended here.

Jade cups were popular in Han times; the virtues of jade (durability, long life) were thought to be absorbed by the liquid and from thence to the drinker. In particular, jade cups were used to collect morning dew, which was thought to confer longevity by itself; absorbing the virtue of jade would increase the dew's potency.