Three Kingdoms History: Tiger Tallies (Hufu 虎符)

Tiger Tally (Hufu 虎符; Sometimes Fujie 符节)

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A ‘tally’, or fu 符, in many cases, was a special two-piece object granted to people – usually officers – of ancient China as a representation of authority or identification. One piece was held by a certain person or in a certain location and the other, carried on the officer’s person, was matched when verification was necessary. Certain types of special fu were assigned to high-ranking officers at places like the capital palaces and were used as symbols of authority or to gain clearance. On a more general level, fu made of simple material such as wood or iron may be handed out to guests entering certain areas for use inside and repossessed upon their exit. During the Han and Three Kingdoms periods the fu held by high-ranking officers were usually made of bronze and separated from the shape of a tiger.

Tiger-shaped fu, properly identified as hufu 虎符, are better known today as ‘Tiger Tallies’. Hufu is the proper representation of ‘Tiger Tally’ but you will frequently come upon them being referred to as fujie 符节, which was actually a more general term used to represent symbols of authority – but was most commonly associated with the official seal and ribbon, the true representation of rank in these periods. Tiger Tallies (hufu) are perhaps among the most interesting relics from ancient China. Because they were uncommon in this period, they have become extremely rare and valuable today. Here we present tiger tallies from different periods of Chinese history for you to enjoy.

Photographs and Details of Ancient Chinese Tiger Tallies

Here is a small collection of photographs taken of these rare treasures.

Hong Kong Middle Kingdom Museum Tiger Tallies

Here are some photographs from the Hong Kong Middle Kingdom museum featuring two tiger tallies that were on display (introduction and Middle Kingdom photos by Battleroyale).

Two Fu Jie

Along with the hufu the association with tigers is also explained.

Tiger Motif

The tiger is, for the Chinese, the King of the wild beasts. Its prowess has been magnified through history, until it has become invested with so many attributes that nothing can overpower it.

In olden times, Chinese soldiers were sometimes dressed in imitation tiger-skins complete with tails. As they advanced into battle they would shout loudly, believing that the enemy would be terrified of them as if they were actual tigers.

Tiger heads were painted on the shields of soldiers, on the covers to portholes of ships, and embroidered on court robes. The tiger emblem represents magisterial dignity and sternness, and became the insignia for some grades of military officers.

Spring and Autumn Period Tiger Tallies

Tiger tallies from the Spring and Autumn period (770–476 BC)

Tiger Tally from the Spring and Autumn Period

Tiger Tally from the Spring and Autumn period.

Qin Dynasty Tiger Tallies

Tiger tallies from the Qin dynasty (221–207 BC)

Tiger tally of Yangling – Qin

Tiger Tally of Yangling
Qin Dynasty
“A dry measure for grain.”
8.9 cm long, 2.l cm wide, 3.4 cm tall.

Song Dynasty Tiger Tallies

Tiger tallies from the Song dynasty (AD 960–1279)

White jade tiger tally

White Jade Tiger Tally
Song Dynasty
8 cm long.

Undated Tiger Tallies

The following tiger tallies have not been dated.

Bronze Tiger Tally Bronze Tiger Tally

Bronze Tiger Tally

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March 7, 2014