Falconry has been practiced in China for nearly two thousand years, but its early history is obscured by a lack of visual, textual, and archaeological materials. Falconry first appears in visual and textual records dating to the Eastern Han dynasty (A.D. 25-220). Although the standard histories offer few details about the practice of falconry at this time, a growing number of excavated tomb reliefs provide information regarding the possible genesis of the sport. I first discovered this imagery when looking for representations of activities associated with foreigners in hunting scenes depicted in Eastern Han tombs from Shaanxi and Shanxi. In scenes of the hunt from this region, mounted falconers are depicted alongside mounted archers, figures that are connected in Han visual and textual sources with Northern nomadic pastoralists. This imagery immediately prompted a number of questions: when the practice began, who practiced falconry, and whether or not it was associated with foreigners at this time. This article is an outgrowth of research based on these initial questions. Focusing on Eastern Han depictions of falconry, I first examine where and how falconry was practiced in ancient China and what types of birds were used. I will then argue that the sport was originally learned by the Chinese from nomadic pastoralists living to the north of Han China. Finally, I will examine Han attitudes towards the sport, suggesting that although it may have originally been associated with nomadic pastoralists, in Eastern Han texts, falconry was connected with activities characteristic of a misspent youth.

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