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Five horses pulling chariot
Western Han dynasty (206 BCE–9 CE)
Clay with natural pigments
Chariot: H. 29.5 cm; Horses: H. 31–33 cm
Excavated 1969, Wuyingshan, Jinan Municipality
Collection of Jinan Municipal Museum
(cat. #2)


This group of five horses pulling a chariot was excavated from Wuyingshan, as was the bird with ding vessels on its wings in this exhibition (cat. no. 3). The five horses are of slightly different sizes, three are white and two are reddish brown. One of the white horses, with bared teeth and nostrils flaring, tilts his head rakishly toward the viewer, while the others seem to be smiling. With its squarish canopy, the carriage is more typical of the Qin dynasty than of the Eastern Han, when canopies were more rounded.[1] Bronze sculptures of chariots with these rounder canopies have been excavated at the famous tomb of the “flying horse” in Leitai, Wuwei, Gansu province, and such chariots are depicted in pictorial stone carvings at the Wu Family shrine in Jiaxiang county, Shandong.[2]

In the Shang and Zhou dynasties, chariots were included in elite burials as status icons indicating the rank of the deceased, as well as his wealth and power. Real chariots were often interred complete with their horses, and in some of these early cases burials included the charioteers themselves. By the Qin and Western Han dynasty, models began to replace live burials in the tomb, as can be seen in the monumental ceramic horses buried with actual chariots in the necropolis of the First Emperor, Qin Shihuangdi (see cat. no. 20). This transition was gradual, and in the early Western Han tomb of Luozhuang, where many of our exhibition objects were excavated, the actual chariots placed in the tomb were still accompanied by their horses.[3] The eventual completion of this change to representational mingqi can be seen in the ceramic cavalry found in the tomb at Weishan (cat. nos. 12, 13). That chariots were still important can also be seen in the gilt bronze chariot parts from Jiulongshan and the bronze chariot fittings inlaid with gold and silver from Shuangrushan that are shown in our exhibition. The five horses and chariot from Wuyingshan could also have served as a vehicle for the deceased on his journey to the afterlife.

all text & images © China Institute Gallery


1. Of the horses and carriages excavated from the necropolis of the First Emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, chariot no. 2 has a similar canopy to the one in our exhibition; the carriage is equally squat and has large wheels. However, this carriage is completely enclosed. Carriage no. 1 from the emperor’s necropolis has a much rounder canopy but is not enclosed; the structure is quite different than our example. Both carriages were pulled by four horses each and not five. Chang’an zhenbao [Treasures of Chang’an] (Beijing: Zhongguo sheying chubanshe, n.d.), pp. 22–23.

2. Rubbings of the Han pictorial stone carvings at Jiaxiang are reproduced in Cary Y. Liu et al., Recarving China’s Past: The Art, Archaeology, and Architecture of the “Wu Family Shrines” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).

3. Objects from this site included in the exhibition are cat. nos. 1, 4, 11, and 45. See Susan L. Beningson, “Spiritual Geography of Han Dynasty Tombs,” figs. 6 and 7, in this catalogue, for photographs of the chariot burial at Luozhuang.

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