An Insight Into Ancient Chinese Culture
Burial figurines of graceful dancers, mystical beasts, and everyday objects reveal both how people in early China approached death and how they lived. Since people viewed the afterlife as an extension of worldly life, these figurines, called mingqi, sometimes referred as “spirit utensils” or “vessels of ghosts” disclose details of routine existence and provide insights into belief systems over a thousand-year period. Mingqi were popularized during the formative Han dynasty, they are the most visible legacy from this time period, due to their durability and number.
The period of disunion that followed, known as the Six Turbulent Dynasties (220–589), saw an immediate reaction against ornate tombs, which were considered emblematic of excesses responsible for the downfall of the Han. Even imperial tombs were spare, reflecting ideology as well as economic realities in unstable times. The overall number of mingqi, as well as their quality, declined in the early Six Dynasties.
When China was unified again, first briefly under the Sui and then under the long and prosperous Tang, mingqi truly resurged as a part of elaborate tombs. Following Han dynasty's traditions, they frequently take the form of musicians, dancers, and servants in clay, but are ornamented with sancai (three-color) glaze, an artistic influence that was transmitted from Central Asia along the Silk Road. Foreigners were also frequently depicted, reflecting a cosmopolitan society that embraced exchanges with other groups and cultures.