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Horse Stepping

The Western Han Dynasty (206B.C.-A.D.23) was very powerful during Emperor Wudi's reign. To subdue the ethnic Xiongnu invaders, the emperor sent troops to fight against them. The commander of the emperor's troops, Huo Qubing, was a young man, who defeated the Xiongnu army six times in the Qilian Mountain area and made brilliant military achievements. Unfortunately Huo died at the age of 24. A big tomb in the shape of the Qilian Mountain was built to commemorate the young army commander Stone carvings of humans and animals stood in front of the tomb as decoration.

These stone sculptures are now exhibited in the annexes built beside the tomb. They are the earliest and best-preserved stone carvings found in China, and also have great artistic value in the history of world sculpture.

One of the most excellent among the many stone carvings of domesticated and wild animals in the tomb is the Horse Stepping on a Xiongnu Soldier(Fig.3-5)

The horse depicted in the sculpture is Huo Qubing's own mount. Huo had ridden this horse into battle and it became symbolic of him. The stone horse is 1.68 meters high and 1.90 meters in length. It has an imposing appearance, and has one foot on a Xiongnu soldier. The soldier on the ground holds a bow in his hand and has an agonized expression on his face as he draws his last breath. The sculpture vividly displays the great power of the Western Han Dynasty and Huo Qubing's immense military contribution to his empire. The horse appears brave, strong, placid and firm. The soldier under its feet, although in the panicked last moments of his life, has a fierce expression. He still holds his weapon, as if putting up a desperate last ditch struggle. The spare but accurate carvings of the sculpture, especially the deep lines on the horse's leg, hip, head and neck, convey a sense of movement and make the animal appear very powerful. This stone carving combined traditional relief, round Cutting and line Cutting skills, which retained the natural beauty of the stone yet revealed the artistic excellence of the carving.

Horse Stepping on a Xiongnu Soldier combined realistic and romantic ideas with a symbolic interpretation. Ancient Chinese sculptors left us excellent artistic works created from their careful observation of life and executed with refined techniques. The stone carvings in Huo Qubing's Tomb, Such as the Horse Stepping on a Xiongnu Soldier' are fine examples of the simple and bold artistic style of the Han Dynasty.

There is another famous representative sculpture of the Han Dynasty, the bronze statue of a Horse Stepping on a Swallow(Fig.3-6) It was unearthed in an Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) tomb in Wuwei County, Gansu Province, in 1969. It is 34.5 cm high and 41 cm long. The bronze statue created about 2000 years ago has a lively action and accurate proportions. The positioning of its four legs strictly conforms to that of a living horse and is highly praised by many local and foreign archeologists and artists. The horse is raising its head, neighing and galloping forward with one foot treading on a flying swallow. According to analysis of its mechanics, Horse Stepping on a Swallow finds a center of gravity in the swallow to give the statue its stability. The romantic image of the swallow sets off the power and strength of the horse, providing a rich imaginative experience for viewers. The statue of Horse Stepping on a Swallow is a unique product among Chinese bronzeware.

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