The vast majority of objects unearthed from tombs in China
are three-dimensional clay sculptures. Know as mingqi, these
pieces replicate humans, animals and everyday objects used by
the deceased and were made strictly for funerary use.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the creation of images
used in burial practice dates to the Shang Dynasty (1523 - 1028
BC). Wooden and clay figures began to appear during the Zhou
Dynasty (770 - 221 BC). The spectacular discovery of the burial
site of life-size clay soldiers and horses to accompany the
first emperor of a unified China, Qin Shihuangdi (r. 221 - 210
BC), bears testimony to the sophisticated design and production
of mingqi by that time.
During the next one thousand years mingqi became a central
component of Chinese burial practices. However by the ninth
century mingqi were produced in fewer quantities than before,
and their quality declined. During the subsequent Liao (907 -
1125), Song (960 --1279) and Yuan (1271 - 1368) Dynasties,
ceremic images were gradually replaced by those made from paper.
Paper objects, rether then geing buried with the deceased were
sent into the afterworld by burning, a custom still practiced in
some Chinese communities today.