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Mingqi

CHINESE TOMB FIGURINES

BY
WILLEM CLAESSEN

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Tomb figurines of earth spirits

Such composite beasts have been called by a variety of terms in English and Chinese, including chimera, guaishou (strange animal), or tianlu (heavenly deer). Currently, the correct Chinese term for such beasts is zhenmushou, literally "tomb guardian creature". During the Six Dynasties period, ceramic mingqi versions of this composite beast begin to appear inside the tomb, often in pairs with one having a human face and the other having an animal face, usually that of a lion.

In some instances they have cloven hooves, like those of a deer, rather than lion's paws. Although pointed horns on their heads and spiky flanges along their backs indicate their supernatural power, these creatures are often endowed with benevolent, even smiling faces. However, during the Sui and Tang periods, zhenmushou become increasingly dramatic and fearsome.

Multiple horns, fangs, tentacles and wings along with clenched fists and grimacing facial expressions heighten their poer to ward off evil spirtis. Rendered in large scale and embellished with vivid colors, these figures effectively convey their supernatural power to conquer evil. Here, the artists' creativity has conjured up images that certainly did not exist in the everyday world.