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Mingqi

CHINESE TOMB FIGURINES

BY
WILLEM CLAESSEN

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Tomb figurines of heavenly kings

The type of guardian was soon replaced by another still more vived guardian image, that of the tianwangyong, or Heavenly King.

Modelled after variuos Buddhist cult images, such as the Four Lokapalas or Guardians of the Four Cardinal Directions, the grimacing Heavenly Kings are warriors posed aggressively upon a demonlike dwarf or a recumbent ox, symbolizing evil averted. Such images are often found outside of the entrance to Buddhist temples, where they fend off evil spirits from the throne of the Buddha. Thus, this final version of the guardian warrior, the Heavenly King, constitutes a fusion of earlier examples of tomb guardian warriors with Buddhist iconographical influence by protecting the burial site from evil spirits emanating from the four directions.

The Heavnely Kings are usually found together with pairs of the zhenmushou tomb guardian creatures, representing a culmination of the variety and multiplicity of fantastic images designed to carry the deceased safely to his final destination in the next world.