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March 21, 2010

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Musical figures show tomb art development

ANCIENT Chinese people believed they would go to an afterlife when they died. So they placed miniature versions of things for everyday use in tombs for the deceased, hoping that the dead could enjoy the next life like when they were alive.

These grave objects gradually developed into funerary artworks and reflected the social standing of the deceased.

The most famous form of funerary art is the battalions of terra-cotta warriors made in the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) that were found in the tomb of Qing Shi Huang, the first emperor of China.

Over the ages, many forms of terra-cotta figurines were developed.

As an example of the progress made, a pair of terra-cotta figures from the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220) displayed in the Shanghai Museum are no longer warriors, but musicians.

The man is playing the xiao, a traditional Chinese vertical flute, and the woman, wearing a hat decorated with flowers, is playing the qin, a stringed musical instrument.

The most striking aspect of the figures are their facial expressions.

It looks like they are happily smiling from the bottom of their hearts, deeply reveling in beautiful melodies.

The smiles are contagious, such that visitors today can almost hear their music and feel the happy rhythms.

The terra-cotta figurines were made from clay after extreme high-temperature baking. After the bodies of the figurines were formed, they were usually painted.

Regretfully, the colors on the displayed figures have faded.

But although we cannot enjoy what would have been the original hues, the vivid and lifelike demeanor the ancient craftsmen created of the couple has an ancient glamor that still catches our eye.


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