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January 22, 2022

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The galloping horse that became a tourism symbol

THE symbol of China’s national tourism is a galloping horse, of which the prototype is a cultural relic excavated from a Han Dynasty (202 BC-AD 220) tomb in Wuwei in the northwestern province of Gansu.

The artifact, popularly known as “Bronze Galloping Horse Treading on Flying Swallow” is one of the highlights of the Gansu Provincial Museum in the capital city of Lanzhou.

The old name of Wuwei is Liangzhou, which was a major trading hub on the Silk Road. Emperor Wu of Han changed the name of the place, which implied strong military power.

In north Wuwei, there is a rammed earth platform measuring 106x60x8.5 meters. Locals call the platform Leitai because of the Leizu Taoist temple on it. Lei means thunder in Chinese and therefore the temple is said to be built for worshiping the god of thunder in Chinese mythology.

Apart from the Leizu temple, there are another nine buildings built in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties on the platform.

The bronze galloping horse was unearthed from a Han Dynasty tomb, which was underneath the platform. The tomb was discovered in the autumn of 1969 by a group of local farmers who were digging an air-raid shelter.

Cai Yao, one of the farmers, found something hard in the soil as deep as 9 meters blow ground. Under the dim light of a kerosene lamp, the surprised farmers found that a pile of bronze vehicles, horses and figures with verdigris placed on the floor paved with bricks. They transported the artifacts to the warehouse in the village.

Hearing the news, Dang Shoushan working at the Wuwei cultural center rushed to the site.

He believed that it was an ancient tomb of a nobleman. Dang cleaned and archived the cultural relics, which were moved to the local Confucian temple before going to the Gansu Provincial Museum in 1970 for safekeeping.

The identity of the occupant and time when the tomb was built are still unknown.

Some experts believe that it belongs to a general surnamed Zhang and was built in the late Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220).

The discovery did not cause a sensation until September in 1971 when Guo Moruo (1892-1978), a writer, historian and archaeologist, accompanied the then prime minister of Cambodia Penn Nouth to visit the Gansu Provincial Museum.

The galloping horse soon attracted Guo’s attention. He declared that the artifact was the world-class treasure.

Weighing 7.3 kilograms, the bronze statue measures 34.5x45x13.1 centimeters. It features a whinnying horse in a running motion with three legs stretching out and one stepping on a flying swallow.

The swallow not only adds aesthetic value to the artifact but also has practicability — giving horse a center of gravity.

Returning to Beijing, Guo thought of the artifact constantly and therefore he discussed it with Wang Yeqiu, then director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, who agreed to transport the bronze horse from Gansu to Beijing for restoration.

The artifact was incomplete when it was found.

There were many holes on the neck and the mane and the tail were missing.

Zhao Zhenmao, a famous bronze restorer at the Palace Museum in Beijing, was responsible for the restoration of the national treasure. He used tin to solder the mane and hair, and copper and tin to mend the holes. Afterwards, Zhao adopted a traditional way to create an antique finish on the artifact.

Displayed at a cultural relics exhibition held in the Palace Museum in the early 1970s, the bronze galloping horse wowed the circle of archaeology and history. In 1973, the national treasure was exhibited in Britain and France.

In 2002, it was listed as one of the national treasures that are permanently prohibited from going abroad.

In early December last year, the Gansu Provincial Museum announced that the bronze statue will be put on display from May 1 to October 15 every year in the museum starting from this year.


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