Museum of History shows the "heavenly horses"
An exhibition that shows the important role of the horse in Chinese history and culture, and which coincides with the equestrian events of Beijing 2008 Olympic Games to be held in Hong Kong next month, will be held at the Hong Kong Museum of History from tomorrow (July 16) to October 13.
Entitled “Heavenly Horse - The Horse in Chinese Art and Culture”, the exhibition is jointly presented by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, and organised by the Hong Kong Museum of History and the Art Exhibitions China, and sponsored by the Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited.
Sixty sets of valuable artefacts selected from 14 provinces in China will be featured in the exhibition. National treasures that will be shown in Hong Kong for the first time include the Qin (221-206 BC) terracotta saddled horse, the gilt bronze steed of the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), the postal station pass and Zhao Mengfu’s “Yinma Tu” of the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), and Giuseppe Castiglione’s “Yingjizi” of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The Qing dynasty bronze horse head from Yuanmingyuan (the Old Summer Palace in Beijing) will also be featured.
Other spectacular artefacts on display include the figurine of a guard-of-honour horse of the Northern Dynasties (386-581), the bronze figurines of guards of honour with horses and chariots of the Western Jin dynasty (265-316), the white clay figurine of a dancing horse and the “Sancai” figurine of a horse in mid-air with a female rider of the Tang dynasty (618-907).
Officiating today (July 15) at the exhibition’s opening ceremony were Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Tsang Tak-sing, the Deputy Director-General of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, Mr Dong Baohua, the Managing Director of Shun Tak Holdings Limited, Ms Pansy Ho, the President of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China, Mr Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, the General Manager of the Bank-wide Operation Department, Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited, Mr Ng Leung-sing, the Chief Executive Officer of the Equestrian Events (Hong Kong) of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad Company Limited, Mr Lam Woon-kwong, and the Chief Curator of Hong Kong Museum of History, Ms Esa Leung Kit-ling.
Mr Tsang said, “The Olympic Games, which will be held for the first time in China, will soon be opened in Beijing. Hong Kong is honoured to be the co-organiser of the Olympic equestrian events, and would like to take this opportunity to present an exhibition with the theme on horses. To introduce the Chinese history and culture, the exhibition not only adds a cultural touch to the equestrian events in Hong Kong but also expresses our support for the events in Beijing.
“China has a profound history of horse culture,” Mr Tsang said. “Historically, the number and quality of horses reflected the nation’s military power and prosperity. Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty sent envoys to import 'heavenly horse' from Ferghana in Central Asia to fight against the invading Huns from the north. The appearance of heavenly horses could only be found in written records until the bronze horses were unearthed from the archeological sites of the Han dynasty. The beauty of the heavenly horse was then able to be shown and it will be featured in this exhibition.
“Apart from the functions of military and transportation, the horse has also played a significant role in sports. One thousand year ago, hunting, horse performances and polo matches were already popular activities in the Tang dynasty. The horse, due to its close relationship with mankind, became an important theme of Chinese literature and arts. Artists in the past centuries have left us plenty of fascinating relics and paintings of horse and this exhibition will feature some of them,” Mr Tsang said.
Bones of horses dating back as far as the late Neolithic Age (c. 2500-1500 BC) have been found at a number of archaeological sites in China. Several sacrificial pits containing the remains of chariots and horses excavated at Anyang, capital of the Bronze Age Shang dynasty (c.16th-11th century BC), suggest that horses were domesticated, and sophisticated techniques for mastering horse-drawn carriages were developed more than 3,000 years ago. In the pre-Qin period (before 221 BC), chariots were used by aristocrats as a means of transport, for waging war and as symbols of high social status. Lifelike figures of riders and saddled horses in the Terracotta Army unearthed from the mausoleum of Emperor Qinshihuang (r.221-210 BC) clearly indicate the contemporary features of the horsemen and their warhorses.
Cavalry became increasingly important during the Qin and Han dynasties in the defence against the southern advances of the nomadic Xiongnu people. To improve the quality of its horses, Emperor Wu (r. 141-87 BC) of the Han dynasty imported fine steeds from the Western Regions, while equine models, or “mashi”, were manufactured as standards on which the horses were selected. Eventually, with the help of its cavalry, the Han empire gained control over the Western Regions. The popular Han dynasty belief in immortals led the fine steeds from the Western Regions to be considered divine beings, and they became known as “Tianma” (Heavenly Horses). There was also a popular belief in “Longma” (Dragon Horses). The number of bronze horses that have been unearthed all over China is evidence of the especially high demand for fine horses in that era.
From the Wei and Jin dynasties (220-420) onwards, the aristocratic clans who moved to southern China preferred to ride in carriages drawn by oxen; the days of excursions in horse-drawn carriages had passed. By the time of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (386-589), the Central Plains had been overrun by nomadic warriors from abroad. Warhorses of the period were clad in armour and with the appearance of stirrups and the improvements made to saddles, cavalry units became both swifter and more powerful. Large numbers of pottery figurines of warhorses in action have been found in tombs from this period. The Sui and Tang dynasties (581-907) saw China at the zenith of its power, with contacts between China and the outside world reaching an unprecedented level. It became fashionable in Chinese society to take up customs from foreign cultures, especially in horse-riding - an activity that became “de rigueur” for both male and female members of the nobility. They often went hunting and played polo, while performances of horse dancing were a feature of festivities at the imperial court. With its main attack force the light cavalry, the Tang army scored one victory after another in its wars against the turkic people of Central Asia, acquiring a fearsome reputation that spread far beyond China’s borders. Tang dynasty art that features horses, from paintings and sculptures to gold and silver implements and “sancai” ceramic figures, is very detailed and lifelike, and the artistic depiction of horses during this period reached a level that has never been paralleled.
The Mongols, a tribe of nomadic herdsmen who founded their nation in the northern steppes, were superb horsemen. Riding westwards across Asia as far as eastern Europe, their armoured cavalry conquered every nation and people in its path and established the great Mongol Empire that stretched across Eurasia. The Mongol rulers of the Yuan dynasty paid a lot of attention to the administration of horses and also pioneered a postal system that used courier horses to convey military orders and exchange information. In the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the government set up many horse farms and encouraged commoners to breed horses, and officials made regular offerings to equine deities. Specialised books such as “Yuanheng Liaomaji” (The Yuan and Heng Brothers’ Compendium of Equine Medicine) and “Mashu” (The Book of Horses) collated the experience in equine medicine and husbandry gained during the preceding dynasties. Originating in Manchuria, the Manchus of the Qing dynasty were great horseback hunters. However, they prohibited commoners from breeding horses. During the reigns of the Kangxi and Qianlong emperors (1736-1795), Western missionaries were engaged as court painters: combining Eastern and Western techniques in their works, they gave rise to a whole new aesthetic of horses depicted in art. The middle of the 19th century saw the gunboats of the Western powers blasting open the once closed doors of the Qing dynasty. With mechanised guns dominating the battlefield, horses declined in importance, and they gradually ceased to be used in the military, in transport and in the lives of the nobility in China.
Featuring valuable artefacts and works of art, this exhibition presents various historical themes in Chinese equine culture, such as the evolution of horse tack, political developments, social life, religious beliefs and art, with the aim of providing visitors with a greater understanding of the relationship of horse with Chinese culture in different periods of time.
To enhance viewers’ appreciation of the exhibition, a series of lectures will be organised. “Beyond the Image: Chinese Horse Painting” and Cavalcade in Han Dynasty Art” to be held on July 19 and July 26 will be given respectively by the Senior Tutor, Dr Chui Lai-sha, and Tutor, Dr Marianne Wong Pui-yin, of the Chinese Civilisation Centre, City University of Hong Kong. The two lectures, conducted in Cantonese, will be held in the museum’s Lecture Hall from 3pm to 5pm with free admission. Seats are available on a first-come-first-served basis. For details, call 2724 9082.
In addition, a fully illustrated catalogue is available at the museum’s Gift Shop.
The Museum of History is located at 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. The museum is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays).
Admission for the “Heavenly Horse” exhibition is $20 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. No free admission on Wednesdays.
For details of the exhibition, please visit the Museum of History's websites at http://hk.history.museum/ or http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/Museum/History, or call 2724 9042.
Ends/Tuesday, July 15, 2008
The opening ceremony of the "Heavenly Horse - The Horse in Chinese Art and Culture" was held today (July 15) at the Hong Kong Museum of History. The officiating guests played drums at the ceremony to mark the opening of the exhibition. Pictured are (from left) the Chief Executive Officer of the Equestrian Events (Hong Kong) of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad Company Limited, Mr Lam Woon-kwong, the Managing Director of Shun Tak Holdings Limited, Ms Pansy Ho, the Deputy Director-General of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, Mr Dong Baohua, the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Tsang Tak-sing, the President of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China, Mr Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, the General Manager of the Bank-wide Operation Department, Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited, Mr Ng Leung-sing, and the Chief Curator of Hong Kong Museum of History, Ms Esa Leung Kit-ling.
The Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Tsang Tak-sing (left), and the President of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China, Mr Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, appreciate the "Gilt bronze horse", one of the star exhibits of the "Heavenly Horse - The Horse in Chinese Art and Culture", after officiating at the opening ceremony of the exhibition today (July 15) at the Hong Kong Museum of History.
The opening ceremony of the "Heavenly Horse - The Horse in Chinese Art and Culture", which coincides with the equestrian events of Beijing 2008 Olympic Games to be held in Hong Kong, was held today (July 15) at the Hong Kong Museum of History. The officiating guests took picture after the ceremony in front of the Fuwa, mascots of Olympic Games. Pictured are (from left) the Deputy Director-General of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, Mr Dong Baohua, the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Tsang Tak-sing, the President of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China, Mr Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Equestrian Events (Hong Kong) of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad Company Limited, Mr Lam Woon-kwong.