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Flying Horse of Gansu

The Flying Horse of Gansu, Bronze Running Horse (铜奔马), Galloping Horse
Treading on a Flying Swallow (马踏飞燕)
Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220 AD)
Bronze/ 34.545.6 cm
Excavated in 1969 from the Leitai Tomb belonging to General Zhang of Zhang Ye, Wuwei County, Gansu Province
Gansu Provincial museum, Lanzhou, China
Image by Michael Gunther, Gansu provincial museum

This is a realistic, three-dimensional, bronze sculpture of a galloping and neighing horse that has its right hoof treading on a flying bird. It was found together with 38 other bronze horse statues with chariots, of which some where inscribed with the name of General Zhang of Zhang Ye.
Similar images of horses in full gallop have been found in other Eastern Han tombs and were painted on stone and brick reliefs. Before and during the Han Dynasty horses as were status symbols and greatly desired by the Han elite and military society. Archaeologists believe these horses might represent the "heavenly" (Tian Ma 天马) or "blood-sweating" horse breeds described in early historical sources. These animals are thought to have descended from heavenly horses, and roamed in the Kingdom of Dayuan (大宛), located in the Ferghana Valley, north of the Hindu Kush. The Book of Han (Hanshu 汉书) records that Emperor Wudi send an envoy with gifts to Ferghana in the second century BC, hoping to acquire these superior horses. However, the king refused and a second expeditions with over hundred-thousand soldiers was send to defeat Dayuan. This victory led to the possession of the famed "heavenly horses" and a steady stream of tribute from Central Asian kingdoms to the Han court. Nowadays, in China "the flying Horse of Gansu" has become a symbol of the Gansu Province and its important position on the overland Silk Road.

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