Skip to main content

Flying Horse of Gansu

Source: Michael Gunther
Gansu Provincial Museum

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

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.

Further Reading:
- "Flying Horse of Gansu", The Best Art You've Never Seen: 101 Hidden Treasures from Around the World by Julian Spalding


Popular posts from this blog

The Heavenly Horses of the Han Dynasty

The Heavenly Horses of the Han Dynasty

The most well-known part of the Silk Road are the so-called northern routes of the overland Silk Road. These routes linked Xi’an in China, with Lanzhou, Dunhuang, Turfan and Kashgar. Traditionally the “opening” of this branch of the Silk Road is attributed to the military and commercial missions of Emperor Wudi, who ruled from 157 to 87 BC during the Han Dynasty. Although silk is often considered to be the main commodity exchanged, but what really kick started the trade over these northern routes was the Chinese demand for horses, and in particular ‘heavenly horses.’ But, as you may wonder, what were heavenly horses? Where did they come from? And what were the motives behind the desire for horses in Han-period China? 
The Discovery of Heavenly Horses Unfortunately, the breeds of horses associated with these ‘heavenly horses’ are extinct today, but archaeological discoveries can provide us with a glimpse of how they may have looked like. For instanc…

Hepu and the Opening of the Han Dynasty's Maritime Silk Road

Hepu and the Opening of the Han Dynasty's Maritime Silk Road
Today, many Chinese scholars believe that China’s first turn to the sea was during the Han Dynasty and took place in Southern China. To explore this theory, we have to travel to the most southern coastal regions of China bordering the South China Sea. This area, historically called Lingnan, roughly corresponds to the present-day provinces of Guangxi and Guangdong. When looking at a map of China, these two provinces are at the most southern point of China. According to Chinese historians this region is the cradle of the maritime silk road in China and there are two reasons why they think so: first, in Lingnan they have discovered the remains of two Han-period ports that are mentioned in an early historical text; and secondly also in this region they have found a large number of so-called ‘oversea goods’ in Han-dynasty tombs.
Historical Evidence: The Book of Han Let’s first have a look at this historical text, which is the …