Terracotta moulded figures of people, also known as mingqi, and animals were meant to be grave goods to be placed in tombs. It was believed that these figures would serve and assist the deceased in the afterlife. Figures of this type are called mingqui in Chinese, and usually depict servants, officials, soldiers, musicians, court attendants, dancers and, in the case of animals, horses and Bactrian camels. As in life, attendant figures are depicted standing nearby, waiting to fulfil the desires and needs of the deceased. They were lined outside the tomb before the coffin was taken inside, and then placed and arranged inside the tomb. The size and number of the figures in a grave depended on the rank of the deceased. Mingqi are today the most visible testimony from the Tang Dynasty, due to their durability and number. Although most mingqi were mass-produced using moulds, they are remarkably animated: this naturalism was central to the figures’ purpose of providing the deceased with entertainment, service and guardianship.
To discover more about Tang tomb figurines, please visit our relevant post: Chinese Tang Dynasty: Terracotta Tomb Attendants.