Standing warrior in polychrome terracotta, Chine, Han Dynasty, 206-220 A.D.
Figure of a standing warrior in polychrome terracotta, made to be placed in a tomb. He stands at attention – probably once holding a spear and shield in the openings of his hands – dressed in a tunic with armour painted on the chest. He wears this tunic over a long skirt and boots. Crowned by a neat bun under a pointed cap, the soldier has a stern face with thin eyebrows, slender eyes, a broad nose above a moustache and closed lips.
Guardian figures such as these are part of a class of artefacts called mingqi; sometimes known as ‘spirit utensils’ or ‘ghost vessels’, as they were designed to assist the po, the part of the deceased’s soul that remained underground with the body while the hun, the other part of the soul, ascended to the afterlife. They became popular in the Han dynasty and would persist for several centuries.