• A brief history of China

    The Chinese people share a unique history stretching back more than 5,000 years, for theirs is the world's oldest continuous civilization.

    The history of China is divided into periods each named after a ruling family, or dynasty.

    The first person to rule all China was Qin Shihuangdi, the first emperor. He founded the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC).

    Through all the dynasties, Chinese artists did marvellous work in painting, sculpture and ceramics (pottery).

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  • Liu Tingxun

    These pottery tomb figures were made during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618 - 906).

    They come from a tomb in north China, the tomb of an army general named Liu Tingxun.

    From a written tablet found in this tomb we know Liu Tingxun died in the year AD 728 at the age of 72. The tablet praises for his skill in battle and wisdom in government.

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  • Buried with figures

    Why would a general be buried with pottery figures?

    The answer has to do with belief in an afterlife. The Chinese did not follow one religion, but shared a mixture of beliefs, including the teachings of Confucius, Laozi, and Buddha.

    They believed in life after death, and worshipped their ancestors, and spirits of the home and countryside.

    When someone died, the funeral ceremony was meant to connect the worlds of the living and the dead.

    Liu Tingxun's tomb figures were not toys or ornaments, but religious.

    In earlier times, a dead Chinese king was buried with servants, soldiers and horses, all killed to accompany him into the next world.

    Later, ceramic figures were buried instead of people. China's first emperor, Qin Shihuangdi was buried with an 'army' of thousands of clay soldiers. His vast imperial tomb was found by accident, when people were digging a well in 1974.

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  • Go figure

    The tallest figure in this group from Liu Tingxun's tomb is just over 1 metre high.

    Two look like government officials. One has armour over his green robe, and a bird of prey on his hat.

    Two others are lokapala, 'guardians of the four directions' (North, South, East, West). Statues of these fierce supernatural beings stood outside Chinese Buddhist temples, to scare away evil spirits.

    Two more are fabulous (imaginary) beasts, one with a human face. In the tomb, archaeologists also found pottery horses and camels, and figures of grooms, the servants who in life looked after these animals for their master, Liu Tingxun.

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Fun Facts
  • Chinese cooks often changed the menu when the weather changed.

  • In China, people usually boiled drinking water - or used it to make tea.

  • Foreign visitors to China were surprised by toilet paper - a Chinese invention.

  • Rich Chinese ladies spoiled their pet 'lapdogs' - such as a Pekingese.

  • In the AD 500s the Chinese city of Chang'an was bigger than Rome.

  • The Tang dynasty produced China's greatest poets. It also produced the first printed books.

  • Pottery models show court ladies in the latest fashions - fancy hairstyles, long sleeves, and turned up shoes.

  • At a Chinese funeral, people wore white - white was the colour of mourning and grief.

  • The Chinese told many tales of dragons - not fire-breathing monsters, but amazing magical creatures who brought good luck and treasures, if you were fortunate.

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