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Tang Figures and Guardians

The Tang capital, Chang'an (Xian) in Shaanxi province, was the greatest city in the contemporary world. In the 1st half of the dynasty it was the centre for trade, the exchange of ideas and for the flourishing of arts. It was also a place of luxury, intrigue and beautiful women. Amongst the latter the most famous was indubitably Yang Guifei, the notorious consort of the Emperor Ming Huang. According to tradition she is the reason behind the fashion for somewhat plumper ladies along with the more slender images. Women did not merely influence events through subordinate positions in the Tang period, Empress Wu dominated the Emperor Gaozong in the latter part of his reign and ruled through puppet emperors and in AD 690 took the title of Emperor proving to be a very able and strong ruler. Male figures among the earthenware are often shown as high court officials with solemn expressions. Other figures though will include warriors and show the pastimes of the court, musicians, dancers and male and female polo players.

Figures made for the tombs of the Tang upper class were for 2 reasons, to show the deceased's social status and to look after the welfare and to control the deceased's spirit. The pairs of figures that stood near to the sarcophagus protected the spirit and prevented it from venturing out among the living. These figures could be normally attired or be more frightening images. The lokapala (fangxiang) figures are modelled with some features of Guardian Kings often wearing armour and shown trampling on demons. The Guitou have animal like bodies and fearsome heads and are the most other-worldly and must look impressive enough to deter any evil spirit. The Tang dynasty began 617AD and ended 907AD but the last 100 years was not as the productive as the earlier years following the palace coup which threw out the Emperor Ming Huang.