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Chinese Horse Paintings

Chinese horse paintings have been a prominent subject for Chinese artists throughout Chinas long and storied past. This is because no other animal has affected its history as much the horse. The horse was domesticated in China around 5,000 years ago. As early as the Shang dynasty (1600 – 1100 BC), horses and chariots have been entombed with their owners.

Chinese Horse Painting
This ceremonial burial was thought to provide its owner with a horse and chariot in the next life. During the Zhou Dynasty (1100 – 770 BC), military might was measured by the number of war chariots that a kingdom had. As China grew, horses became essential for transporting goods and supplies throughout the large country.

Chinese horse paintings date back to these early periods in China. This is because Chinese power and success was due largely in part its equestrian prowess.

This beautiful and mythological animal was thought to have powers similar to the fabled Chinese dragon. Both were thought to be capable of flight, and that they would carry their riders to the “home of the immortals”. Flight has been associated with survival throughout all of Chinese history.

China has long been known for its horse breading tradition. Huge military campaigns were fought in the search for superior “blood-sweating horses”. These military battles were very costly, but eventually led to the establishment of the famous Silk Road.  The fables associated with the Silk Road have often been told through Chinese horse paintings.

China’s history of equestrian invention is unparalleled. First, the invention of a harnessing system based on the breast strap, stirrup, and horse collar. This system allowed the horses power to be harnessed without affecting its ability to breathe. These harnessing systems lead to the development of shafted vehicles pulled by the horse. The stirrup proved to be a monumental invention. For the first time in history, mounted cavalry had a secure platform to fight from. These inventions are reflected in the horse paintings thought Chinese history.
During the Tang dynasty, the roles of horses for economic and military purposes were not the only use for horses in China. Its role in recreational and leisure activities became prevalent. Chinese horse paintings allude to their use in court cuermonies.

While the horse may have diminished in practical importance in modern China, the Equine spirit still runs deeply throughout Chinese art and culture. It is estimated that one-sixth of the world’s horse population is in China. The many different breeds and uses of horses are captured in Chinese horse paintings today. The Chinese love for horses will continue on in paintings for many generations to come.
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