Western Han dynasty (206 BCE–8 CE)
Gift of the Kai-Yin Lo Collection
The horse was one of the most valuable animals in Han dynasty China. The quest for fine horses arose from the immediate need to fight the Xiongnu, the skilled horse-riding nomads who were constantly threatening the western and northern borders of the Han Empire. The large breed that originated from Central Asia was particularly sought after for its speed and noble character, which made it ideal for both battles and sports. Archaeological records indicate that most elite tombs in the Western Han dynasty were furnished with horse sculptures made in ceramic or wood. Many of the ceramic sculptures were modeled after the Central Asian breed of horse, like this example.