Male Dancer Figurine of Tang Dynasty

In the spring of 1950, several shepherd boys in the outskirts of Nanjing were pasturing cattle beneath Mr. Zutang, when they inadvertently discovered a cave. The brave children adventured into the cave, and not long after, they came out of the cave, pottery figurines in hand. The news that there was an ancient tomb beneath Mr. Zutang spread like wildfire, and the local public security bureau sprung into action to protect the ancient tomb  and the information was then reported to the related Nanjing authorities. After going through several archaeological experts, the head of Nanjing Museum, Zeng Zhaoyu, at first judged that these relics very likely belonged to the tomb of an emperor. Under Mayor Liu Bocheng's orders, just after the founding of the P.R.C., Nanjing's first large-scale archaeological dig had begun. Archaeologists beneath Mt.Zutang  found that there actually two tombs, the first area, the Qingling Tomb, is the co-entombment site of the Southern Tang's first Emperor Li Bian and his wife Lady Song. The master to the tomb was entombed in 943 A.D. The other tomb is the Shunling Tomb; it is located southwest of the Qingling Tomb. It is the co-entombment site of the Southern Tang's second emperor, Li Jing, and wife Lady Zhong. The master of the tomb was entombed in 961 A.D. Experts refer to these two tombs as the "Southern Tang Two Tombs". It is also in this area that the people pf Jiangnan have discovered the largest cluster of imperial tombs. Many pieces of burial pottery were unearthed from inside Li Bian's tomb, most of them were pottery figurines of people, those figurines were also the most exquisite. Of the male figurines, there were solemn civil ministers, and also of course, our male dancer figurines. Of the female figurines, there are palace females with high-binned hair, maidservants that are standing while holding things, and also female dancers, dancing airily about. They are the epitome of Southern Tang royal court personages.  

This male dancer figurine has features such as large round eyes and a lightly opened mouth, the corners of which rise slightly, revealing a faint smile. The pottery figurine's head is somewhat large, this exaggerated sculpting technique the craftsman adopted to highlight humanistic facial expression. The figurine is wearing a turban on his head, a narrow-sleeved long robe across his body with a sash tied around his waist, and a pair of long boots on his feet, it was a popular outfit in the Tang worn by western outsiders. The male dancer figurine has his chest exposed, with his left arm raised high, right arm naturally draped behind his body. as though in performance of a western-styled dance.

This male dancer figurine   wearing non-Han attire spent over 1000years underground accompanying its tomb's master, it was only in the 1950s when several children happened to across it by chance  that it was able to again see the light of day.

Inside Li Bian's tomb, in addition to clay figurines, there were also the mystical human-headed, fish-bodied figurines, making them rare works of art.

Li Bian was the first emperor of the Southern Tang. The Southern Tang Dynasty lies between the Tang and Song dynasties, during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. During  the course of a mere 50-60 years, the central plains regions, time and again, transformed between the of the Later Liang, the Later Tang, the Later Jin, the Later Han, and the Later Zhou dynasties. In addition to these five dynasties, in the South, there were simultaneously a flux of separatist regimes, including those of the Former Shu, Later Shu, Wu, Southern Tang, Wuyue, Min, Chu, and others. People later on referred to these grimes as the "Ten Kingdoms", and the Southern Tang was one of these ten kingdoms. The scope of the boundaries included all of today's Jiangxi as well as parts of Anhui, Jiangsu, Fujian, Hubei, and Hunan. The capital was the city of Jinling, which is known today as Nanjing.

Emperor Li Bian of the Southern Tang came from a poor background, serving as a monk at a temple. Later on he was taken on by the Kingdom of Wu's Minister, Xu Wen, as an adopted son, changing his surname to Xu. Li Bian was very intelligent and moreover quite filially pious to his adoptive father. After Li Bian grew up, he led troops to engage in battle, and after repeatedly succeeding in all his engagements, the Wu Emperor appointed him with a high office and after Xu Wen's death, Li Bian completely had grasped control of Wu's affair of state. In 937 A.D., he ascended the throne, creating a new regime. In order to be justifiable in his attempts ti govern the nation, Li Bian referred to himself as a descendent of the Tang imperial lineage, thus he restored his original surname, and changed the kingdom's name to that of the Tang. It wasn't until later on, so as to separate this kingdom from the Tang Dynasty, that scholars changed the name to the Southern Tang.

According to historical records, after Li Bian ascended the throne, he diligently managed governmental affairs, promoting what was beneficial and abolishing what was harmful, changing old policies, and cultivating friendships between neighboring states, protecting the borders, and putting the people's hearts at ease, winning him the admiration of the masses. Li Bian himself extremely admired the manner of the Tang Dynasty during its heyday, so he tried to mimic it in many ways. In addition to policies of state, the outsider outfits and dancing that were so famous in the Tang Dynasty made a comeback in the Southern Tang. The dance that this male dancer figurine is dancing is none other than the well-acclaimed Tang Dynasty "Belly Dance".

Experts believe that what this male dancer figurine shows us is the image of a performer in the Southern Tang's royal court. Ancient Chinese performers were artists that specialized in song and dance and their status was relatively low. During the Southern Tang, the Emperor, Li Bian, advocated the practice of Tang dance. Experts say that the dance this male dancer figurine is performing is the same "belly dance" that comes to mind whenever anyone mentions the "belly dance". The belly dance is an ancient dance,  its dancers have to perform rigorous exercise to train their abdominal muscles and create its special visual effect. In 943 A.D., Li Bian died, his eldest son, Li Jing, claimed the throne. After Li Jing assumed the throne, he changed his father's conservative policies and began to deploy troops outside the country on a large scale. During his reign, the territory of the Southern Tang Dynasty was constantly expanded. In 957 A.D., the Later Zhou dispatched troops to the Southern Tang, and occupied most the regions along the Huaihe River, and then pressed deeply into the inner reaches of the Yangtze. Li Jing died in 961 A.D. When Li Jing died, his son, Li Yu succeeded the throne. Li Yu was a well-known ancient Chinese Ci poet. In 975 A.D., the regime of the Southern Tang was destroyed by the Song Dynasty. Although the reign of the Southern Tang didn't last long, the Southern Tang brought about a flourishing culture. The dances, pottery figurines, and poetry have become an abundant resource of rich culture for later generations, and this male dancer figurine is proof of such.

During the Ten Kingdoms period, there were 41 emperors in total, but their tombs are rarely found. So far, we have only discovered the Yongling Tomb of the Former Shu Emperor Wang Jian in Chendu, and the Qinling Tomb of the Southern Tang Emperor Li Bian and the Shunling Tomb of Li Jing in Nanjing. During this period of frequent warfare, historical relics were scant. The male dancer figurine unearthed from Li Bian's tomb has provided a great deal of valuable material for our knowing about the history and royal court life of the Southern Tang.

 

 

top