Terracotta moulded figures of people and animals were meant to be used as grave goods, to be placed in tombs. It was believed that these figures would serve and assist the deceased in the afterlife. Figures of this type are called mingqi in Chinese, and usually depict servants, officials, soldiers, musicians, court attendants, dancers and, in the case of animals, horses and Bactrian camels. As in life, attendant figures are depicted standing nearby, waiting to fulfil the desires and needs of the deceased. The insignia on the horseman’s hat might qualify the figure as a member of the Eight Banners, also known as Baqi, a militarily and social hierarchical system used by the Manchu people after the foundation of their empire, the Later Jin Dynasty. The Eight Banners military system remained valid through the whole Qing period and was only abolished after the demise of the empire in 1912. The Eight Banners’ structure, as suggested by its name, comprised of eight banners decorated with the same dragon pattern, but in varying colours.
To discover more about Chinese terracotta statuettes, please visit our relevant blog post: Terracotta Tomb Attendants.