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During the Tang Dynasty, the Turkic tribe from the north was the greatest enemy of Han Chinese. The horses they rode were distinctly different from those bred since the Han Dynasty. Judging from the unearthed pottery horses, the Tang people favoured Turkic horses the most. With small heads, thick necks, robust bodies and short legs, they made an impression that they possessed extraordinary strength.


Xiongnu is a minority group who frequently invaded the Central Plain during the Han dynasty. They excelled in mounted archery, surpassing that of the Han Chinese. To improve such a weakness, the Han army went on an expedition to the Western Regions in Xinjiang and Central Asia to seek out the "blood-sweating horses", which had a tint of red in their sweat. These horses were also known as "heavenly horses" for their swiftness over short distance. The Han army believed that this rare breed of horse could rival the Xiongnu's mounts. From the unearthed pottery figurines of the heavenly horses, it is evident that having a protuberance on their foreheads is their distinguishing feature.


In ancient tombs, terracotta figurines were common artefacts. They represented attendants, officials, or warriors. Due to limitation in technique, the bottoms of terracotta figurines were often made bell-shaped in order to stand upright securely, which was a characteristic of Han dynasty terracotta figurines in particular. By the Tang dynasty, advancements in craftsmanship led to the elimination of bell-shaped bottoms, with additional bases attached to the feet instead.


Although Neolithic painted pottery had decorative patterns, these designs were painted using pigments that were easily fade and peel off. The ancients then invented "glaze." By applying glaze to ceramic surfaces and firing, the colours became permanently fixed. The earliest known glaze colour in China was a bluish green shade, which emerged during the Shang dynasty. This early "green" glaze differed from the later popular "green" glaze of the Han dynasty. Both glazes were produced by firing iron elements. However, once the green glaze added with lead components, giving it a toxic nature and a colour similar to dark green leaves, it was suitable only for funerary pottery. On the other hand, the green without lead became the most common glaze for everyday ceramics in China. Therefore, "green glaze" and "green lead glaze" belong to distinct categories.


The stamped pottery are the most distinctive archaeological find in Hong Kong. They belong to a series of Southern Chinese pottery made during the Spring and Autumn period and the Han dynasty. Apart from geometric patterns, there is a decorative motif called “kuiwen”. “Kui” means a young dragon. Since it looks like it is stamped by the overlapping of letter “f”, foreign scholars have described it as the “double-f design”.


The Han army only acquired a little over two hundred “blood-sweating horses”, a quantity too small to form a strong cavalry. Therefore, they mated these heavenly horses with native horse breeds, giving birth to a new breed called “Tian Shan horses”. This hybrid breed, known for its endurance in battle and swift gallop in charges, significantly enhanced the strength of the Han cavalry. As for the physique of “Tian Shan horses”, they had lean bodies with elongated necks and legs. Such bronze and pottery horses are commonly found in the Eastern Han tombs.


Among the many burial items, terracotta horses make a rather profound impression on people. The sculpted horses reflect the rise and fall of the Chinese imperial dynasty. Unearthed in Xi'an, Shaanxi, the Qin-dynasty terracotta warriors showcase the great prowess of the Qin army, which was able to unify the six states. The Qin horses were a native Chinese breed originating from northern China, which shared some similarities with the Mongolian horses of the Yuan dynasty. Their large heads, short legs, compact and sturdy bodies, typified them as hardworking and industrious steeds.


In ancient times, people liked to use green glaze that contained lead to decorate burial items such as pottery utensils, animals, buildings, and warehouses. By the Tang dynasty, lead was added to blue, yellow, brown, and green glazes. By combining three or four glazes on a single piece of ware, Han people produced pottery with colours that were not restricted to deep green but instead were vivid and bright. These lead-glazed pieces were collectively referred to as "Tang Sancai". However, due to the toxic nature of lead, the use of lead glaze was limited to burial pottery.


The tiles on the eaves are a type of hard grey-bodied pottery. In ancient times, these tiles were interconnected by joining one end of a tile to the end of another, forming rows that covered the top of the building. The eaves themselves are composed of multiple rows of tiles. However, each row of tile will leave a gap at the front edge of the eave. The ancient people then specially created a round hard-bodied pottery pieces to plug these gaps, called "tile end”. In addition to their functional purpose, the tiles end usually feature decorative auspicious words, mythical creatures, and scrolling cloud patterns, enhancing its aesthetic appeal.


From the Spring and Autumn period to the Han dynasty, a type of everyday ceramic jar was popular in the southern region of China. Due to its high firing temperature, its grey body was so sturdy that it was called “hard pottery”. Impressed by moulds, the jar had clear and distinct patterns, which were mainly comprised of geometric lines. Square, concentric circle, lattice, meandering, rhombus, and cloud-scroll patterns are some of the examples.

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