Though nearly two thousand years have passed since the fall of the great Han dynasty the Chinese still take pride in calling themselves the sons of Han. They have never ceased to bask in the splendor of its artistic, military, and administrative achievements. The epoch was roughly contemporaneous with that of Rome in the west, extending from 206 B.C. to A.D. 220 but, as it was broken at midspan by a brief interregnum, it is called the Former and the Later Han, or the Western and the Eastern since, after the usurpation, the capital was moved from Ch'ang-an eastward to Loyang.
Though the rich heritage of the dynasty has long been ardently admired, until the last quarter of a century comparatively little archaeological work had been done in the way of unearthing its treasures. Superstition feared the disturbance of the spirits of the earth and air (a dread sometimes conquered by tomb robbers); when the West became archaeologically minded and began to excavate sites all over the world the Chinese did not welcome such projects in their midsts -- yet they held back from digging themselves. This was due to yet another prejudice -- that a scholar could not do any manual work. In this way the expertise of their new and scientifically educated generations who had studied in Europe and America was thwarted. Now these fetishes have been swept away and a spate of treasures is being unearthed in almost every province of China. The more that is dug up in the way of bronze, gold, jade, pottery, even silk, the more magnificent seem the achievements of the great Han and its predecessors.
Han art was simple and strong, tended towards the linear, but did not neglect the three-dimensional and glyptic. The miniature figurines and tomb objects, small though they are, are so proportioned that they seem almost monumental, they are massively conceived, and even when made of ceramic, often appear as though made of stone, and cut from a block by a sculptor. They made little effort to convey anything concrete in the way of anatomy or muscular development; forms were presented almost geometrically, with an extraordinary ability to suggest the artist's vision. The Later Han was marked by an advance in subtlty and sophistication.
This noble horse -- which is shown here in so strange a pose to Western eyes -- was made of clay with white slip and red pigments, and dates from the Eastern Han. Though by actual measuremennt small (11 1/4" X 13 1/2"), it gives an impression of being almost huge -- it is monumental in quality. The small, fine head was made separately from the body. Its color is a glowing terracotta, accentuated by the white lines of the harness and decoration, the white teeth and black eyes. The body is simplified, yet the animal seems before us, in all its dignity, romantic courage and strength, giving us yet another proof of the genius of the Han artists.