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The Ferghana horses, immortalised in Chinese literature and the visual arts, were introduced into China from modern Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyztan during the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). Obtaining these extraordinary stallions was a priority for the Tang dynasty Emperor Taizong (AD 626-49), despite the fact that by the middle of the 7th century the Tang government owned more than 700,000 - built up through tribute gifts and the careful management of official herds. Emperor Taizong was so devoted to his own horses that he ordered bas reliefs of his six favourite steeds to be carved and placed on his tomb. Even Emperor Xuanzong (AD 847-59) was said to have had two consuming passions – beautiful women and horses.
Such horses were used both for military campaigns and for leisure activities – they became symbols of power and prosperity for the Tang dynasty elite. Also, during the early years of the Tang dynasty, the increasing cross-cultural fertilization between sedentary Chinese and Central Asian semi-nomadic people encouraged the fashion of horse riding. Its tremendous popularity was very soon restrained by an imperial edict in 667, decreeing that only aristocrat (of both sexes) should be allowed to ride horses: thus owing a horse became a privilege of members of the upper class.
During the Tang Dynasty this mania would permeate and greatly influence mingqi (burial) figures. In terms of technical and artistic achievement, as sculptural representations of the fashions of the time, the highest quality plain pottery mingqi tended to be more successful than those glazed. The unglazed painted pottery the artisans felt best able to explore the details and overall decoration that fascinated the Tang aristocracy.