After almost four hundred years of civil war and division, Yang Jian succeeded in reunifying north and south under one authority, the Sui Dynasty. However, despite its brief duration, lasting for the rule of only two emperors, the Sui Dynasty paved the way for the cultural renaissance that would arise during the T’ang Dynasty. Reforms were introduced to wrest power out of the hands of the aristocracy, military, and Buddhist communities. The Confucianist system of selecting government officials from state schools, by means of rigorous examinations, was initiated. Perhaps their most significant program was the construction of the Great Canal, a project that facilitated the movement of people and goods across great distances, aiding in the reunification of China. However, the cost of the Canal bankrupted the empire and ultimately led to its dissolution, coupled with a failed campaign to conquer Korea. The rulers of the T’ang would capitalize on the infrastructure improvements of the Sui and establish one of the greatest empires in the history of China, following the footsteps of the Sui.
camel is an unusual domestic animal; it carries a saddle of flesh on its back;
swiftly it dashes over the shifting sands; it manifests its merit in dangerous
places; it has a secret understanding of springs and sources, subtle indeed is
Pu, 3rd Century AD
Camels symbolized commerce and its associated
wealth, largely concentrated on profits through trading on the Silk Road.
Trade across this extensive network of trails brought prosperity, foreign
merchants, and exotic merchandize into the heart of China.
However, the dusty trails of the Silk Road were an arduous journey
through the rugged mountains and harsh desert of Central Asia that could only be
traversed by the two humped Bactrian camel.
The government kept vast herds of these invaluable creatures, presided
over by civil officials, for hauling their precious commodities across the Silk
Road. Camels were a common sight in
the cosmopolitan cities of China, carrying both traders and their goods directly
into the markets. Likewise, artist
began to create charming representations of these prized creatures as mingqi
in order to symbolize wealth and prosperity in the afterlife.
Mingqi were works of art created in an ancient Chinese custom
specifically for interment in the tombs of elite individuals in order to provide
for their needs in the afterlife. Some
of the most beautiful works of Chinese art were excavated from such tombs, and
this crème-glazed sculpture of a camel, loaded with a swollen bundle of goods,
is a perfect example of the refined artistry dedicated to such works, despite
the facts that they were not intended to be viewed by the living.
Most remarkable, this work still retains some of its original painted
pigment, including red highlights on his ears and mouth, which heighten the
naturalism. This majestic sculpture
reveals China’s respect and admiration for this beast of burden, so essential
to their prosperity.