During the Tang Dynasty, restrictions were placed on the number of objects that could be included in tombs, an amount determined by an individual's social rank. In spite of the limitations, a striking variety of tomb furnishings have been excavated. Entire retinues of ceramic figures - animals, entertainers, musicians, guardians - were buried with the dead. This dynamic warrior bares a striking resemblance to the Buddhist warrior deities known as Lokapalas that have their origins as protectors of Buddhist temples but assumed a mortuary role in China. However, this warrior does not stand in the traditional stance of the Lokapala, subduing a demon or triumphing over a recumbent beast. Although this figure is slightly different, we can assume his role in the afterlife would have been the same.
This warrior is poised for battle, arms raised in the air, mouth held open as if emitting a battle cry. A small amount of the original polychrome is still visible, specifically along his arms. According to one Chinese tradition explaining their origin, the emperor Taizong when ill was threatened by ghosts outside of his room screeching and throwing bricks and tiles. When his general Jin Shubao (Chin Shu-pao) and a fellow officer came to stand guard the activity of the ghosts ceased. The grateful emperor had portraits of the two men hung on either side of his palace gates, and thereafter their images became widespread as door-gods. Originally, this warrior would have brandished a weapon in his hands. Most likely a sword or spear, this weapon was probably fabricated in a material such as wood that deteriorated over the centuries. Although he was intended to protect the tomb and ward off any infiltrators, be they tomb robbers or malevolent spirits, this warrior does not repel us; instead, his compelling history and stunning aesthetic beauty attracts us to him.