Chinese Tang tomb figures

Northern China, about AD 728

About one metre high, these are among the tallest known burial figures from the Tang dynasty (AD 618-906). They come from the tomb of Liu Tingxun, an important official.

The group comprises two fabulous beasts (one with a human face), two fierce lokapala, guardian figures usually seen at the entrance to temples, and in the centre, two officials, one military, one civil. The military official has armour over his green robe and a bird of prey on his hat.

Figures of horses, camels and grooms from the same tomb group are also on display in the British Museum. They are reputed to be from the tomb of Liu Tingxun, an important military commander who died in AD 728.

The memorial tablet found with these figures records his skill in military matters and the arts of statesmanship, and that he died at the age of 72.

It is interesting that all the human heads are unglazed, including that of the fabulous beast, as are the flaming manes of both animals. Otherwise, the figures are completely covered with lead sancai (three-colour) glaze.

Burial practices in China

From early in China's history, society attempted to cross the boundary between this world and the next, calling on the ancestors of both rulers and ordinary people.


Ancestors were worshipped because of their ability to communicate with the many gods and spirits on behalf of the living.

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Imperial China


Imperial Chinese history is marked by the rise and fall of many dynasties.

Imperial China world culture

Tang dynasty


Chinese Tang
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Object details

Probably from Henan province, China
Tang dynasty

Tallest figure
Height: 107.7 cm
Width: 49 cm
Depth: 25 cm


Asia OA 1936.10-12.220-9

Room 33: Asia


    S.J. Vainker, Chinese pottery and porcelain, from prehistory to the present (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

    See these objects in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    M.H. Fong, ‘Antecedents of Sui-Tang Burial Practices in Shaanxi’, Artibus Asiae, 51 (2001), 147–198

    C. Michaelson, Gilded Dragons: Buried Treasures from China’s Golden Age (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)

    C, Michaelson, and J. Portal, Chinese Art in Detail (London, The British Museum Press, 2006)

    J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum Book of Chinese Art (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)

    N. Wood, Chinese Glazes (Pennsylvania, 1998)

    P.B. Ebrey, The Cambridge Illustrated History of China, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999)