Two painted earthenware figurines of female
dancers, white pigmented faces with red lips,
upswept hair in high bun, high
waisted flowing floor-length gown with
frontal central pleat revealing trefoil
upturned shoes, traces of original
One arm folded backward behind the back, the
other raised and bent at an angle, the long sleeve
covering the hand to mimic a dance movement.
Music, as well as dance, was highly appreciated by
the Tang aristocracy who would indulge frequently
in lavish displays. The atmosphere was well
captured by the poet Du Fu (712-770), who in his
“Song of the Beautiful Ladies” provides a poetic
description of these entertainments:
“Third month, third day, in the air a breath of
By Chang’ An riverbanks the beautiful ladies crowd,
Warm-bodied, modest-minded, mild and pure,
With clear sleek complexions, bone and flesh well
In figured-gauze robes that shine in the late spring,
worked with golden peacocks, silver unicorns.
On their heads what do they wear?
Kingfisher glinting from hairpins that dangle by side
On their back what do I see?
Pearls that weight the waistband and subtly set off
[Watson 1984: 222]
Early Tang music and dance stemmed out of Central
Asia, from Silk Road centres such as Kucha and
Sogdiana. The Central Asian musical influence is
well reflected in the inventory of musical
instruments, which included small drums and
cymbals, barbarian lutes (hu pipa) and horizontal
harps (hangkou) of clear Central Asian derivation.
These exotic instruments were preferred during the
Tang period possibly because they would have been
easy to carry around for less formal performances.
According to archaeological findings, Chinese dance
has a history of over five thousand years. Until the
Han dynasty (206 B. C. - A. D. 220), most of the
Chinese dances originated and were maintained by
from the folks. Only during the Han period, a
musical entertainment court was established for the
imperial family, which was essentially a centre for
systematically documenting and enhancing folk
songs and dances.
Because of the political stability and the economic
prosperity of the Tang dynasty, poetry, music and
dance were given opportunities to flourish. The
Tang dynasty has been regarded as the golden age
for dance in ancient China. Dances in the Tang
dynasty inherited techniques that were developed in
the past dynasties such as Zhou, Qin, Han, Wei, Jin,
and Nanbei. During the early Tang period, Buddhism
was introduced to China and because trade and
social relationship with other countries rapidly
expanded, dances was influenced by folk dances of
other countries such as India, Rome, Persia (Iran),
Korea, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam, and other
Central Asian countries, through the Silk Road. In
addition, it also combined with other forms of fine
arts such as painting, scenery, and colourful
costumes as well as poetry, classical music and
drama. The combination of these multi-faceted
traditions brought the performing arts to a new
peak of entertainment.
Even the emperors of the Tang dynasty paid
significant attention to the development of the
Chinese dance and music, often by directly
contributing to this effort. Among them, Emperor Li
Shimin who personally composed the song Pozhen
yuetu, which was successfully staged for a major
dance festival and was later introduced to India,
Turfan (Xinjiang), and Japan, and Emperor Li Lonji
(also known as Tang Minhuang), who composed
another brilliant piece of music called Nishang yuyi.
Tang Minhuang used graceful traditional dance
techniques combining with marvelous Indian dance
skills and music to portray an elegant fairyland with
beautiful maidens. Staged by Tang Minhuang,
danced by his famous concubine and dancer Yang
Guifei, and music played by Liyuan, the Nishang yuyi
dance has been regarded as one of the splendid
treasures in China's dance history.
The cosmopolitan emphasis in music and dance
during the Tang is well reflected in some of the
astonishing high Tang murals in cave 178 of the
Mogao complex in Dunhuang (Gansu province).
Everywhere, even in specifically religious themes
such as the preaching of the Buddha, images of
dancers often accompany the narrative.
The magnificent dance of the Tang period was the
result of inheriting the traditions, enhancing the
Chinese classical and folk dance techniques, as well
as widely incorporating music and dance skills from
other countries. Due to the broad spectrum of
styles, characteristics and topics, dance was one of
the favorite performing arts and was very well
received by almost every social class during the
Tang period. It also played a significant role in the
social relationship among different countries as well
as different ethnic groups. The Chinese classical
dance has passed from generation to generation,
and is still practiced by the Chinese classical and
folk dance community.
Our elegant pair of female dancers manages to
crystallise in a single untouched pose, the beauty
and enjoyment Tang people must have felt in such a
thriving period of musical and artistic creativity.
Cf: Wang Kefen, "The History of Chinese Dance," Wai
Yuyan Chubanshe, Beijing, China, 1985.
Smallest height 10.25 inches