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The Figurines of Ancient Acrobatics

Acrobatics is one of the oldest arts in China, which was called Baixi in Qin Dynasty (221-207BC) and was further developed in Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220) referring to the theatricals and variety shows including pole climbing, wrestling dance, sword-swallowing and tripod lifting.

With the enrichment of the varieties and skills of acrobatics, it became an entertainment both in the royal court and common families in Sui and Tang Dynasties (581-907).

Murals, brick carvings, stone carvings, paintings and pottery figurines of Han Dynasty vividly embodied the acrobatic performances of that time.

Here are some figurines of Han and Tang Dynasties collected by the civilian collectors.

The 12.3 cm high figurine of Han Dynasty with the posture of hand-stand was made from black pottery. The two persons on the ground are back to back, standing on their head, each one with one leg stretching straight and the other leg bent to form an arched shape. The third person bends his head backward close to his back and his two hands respectively hold the ankles of the two persons below, then stand on his hands and bend his legs. With graceful postures, the figurine displays a dynamic and energetic feeling, which is comparable with gymnasts and acrobats today.


The 11 cm high figurine of Tang Dynasty with the posture of hand-stand was made from red pottery. The person has a fur hat on his head wearing a front-buttoned padded jacket and trousers. With the legs bent, his hands support the body upward and his chin touches the ground, forming a wonderful posture.


The figurine of pole climbing of Han Dynasty was made from red pottery, 5.9 cm in height. Its posture is light and soft just like the fairy in the Dunghuang mural.


The figurine of horse-riding of Han Dynasty was made from glazed pottery, 22.6 cm in height. The horse bends its forepaw as if it dances with music, and the horse-rider riding on the horseback wears a loose jacket with felt boots on feet, his two arms are bent and crossed above the chest, which seems that he is sending his greetings to the audience.


The figurine of cockfighting of Han Dynasty was made from red pottery, 9.1 cm in height. The person embraces a cock in his arms and is ready to let it down to fight with the cock that stands in front of him.


These figurines of Han and Tang Dynasties vividly reflect the acrobatic performances of that time, providing precious information for studying ancient acrobatics.