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Tomb of General Huo Qubing of the Hang Dynasty

There are more than twenty attendant tombs of different sizes located around the Maoling Mausoleum. According to historical records, most of these tombs were of generals, concubines, relatives of royal families and others who had rendered service during the reign of Emperor Wu Di and the Western Han Dynasty. Among the larger ones are the tombs of Huo Qubing, Wei Qing, Jin Redi (Hun nationality), Huo Guang, Madam Li, Shangguan Jie, Shangguan An and Madam Jing.


Today, no building ruins for these tombs have been found near the tomb of Emperor Wu Di and attendant tombs. However, some tomb steles still exist there. They were erected by Bi Yuan (1730-1797), governor of Shaanxi Province of the Qing Dynasty. Also, tourists both from China and abroad are attracted by a number of well-known stone carvings around the tomb of Huo Qubing. These stone carvings were done during the Western Han Dynasty, and are early valuable examples of well preserved carving heritage.


There are sixteen carved pieces, nine of which had stood in front of the tomb before 1949. The remaining seven (including two huge stones engraved with characters) were unearthed near the tomb in 1957. The ruins of both Maoling and the Huo Qubing tomb are historical monuments and cultural relics under state protection. Buildings have been constructed to protect the carved stones in front of the Huo Qubing tomb.


Located 1,000 meters northeast of Maoling Mausoleum, Huo Qubing's tomb is a cone-shaped soil and rock mound, adjacent to the Maoling Museum, and surrounded by a scenic environment.

Tomb of General Huo Qubing


Huo Qubing came from Pingyang (now called Linfeng in Shanxi Province) and was the son of Wei Qing's elder sister (Wei was a famous general of Emperor Wu Di). Born in the first year of the reign of Emperor Wu Di (140 BC), Huo Qubing was a young military expert during the Western Hah Dynasty, who was commanding troops by the age of eighteen. He led his troops beyond the Great Wall six times to fight the Xiongnu (Hun) who had been infringing on Han Dynasty territory repeatedly, finally defeating the Hun aggressors. Huo had such brilliant achievements in the wars against the Hun that Emperor Wu Di wanted to grant him high position, with a handsome salary and a lofty official residence. However, Huo refused and said "the Hun have not been wiped out thoroughly, so how can I settle down to start a family." This showed that he was a patriotic general who did not seek ease and comfort, but placed state concerns before his own.


Paralleling the achievements of Wei Qing, his uncle, Huo Qubing made great efforts to implement Emperor Wu Di's foreign policy, opening up the Gansu Corridor and promoting economic and cultural exchanges between China and Central Asian countries. Emperor Wu Di appointed him the minister of war, a cavalry general and the highest military prince, so that Huo enjoyed as great a reputation as Wei Qing. Huo Qubing was only 24 when he died of illness in the 6th year of Yuan Shou reign (117 BC) of Emperor Wu Di (Wu Di changed reign names periodically during his 53 year rule). The History of the Han Dynasty records that "Huo Qubing died in the 6th year of the Yuan Shou reign." Emperor Wu Di paid a condolence call. Warriors of conquered northern states were ordered to line up in mourning. Han soldiers took part in the funeral procession from Chang'an to Maoling. The mound of Huo Qubing's tomb looked like the Qilian Mountain." The book added that "by the Maoling mausoleum, large rocks were piled on the tomb mound and stone figures and horses stood before the mound." In deep grief, Emperor Wu Di ordered that Huo Qubing be buried beside his own tomb with a grand funeral rite. On that day, those who had surrendered to Huo during his life were ordered to dress in suits of black armor and line the road from Chang'an to the Maoling mausoleum for the funeral procession.


To show off Huo's success in fighting the Hun at Hexi (western Gansu) and to commemorate the outstanding achievements of his life, Emperor Wu Di directed that natural rocks and stones be piled to cover the surface of Huo Qubing's tomb. The tomb mass symbolized Qilian Mountain to memorialize Huo's brilliant service in battle on the mountain. In addition, various kinds of large-size carved stone animals were placed in front of and on the tomb mound of General Huo Qubing.


Despite records indicating that large-size carved stone figures originated during the Qin Dynasty, the earliest ones found by modem scholars were created during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24). These carved stones would have appeared not long after Huo Qubing's death about two thousand years ago. The carvings were created by craftsmen employed by local authorities, and two of the unearthed carved stones were engraved to denote the "Loft Minister of Work" government office and "carved by Su Boya, Leling in Pingyuan."


It was a formidable project to carve stone figures from pegmatite, which was as hard as marble. These stones were not found in the local area, but were probably transported from the Qinling Ranges. Iron and steel tools were used to carve the stone figures, indicating an advanced smelting technology for the Han Dynasty.


"Horse treads on the Hun" is a stone carving, most known and impressive of those found in front of Huo Qubing's tomb. It calls up images of the young general galloping across fields in battle with slave-owning Hun aggressors. Majestically, the horse is holding its head proudly erect, symbolizing the heroic posture of General Huo Qubing and his brave army, while under the horse's feet is the figure of an old and useless Hun slave owner, defeated and in the throes of death. At 168 centimeters high and 190 centimeters long, the horse is heroically and vividly life like. The horse carving is well proportioned, with a simple and pithy style. The slave owner, on the other hand, is roughly fashioned, making it dear what is primary and what is secondary in the work.

A stone horse treads on a Hun at the tomb of General Huo Qubing


In company with other carvings at Huo Qubing's tomb, a theme of contemporary stone arts of that age is established and demonstrated.


Galloping horse  Though this stone carving is also of a horse, the artistic mood is different from that of the "Horse treads on the Hun." The latter depicts posture of stillness while the former is of a horse in motion. With its forelegs bent, its head raised and its chest thrust forward, the horse appears to be surging forward with body into a jump. Particular care was taken in the carving of the horse's head. With its eyes open wide, its nostrils flaring and with teeth bared, the horse seems to jump to the shouts of men and to its own neighing. The carved figure utilized the contours of a natural stone, with only a few lines chiseled to exploit natural contours in some places and with full carved relief in others, producing a work with pleasing results.

Stone horse


Recumbent horse  The posture of this horse is one of rest, seemingly carefree and content after returning from battle. The horse lies on the ground, head alertly turned to the left and right foreleg bent a bit as it looks ahead without relaxing its will to fight. It appears to be awaiting a master's order. At 114 centimeters high and 260 centimeters long, it is a strong and sturdy horse. Assembled from several stones, this stone animal was shaped in full relief with simple, clear strokes. The fact that the horse is healthy and strong with full, clear musculature is a tribute to the majesty of the horses which performed brilliantly during the war of resistance against the Hun.


Bull  At 260 centimeters long and 160 centimeters wide, the bull is in a kneeling and sleeping position very similar to a real animal. With skilled craftsmanship and simple and clear strokes, the carvers portray vividly the image of a docile ox. It looks as if the bull is moving its lips and taking slight breaths, symbolizing the bull is comfortable and content after having been fed, providing viewers with cordial and intimate feelings.

Stone ox


Tiger  Some 200 centimeters long and 84 centimeters wide, the tiger's head is large and bulky while its tail is rolled onto its back, as it crouches, apparently awaiting an opportunity to leap at its prey. Selecting a stone with a shape similar to the finished tiger, craftsmen made full use of the natural shape of the stone and carved appropriately. They painstakingly strove for perfection, administering their chisels deify so that soft, lively and light stripes give onlooker a feeling of fur.


The tiger is a beast of prey and legend has it that the beast can be used to guard tombs to prevent mountain demons from eating the hearts and livers of the dead. This stone tiger was probably used to guard the tomb.


Wild boar  A statue 163 centimeters high and 62 centimeters wide, the wild boar is in a prone position. It has a curved mouth, small ears and triangular eyes, looking ahead. Selecting a stone similar to the shape of the wild boar, craftsmen shaped the stone thoroughly and made the article vividly true to life.

Stone hog


Toad  The toad figure was carved from a natural dark green color stone with numerous veins and streaks, very similar to a toad at 154.5 centimeters long, 107 centimeters wide and 74 centimeters high. A toad is a small animal belonging to the frog family. Legend has it that toads lived on the moon, so that the moon was also called the toad palace and it may mean that the toad carved here symbolizes an expectation that the soul of the dead would ascend to heaven.


Stone fish  This figure is 110.5 centimeters long, 41 entireties wide and 70 centimeters high, carved from a couple of stones very similar to a fish in shape. A few lines were carved on one of the ends of the stone, and the figure of the fish is graceful and interesting.

Sleeping elephant  At 189 centimeters long, 103 centimeters wide and 58 centimeters high, it is a young elephant. This elephant is lying on its side with its trunk curving back to lie along its front legs, a posture of docility and innocence. This statue was fashioned by making use of a natural stone, its surface is fiat, smooth and gray, giving it a true to life appearance.

Stone elephant


Frog  This frog is from a huge stone, 285 centimeters long, and 215 centimeters wide, shaped with a few simple and rough lines at the narrow end. The carving is simple and effective.


Monstrous beast eating a sheep  With short body and long legs, square head and a pair of horns, and sharp fangs, this monstrous beast appears fierce and cruel. It has a sheep in its claws and is eating despite the sheep's resistance. Unfortunately, the sheep is helpless and doomed. This statue made use of an irregular stone 274 centimeters long and 220 centimeters wide. By means of a relief technique, beast and sheep are clearly defined, though their images are in the same stone.


Ape and bear  This statue was carved from a huge, flat elliptical stone. It is 277 centimeters high and 172 centimeters wide. The carved stone depicts a big ape similar to a gorilla holding a young bear tightly in its arms as if the two are locked in mortal struggle. With giant body, high forehead and large eyes, the ape's teeth are bared and it is kneeling on its left knee. A belt is tied around the ape's waist. The carving is simple and powerful.


Stone man  This figure was carved from a stone similar in shape to a man. It is 222 centimeters in height and 120 centimeters in width. The figure differs from an ordinary man in that its head is especially large and in a thrower back position with the eyes open and a grinning face. The outline of the piece is basically in layers dictated by the original stone, making the lines simple and powerful.

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