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CHINA: A horse of a different color



The West has abundant equestrian statues of monarchs and warriors, as well as paintings of them on a white horse. Such art seems to have disappeared with the cavalry. I asked Paul Simon about China. He replied: "Chinese also view the horse as auspicious, and equus is a classic watercolor subject. But white horses are nothing special, and the Emperors preferred sedan chairs (palanquins) to get around. The Chinese zodiac is differentiated by the twelve animals and the four elements (air, earth, water, and fire). So, every twelfth year is the "year of the horse" (or dragon or whatever) and every 48th year is the "year of the air horse" or "water dragon". I've never seen any equestrian statuary in modern China; Mao is always standing on his own two feet, these days his outstretched hand towards the future is usually pointing to a downtown shopping mall. I think the most colorful Mandarin expression involving horses is "pai ma pi", a common expression for sycophancy, which translates as "pat the horse's a--"

I remember sitting on the sidewalk in Danshui, Taiwan with a fellow language student and a shopkeeper. We were watching a third student ingratiate herself with our teacher. I commented that her 'Pai ma pi' was pretty obvious, and the old Chinese merchant spit tea out his nose, he was laughing so hard!"

My question: There are records of the horse in China as early as 2000 BC. The saddle and the stirrup was probably developed in China in the early Christian era, The horse played a major part in the Mongol conquests, including that of China, so the horse has long played a role in Chinese history. I am surprised that the war lords were not depicted on horseback. What about the famous terra cotta statuettes?

Ronald Hilton - 1/7/02


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