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Kentucky Horse Park
International Museum of the Horse

The Millennium's First Great
International Exhibition

The Exhibition

Imperial China, organized by the Kentucky Horse Park's International Museum of the Horse in Lexington and seen by thousands of visitors during the spring and summer of 2000, was the first exhibition ever to explore the role of the horse in more than 3,000 years of Chinese history and culture. Far more than just an equestrian history, the more than 350 priceless artifacts not only illuminated the horse's significance in art, warfare, leisure activities, and sport, but also showed how this interaction affected the overall culture.

Beginning with the Western Zhou Dynasty (1027-771 BC) and covering all subsequent dynasties through the Qing (1644-1911), the world-exclusive exhibition contained many artifacts never before seen outside of China. All of the art and artifacts were selected from the collections of museums throughout Shaanxi Province, capital of China for more than a millennium and home of the terra-cotta army of China's first emperor.

Exhibition Highlights:

  • Two chariots from the Western Zhou and Western Han dynasties (206 BC-9 AD) were restored specifically for Imperial China. The bronze Han chariot is elaborately inlaid with gold and will undoubtedly be declared a National Treasure upon its return to China.
  • Terra-cotta Army An outstanding selection of Western Zhou bronze artifacts depicting items used both in everyday life and in the equestrian culture of the time.
  • 12 life-size figures from the terra-cotta army of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. A complete war chariot, including four horses, driver, and two flanking guards, were reassembled and presented to visitors. Also included from this period: a cavalry soldier leading a horse, one of the emperor's stable boys, a kneeling archer, and one of the army's seven generals.
  • Many jade, gold, and terra-cotta figures representing the Han Dynasty.
  • One of the largest collections of the Tang Dynasty's (618-907 AD) world-famous tri-colored equestrian figures ever shown outside of China.
  • A representative collection of gold, jade, terra-cotta, and porcelain figures from all dynasties from the Tang to the fall of the last Imperial court in 1911.
  • Number of artifacts: 358
  • Value of artifacts: Approximately $100,000,000.

Interpretive Themes:

  • The significance of the horse in the unification of China.
  • Exchanges of equestrian culture with the Western world via the Silk Road.
  • Mystical significance of the horse in ancient Chinese culture.
  • Significant Chinese advancements in horse harnessing and accoutrements.
  • The horse in Chinese art.
  • The use of the horse in leisure activities during the Tang Dynasty. Topics include the "Emperor's dancing horses," hunting from horseback, and the introduction of polo to China.
  • The Mongol influence on Chinese equestrian culture.

For additional information on the Imperial China exhibition and associated activities:
Museum and Horse Park Contacts

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Site Design: Bill Cooke

This site was developed, written, and designed by the staff of the
International Museum of the Horse
at the Kentucky Horse Park. KET is grateful for their wonderful work
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