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 Silk Road:Six Steeds of Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty
Xia Yang

The Six Steeds of Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty is created with the Six Steeds of Zhao Mausoleum as the model. The sculptures of the six war horses are at the eastern and western sides of the altar at the north of the mausoleum of Tang Emperor Li Shimin.

The six steeds are the most favorite horses of Emperor Taizong when he was alive, and have made outstanding achievements in battle. They are Telebiao (), Qingzhui (), Shifachi (ʲ), Saluzi (¶), Quanmaogua (ȭëm) and Baitiwu ().

 During the creation, the sculptor conducts profound research into the sculptures of the mausoleum as well as referring to his own 20-year mounting experience. According to the analysis of historians and his own knowledge of horse’s living habits, the sculptor determines the motion, expression, and blood of the six horses. It is recorded in documents that five of the six horses are Akhal-teke horses from Tujue, and the other one is Arabian horse from Persia.

Saluzi ()

The horse is in purple, and hit by arrow in the chest. Li Shimin rode it when putting down Wang Shichong in Luoyang. The one pulling the horse and extracting the arrow is Qiu Xinggong.

Among the sculptures of the six horses, this is the only one with human character and story. According to the New Book of Tang: Biography of Qiu Xinggong, in 621 AD, the Tang Army engaged in a decisive battle with Wang Shichong and the official of the Tang Army, Qiu Xinggong was brave and skilled in riding and archery. In the battle in Mangshan to take Luoyang, Li Shimin once rode Saluzi to detect the military strength of the enemy by himself and came into a battle with other tens of following riding troops against the enemy while he separated with other ones except Qiu Xinggong. The young and aggressive Li Shimin got lost in killing and lost contact with the army. He was cornered by enemies. All of a sudden Wang Shichong arrived and one of the shot arrows hit Saluzi in the chest. In the critical moment Qiu Xinggong came to rescue, shooting with the archery without any miss and he stope the enemy from advancing. Then he jumped off the horse and extracted the arrow hit in Saluzi and gave his own horse to Li Shimin. Finally Qiu Xinggong took his knife and killed the enemies, going back to the army. Therefore, Emperor Taizong made his heroic image on the sculpture specially.

Qiu Xinggong with curled moustache, handsome and powerful in look wears a warring suit and helmet, with knife and quiver hanging at his waist. He bends down in the posture of pulling the arrow off the horse. The situation back then is recreated.

Emperor Taizong commented: “Like a swallow in purple, it gallops; with body flying in the air, it is a fairy. Its momentum quakes the ground and its power and strength shakes the battlefield.”


Quanmaogua (ȭëm)

  It is a yellow steed with black mouth and spinning hair. It is hit by six arrows, and three are on the back. Li Shimi rode it when putting down Liu Heita. Liu Heita was originally the subordinate general of Li Mi in Wagang Villiage in the late Sui Dynasty. After Dou Jiande failed, Liu Heita took the counties and prefectures of the Xia State and colluded with Tujue, calling himself the Eastern Emperor of Han. He was also finally beatd by Li Shimin.

  In 622 AD, Li Shimin led the Tang Army to fight against Liu Heita in today’s Quzhou of Hebei Province. When the main force of Liu’s army went through the river, the Tang Army broke the dam in the upper stream and killed them, obtaining victory. The Quanmaogua in the sculpture is hit by nine arrows showing the intensity of the fight.

  Emperor Taizong commented: “getting the essence of the moon as its cradle, the Tianma flys high in the sky; in the rain of arrows, it gallops and clears the way.”

  Since the end of this battle, the unification of the Tang Dynasty was achieved successfully.


Baitiwu ()

It is in full black in body and white in the four feet. Li Shimin rode it when putting down Xue Renguo. Xue Renguo was the son of Xue Ju who based in today’s Lanzhou in early Tang and called himself the Emperor of Qin. Xue Ju had attacked Tang and wanted to take Chang’an, but he failed and died. His son continued building army in Lanzhou, threatening the Tang. He was later breaten by Li Shimin.

In 618 AD, the Tang Army occupied the Guanzhong region but with its food not very stable. Xue Ju and Xue Renguo, who based in Lanzhou and Tianshui launched large scale attack, seeking to seize Guanzhong. After a two-month stalemate, Li Shimin took the chance to induce the main force of the enemy with small amount of troops in the font, while leads his main forces to attack the enemy in the back. Xue’s army retreated and Li Shimin chased and attacked them. He rode Baitiwu for over 200 li a day and night, forcing the Xue army to surrender.

The sculpture of Baitiwu has its head up and eyes open and the four feet of it are in the air, with wind blowing his mane straight. It is what it should be like when galloping on the Loess Plateau. Emperor Taizong commented: “Holding the heavenly sword, riding the horse with speed chasing the wind, the horse is rode to settle Gansu and Si Chuan.”



Shifa is the transliteration of “horse” in Persian language and Shifachi is a red horse from Persia. The horse is in crimson and Li Shimin rode it in the battles against Wang Shichong and Dou Jiande in Luoyang and Hulao Pass. Wang Shichong’s ancestors were from western regions and called himself the emperor of Zheng State in the end of Sui Dynasty. Wang Shichong was intimate with Dou Jiande and based in Luoyang. Back then when attacked by Li Shimin, Wang asked for help from Dou Jiande, but both of them were beaten by Li Shimin. The horse in the sculpture galloping up in the air, and was hit in the hip five arrows one of which was from back. It can be seen that it was injured right at the battlefield. Emperor commented: “The country has not been settled yet; weapons are used to show power; my sweaty red hope is galloping, bringing me back with victory.” In this grand battle, Li Shimin went through fire and water, with three war horses injured and dead, achieved the great unification. The phrase back with victory shows his excitement.




It is a roan, and Emperor Li Shimin rode it when putting down Dou Jiande.

Dou Jiande was originally an army general of Sui Dynasty and also said to be uncle of Li Shimin. He called himself the Emperor of Xia State in turmoil. Back then, the Tang Arm was defending the Hulao Pass, in an advantageous location. Li Shimin took the chance that the enemy was tired in long time embattle and stricken by hunger, and ordered a full attack. He led the riding troops by himself and catched Dou Jiande in victory. The Qingzhui in the sculpture is galloping, hit by five arrow when it is running forward. Most of the hits are in the rear body of the horse, which also shows the high speed of it.

Emperor Taizong commented: “As quick as the shadow of lightening and as smart as knowing the will of the heaven; with it flying speedily, I was crown in the battles.” The sentence depicts the fast speed of the horse as well as the significance of the battle.  



Telebiao ()

This horse has yellow and white hair in the body and slightly black mouth, so was named “biao (a kind of horses with yellow hair dotted with white).” “Tele” is one official title of Tujue, and therefore the horse might be a gift from some Tujue Tele. In 619 AD, Emperor Li Shimin rode this horse in a battle against Song Jingang. It is recorded in history that: “In early Tang Dynasty, the whole country was not settled, with Song Jingang basing himself in Huizhou (today’s Shanxi Province) with strong army. Li Shimin riding Telebiao led the arm, fought tens of rounds with the enemy through the day and night and eight tough battles. Telebiao made great achievements in the battles.” Emperor Taizong remarked it as “Rising on order, and galloping recklessly; beating down enemies in danger, and helping people in difficulty.”

Emperor Li Shimin rode it when putting down Song Jingang.

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