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The Gansu Provincial Museum’s stuffed flying horse toy (left) based on the famous 2000-year-old bronze Flying Horse of Gansu (right) becomes museum’s most popular souvenir. Source: Weibo

China’s Ancient Flying Horse of Gansu Artifact Becomes Cringeworthy Fad

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China loses it on a new national fad. Chinese museum authorities have turned its most recognized cultural artifact into an “ugly” flying horse toy. To begin with let’s look at the word “fad.” It means: “an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived; a craze.” There is perhaps no better word to describe the so-called “ugly but cute” stuffed flying horse toy that barely resembles one of the most valuable artifacts ever discovered in China, the 2000-year-old East Han dynasty bronze Flying Horse of Gansu.

Famous Flying Horse of Gansu As Stuffed Flying Horse Toy!

The Flying Horse of Gansu, or the Galloping Horse Treading on a Flying Swallow, is a famous Chinese bronze sculpture that was cast in the 2nd century AD during the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). The horse was discovered in 1969 near the city of Wuwei, in northern China’s Gansu Province, and has long been on prominent display at the Gansu Provincial Museum .

Serving as China’s national tourism symbol for over two decades the Flying Horse of Gansu is among Asia's most recognizable ancient figures. According to a report in SCMP a bright green stuffed flying horse toy was mass-produced by the Gansu Provincial Museum. Since going on sale in mid-June 2022 it has repeatedly been described as “ugly but lovely.” But this stuffed flying horse toys has proven so popular that it has sold out online and off, with a 25-day waiting time for new flying horse toy orders!

The legendary Han dynasty Chinese bronze Flying Horse of Gansu that has now been turned into a contemporary popular stuffed flying horse toy by the museum that has the bronze original! (G41rn8 / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The legendary Han dynasty Chinese bronze Flying Horse of Gansu that has now been turned into a contemporary popular stuffed flying horse toy by the museum that has the bronze original! (G41rn8 / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

An Icon of Romantic Imagination Turned To a Shallow Toy?

Weighing 7.3 kilograms (16 pounds) and measuring 34.5 centimeters (13.58 inches) high, the bronze horse was excavated from a tomb in Wuwei City, at the eastern end of the Hexi (Gansu) Corridor. This is along the Silk Road route from southeastern China to the northwestern provincial capital at Lanzhou, a key defensive location during the Han dynasty.

According to China Online Magazine “With the advent of great centralized empires Qin and Han, bronzes turned from august ritual vessels to common daily wares.” The majority of Han dynasty bronze artifacts were mountain-shaped incense burners, barrel-shaped zuns for holding wine, and lamps or lanterns. The patterns on these bronze objects were often “teaming with romantic imagination toward immortal worlds.”

A replica of the Flying Horse of Gansu that was donated as a gift to the city of Lexington Kentucky, USA in June 2000. (Jlmallia / CC BY-SA 4.0)

A replica of the Flying Horse of Gansu that was donated as a gift to the city of Lexington Kentucky, USA in June 2000. (Jlmallia / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The Popular Green Stuffed Flying Horse Toys Come in Two Styles!

A 2017 CTGN article about the Flying Horse of Gansu bronze masterpiece explained how the “horse’s posture, neighing and speed are believed to be perfect symbols of the enterprising and persevering spirits of China.” And it is for this reason the image has been used so far afield around the world. During 1973 the horse was exhibited in Britain but in 2002 the State Administration of Cultural Heritage included the Bronze Galloping Horse in the first list of 64 grade-one cultural relics that are “forbidden to be exhibited outside China.”

As if one were not quite enough, the stuffed flying horse toy comes in two styles. The first features a crooked-mouthed green horse with open forelegs perched with one leg on a comedic, little fat green bird. You might notice, as I did, that this bird resembles an “Angry Bird” from that mega-addictive life-sucking game of 2017. This first version of the toy costs 99 yuan (15 dollars or 14 euros). The second version one coats 50 yuan (7.5 dollars or 7 euros), and it is described by the museum as looking “almost the same” as the Gansu Bronze Galloping Horse sculpture.

Every Museum Visitor Takes Photos with the Flying Horse Toys

Earlier this week a post appeared on the museum’s official WeChat account saying they now “only have two exhibits,” of the two new stuffed toys. “Every visitor takes photos with the toys,” the museum boasted.

And these particular toys are not just talked about and photographed, but they are being bought for hard cash by the truck load! The SCMP article says, “more than 23,000 people have bought the toy since it went on sale on June 14”. A serious fad indeed. But a fad all the same.

Top image: The Gansu Provincial Museum’s stuffed flying horse toy (left) based on the famous 2000-year-old bronze Flying Horse of Gansu (right) becomes museum’s most popular souvenir. Source: Weibo

By Ashley Cowie

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