The Representation of Military Troops in Pingcheng Tombs and the Private Household Institution of Buqu in Practice


  • Chin-Yin Tseng Dunhuang Academy



Northern Wei, Pingcheng, buqu, armed retainers, tribal policy


In Northern Wei tombs of the Pingcheng period (398–494 CE), we notice a recurrence of the depiction of armed men in both mural paintings and tomb figurines, not in combat but positioned in formation. Consisting of infantry soldiers alongside light and heavy cavalry accompanied by flag bearers, such a military scene presents itself as a point of interest amidst the rest of the funerary setting. Is this supposed to be an indication that the tomb occupant had indeed commanded such an impressive set of troops in life? Or had the families commissioned this theme as part of the tomb repertoire simply in hopes of providing protection over the deceased in their life after death? If we set the examination of this type of image against textual history, the household institution of buqu retainers that began as early as the Xin (“New”) Dynasty (9–23 CE) and was codified in the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE), serving as private retainer corps of armed men to powerful families, appears to be the type of social institution reified in the archaeological materials mentioned above. The large-scale appearance of these military troops inside Pingcheng period tombs might even suggest that with the “tribal policy” in place, the Han Chinese practice of keeping buqu retainers became a convenient method for the Tuoba to manage recently conquered tribal confederations, shifting clan loyalty based on bloodline to household loyalty based on the buqu institution, one with a long social tradition in Chinese history.



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28. 06. 2019



Tomb Iconography in the Territory between Southwestern and Northern Frontiers

How to Cite

Tseng, Chin-Yin. 2019. “The Representation of Military Troops in Pingcheng Tombs and the Private Household Institution of Buqu in Practice”. Asian Studies 7 (2): 221-43.

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