Ceramics have been an integral part of Chinese culture throughout its history. How they were fashioned, decorated, and used reflected functional needs, cultural practices, and spiritual beliefs. During the Tang Dynasty (618–907) the Chinese often buried their dead with objects representing the things they would need in the afterlife. These objects, known as mingqi, came in many—forms from animals, like this camel, to humans, and small buildings.
The Chinese believed the human soul had two parts that separated at death; one entered into the spirit world and the other stayed on earth in the tomb. By placing mingqi in the tomb, humans were harmonizing the cosmos by comforting both parts of the soul. Camel statues were placed in tombs because of their role in trade. They were used for travel on the Silk Road, a network of trade routes from China to the Mediterranean Sea, because they could travel long distances without water. The two-humped camel could travel up to 30 miles a day, carry hundreds of pounds, and go for more than a week without hydration.
This camel mingqi was made by pressing thin sheets of terracotta into ceramic molds. The pieces then were joined together and attached to a base. Small details in the face were added and the seams were trimmed and smoothed before firing the figure.