In Chinese culture, the symbol of the horse has a great deal of meaning and history. This majestic animal is part of Chinese art, literature and mythology with many different representations through the centuries.
The main example of a horse in Chinese culture is its place on the zodiac wheel, but there are many other places this animal can be found.
In the Chinese Zodiac
The horse is one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, and probably the most significant place where you see this animal symbol. The year 2014 is the year of the horse, and anyone born in 2002, 1990, 1978, or 1966 would also have that zodiac sign (the cycle repeats every 12 years). Just remember that the year begins on a different day each year based on the lunar Chinese calendar.
People who are horses have a very social personality and they love to have people around them. A horse is extremely honest and will always tell you exactly what they think and be genuine about it.
Someone who is the sign of the horse can also be impulsive, a little reckless and they also tend to hate coming up to obstacles in their lives.
History, Mythology and Artwork
But the zodiac isn’t the only place where the horse shows up in Chinese culture. It’s an animal that has been around throughout the history of China, having been first domesticated there more than 5,000 years ago. Horses and chariots were a vital part of China’s military force, and horses represented power and nobility.
The mythology of ancient China held that the horse and the dragon were closely related, and that horses could have the ability to fly. The Longma was a specific mythological creature that is represented by the image of a horse covered in dragon scales. Tianma was another mythological horse that flew through the heavens on wings, and is one of the traditional Chinese constellations in the night sky (also called the “heavenly horse”).
Some of the most famous Chinese paintings are of horses, particularly in the black and white brushed ink style. Many different artists have chosen to use the horse symbol in this type of artwork, and you can even get fairly contemporary pieces that still follow the brush style. Xu Beihong, for example, inked a similar Chinese painting in 1942 of 6 galloping horses, that is very much like the 8 galloping horses done during the time of King Mu of the Zhou dynasty.
Paintings done of groups of horses will sometimes include one colored red, to represent the Red Hare. This famous horse was likely real and belonged to Lu Bu during the Han dynasty, but the horse has been part of several fictional works as well to give it an additional mythical history.
Ink paintings are just one aspect of Chinese artwork that centers on the horse. Bronze horse statues from the Han dynasty are detailed and stunning, and full-sized terracotta figures of horses were part of funeral army of Qin Shi Huang. He felt that an army to protect his empire in the after life must include horses.
It’s certainly not unique to Chinese culture that the horse is seen as a sign of strength, vitality, speed and beauty. But they definitely have revered this animal for thousands of years, giving the horse a very privileged place in Chinese culture.