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King Father of the East

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North slope of ceiling of Mogao Cave 249
Western Wei period

The King Father of the East depicted on this mural is a traditional theme adopted from Han Chinese mythology in the Central Plains. The upper part of the mural is damaged; only the middle and lower sections remain. The composition can be divided into four parts:

  1. Depicted in the centre of the mural is the scene of King Father of the East ascending to Heaven. He could have been sitting inside a cloud-carriage drawn by four dragons, but now only the carriage remains.
  2. A necromancer holding an envoy's credential banner and riding on a dragon is ahead of the carriage while a similar figure follows the carriage. The vanguard of the carriage consists of the Feathered Man, the Heavenly Horse, the horned deity Wuhuo, and Yuqiang, a divine being with a human's head upon a bird's body. Kaiming, the human-headed deity acts as the rearguard, accompanied by a white crane flying above.
  3. The white background of the mural is interspersed with rolling clouds and spiralling flowers represented by blue-green dots and washes, suggesting that the wind is playing an active role in creating the sense of motion in the scene.
  4. The lower part of the mural shows a hunting scene featuring various kinds of animals running amid a forested and mountainous landscape. There are boars foraging, antelopes scared by the pursuers, wild oxen fleeing for life, and a ferocious wolf. Two horseback hunters are depicted in the middle of the hunting grounds. One is throwing his lance at the antelopes while the other is swerving around his upper body and drawing the bowstring to shoot at a tiger. The scene is vividly represented and full of dynamism. It is a masterpiece among the early animal paintings at Dunhuang. (Figure 1)

Figure 1