Buddhism exerted a vast influence in China during the Tang Dynasty, especially with regard to art and literature. The coexistence between Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism as the "Three Teaching" gave rise to religious syncretism and a confluence of the visual arts. The profusely visual and iconographic character of Buddhism placed an emphasis on Taoism's representation schemes of the sacred and pantheon.
Lokapala is a Sanskrit word which means guardian of the world, referring to the Four Heavenly Kings responsible for protecting each of the four cardinal directions against evil spirits. The Buddhist guardians match the Four Heavenly Kings of Taoism Si Da Tian Wang 四大天王, normally represented on the doors or entrances of the temples, as anthropomorphic depictions of the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellation.
The funerary sculptures of lokapala can depict the guardian on his own or above the evil spirits, with one foot placed on the lower abdomen and another placed on the head or the shoulder. These sculptures were usually placed at the entrance of the tombs, along with a pair of zhenmushou, a spirit portrayed in the form of a hybrid doglike creature with wings and a prominent feather, which protected the dead from evils spirits.
The lokapala are represented with a terrifying facial expression, wearing armour according to the style used by the military of the Tang Dynasty. The depiction of a bird above the head may be a reference to the Vermilion Bird, one of the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellation and the Guardian of the South.