15.12.07

The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army


One of the best reasons for living in London is the incredible once in a life-time exhibitions that come here. Today was one of those great experiences as I had the privilege to see at the British Museum , the largest exhibition to date outside of China of the famed 'Terracotta Army".

The exhibition was housed in the Museum's library, famous in its own right for having reader's grace through its doors such as Karl Marx and Arthur Conan Doyle. It has a dome ceiling which adds to the grandness of what you are seeing. You walk up a set of stairs and immediately its overwhelming, so much to see, read and absorb.
The first part of the exhibition was learning about the man behind the Army: China's very first emperor, Quin (pronounced 'Chin' which is where the name China comes from). He came from a family of horse breeders, I believe he was poor and after uprising he pronounced himself leader. The 120 artifacts included in this section were normal every day items of the time--things of significance like bells, clay roof tiles, money (including what they used for money before a form of currency) and items used during rituals. One thing I found interesting was the fact the emperor wanted to consider himself ruler of not only China, but the universe (heaven & earth). He actually planned the spots for his temples based on the stars. His idea's of death & being ruler of the spirit world led to him making the artifacts (including the Terracotta Army) that surround his tomb.
A farmer found the Terracotta Army in 1974 accidentally, not realizing that it would become one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th Century and be considered now the 8th wonder of the world covering an area about 56k/36 miles. Apparently only 1/3 has been excavated so far and to date they have managed to put back together approximately 7,000 (they were broken obviously) of the Warriors, have found 40,000 arrowheads, found about 87 pieces of armour (each has about 500 pieces, they have put back together two), found horses, chariots, acrobats, Strongmen, musicians and animals and man made rivers of mercury. The actual tomb these items surround, has not been touched. Some say the emperor created an entire replica of China inside the massive mound. There is no plans on opening the tomb just yet and they are focusing on the pits surrounding it first. Who knows whether this will be opened in our lifetime.
In the last part of the exhibition I was able to see 20 of these warriors, including some of the horses, one of two in existence of the pieces of armour, some acrobats, archers, strongmen, as well as some of the birds and musicians. Obviously only a tiny, tiny fraction of what exists but a good sampling of the items anyway. It was great because although the actual warriors were surrounded by a heavily alarmed motion sensory bar, we were able to get incredibly incredibly close. Each warrior if you would believe is made unique, with different hairstyles as well as facial and physical features. The detail is exquisite and they look so life-like. Apparently 700,000 people worked (including convicts) over 38 years in making this mausoleum for the Emperor. Many obviously died unfortunately in the process.

Although I hope to go to China one day and see these again in the country of orgin, I doubt I would ever be able to get up as close as I did today. If you can't tell by this post it was an amazing experience to see them and one that I will honestly never forget the rest of my life.

3 comments:

sherrie said...

i learned about the army in one of my art history classes at csusb. i remember being amazed at learning that each statue was unique. that's so awesome. i can't imagine how incredible it must have been to see them, i loved reading your post. neil and i really really want to go to china (he speaks mandarin) and this site would be a must see if we ever do! so cool.

bean said...

Way to go on your running goal!! The most I have ever ran is 10 miles. Keep up the good work! I know you can do it!

And I can't believe what an amazing experience you had at the British Museum!! I have wanted to go to China for ages and this was something I want to see while I am there. Fantastic! Living in London really does allow many wonderful opportunities! You are very lucky!

Angela said...

I just learned about this in Homeschool with my girls. That would be so awesome to see! I too, would love to go to China!