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February 7, 2010

The Terra Cotta War Against Death

KASignSmall.jpgThree times the Dresser has had close up encounters with Emperor Qin's terra cotta warriors. The first time was at Baltimore's Walters Art Museum in March 1997. The second time occurred November 2009 in Xi'an, China, where the warriors were accidentally rediscovered in 1974 by farmers trying to dig a well. The third time was January 2010 at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC. TCW_exhibit_01Small.jpg

Dear Reader, you might be wondering now who was Qin and of what interest are warriors made of clay that would lure the Dresser out of her lair so many times.


Qin Shi Huang (pronounced chin sher hwang), née Ying Zheng (pronounced ying jung) in the year 259 BC, was the son of the king of the Qin State and the first emperor of China after he conquered neighboring states surrounding his father's kingdom. Because Qin thought big in many ways, he was always in danger from his enemies. Therefore, he was instrumental in connecting defensive walls in his empire, which became Cháng Chéng, the Great Wall of China. Connecting the dots seemed to be Qin's passion. He unified the writing of Chinese characters; standardized measuring systems, money (coins) and taxation; built an extensive network of roads; decreed that agriculture and commerce must develop together; and he abolished nepotism in his government.

Remarkably, Qin made many of these long lasting accomplishments in the eleven years he ruled the Chinese empire. He died unexpectedly at age 49. Scholars guess that elixir and pills, which he expected to make him immortal, probably contained mercury and therefore poisoned him.

Emperor Qin dealt cruelly with those who got in his way. For example, he eliminated scholars and books that advocated philosophies he did not subscribe to, including the teachings of Confucius. For a leader who seemed to eschew tradition and old ways handed down through time, the most surprising thing he did was create an army of men and horses made out of terra cotta. His purpose was that this army would see him into the afterlife and protect him from any force that would harm him. Even more surprising was that he had these pottery warriors, whose average height is six feet tall and whose weight ranges from 300 to 400 pounds, buried in pits that flank his burial mound. Moreover, he wanted these warriors kept secret.


HohlPit1Small.jpgBecause the Dresser had recently been to Xi'an China where Qin's burial mound sits undisturbed and the four pits of terra cotta warriors, horses, entertainers, and a variety of animals have been exposed, she thought the exhibition at the National Geographic Museum, which is entitled "Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China's First Emperor," might be a pale repetition of what she had already seen. This turned out not to be the case and the Dresser was surprised to not only feel exhilarated by the NGM exhibition but to encounter other happily excited visitors who had also been to the terra cotta warrior pits in Xi'an.

In both exhibitions, visitors are offered a movie to introduce Qin and his accomplishments as well as set the scene for seeing the terra cotta figures. In Xi'an, the 15- to 20-minute movie is in a theater in the round with no seating. Visitors stand and move with the projections as the images circle the darkened theater. As they grow tired of standing in the dark, the audience wanders in and out of the theater. To the Dresser, it felt like a cutting-edge presentation, one in which the viewer became part of the film's landscape with thundering horses and armies fighting with crossbows and arrows.

However, "The Real Dragon Emperor," the free hour-long film (visitors need no tickets to gain entrance) shown on a limited schedule in the 385 seats Grosvenor Auditorium at National Geographic is hands down the better film. It is graphically beautiful as one would expect a NG production to be and it is filled with interesting details. For example, there is an interview of an archeologist who discusses Sima Qian, the father of Chinese historiography who was born about 100 years after Emperor Qin and who said there were rivers and lakes of mercury that surrounded Qin's tomb. Modern day scientists were skeptical but the archeologist interviewed by the NG filmmaker took samples around the perimeter of the tomb and learned the level of mercury was unusually high. What this means is that the toxic liquid metal will keep Qin's tomb unreachable at this time.

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About February 2010

This page contains all entries posted to THE DRESSING in February 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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