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Reviewed by:
  • The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army, and: The Terracotta Army: China's First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation, and: The First Emperor of China
  • Robert L. Thorp (bio)
Jane Portal , editor. The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007. 240 pp. Hardcover $40.00, ISBN 978-0-674-02697-1.
John Man . The Terracotta Army: China's First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation. London: Bantam Press, 2007. xvi, 288 pp. Hardcover $41.32, ISBN 978-0-593-05929-6.
Frances Wood . The First Emperor of China. London: Profile Books, 2007. x, 209 pp. Hardcover $32.65, ISBN 978-1-84668-032-8.

For most world citizens, the First Emperor is known, if at all, not for his enduring impacts on Chinese society, but instead for the megalomania his final resting place would seem to embody. Since they were reported in 1974, the trenches with 6,000–8,000 terracotta warriors have commanded attention. Thirty years on, we are now in the midst of a First Emperor boom: a major exhibition in London that then traveled to several venues in the United States and a bevy of books to capitalize on the excitement. The handsome catalogue from the British Museum conveys a vicarious experience of the exhibition, while John Man and Frances Wood give readers popular introductions to the great man and his magic army. While complementary, these three volumes have been designed to serve the needs of different audiences.

Edited by Jane Portal, then assistant keeper in the Department of Asia at the British Museum, The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army accompanies the exhibition of the same name, but also stands alone (p. 10). For its text, the museum assembled an international cast of academics and curators. The first three chapters introduce Qin history: the rise of Qin by Robin D. S. Yates (pp.30–57), the new empire by Michael Loewe (pp. 58–79), and imperial tours and inscriptions by Martin Kern (pp. 104–113). Jessica Rawson's chapter on the tomb and the afterlife (pp. 114–145), in turn, is complemented by an essay by Wu Yongqi, director of the Museum of the Terracotta Army (pp. 152–157). Discussions of the exhibits are appended to these chapters: coins (Helen Wang), architectural pottery (Hiromi Kinoshita), gold and jade (Carol Michaelson), warriors and trenches (Lukas Nickel), armor (James Lin), and water fowl and musicians (Duan Qingbo).

Produced in large format with full color, the catalogue features attractive full-page and double-page spreads for site photos and exhibits. These seductive views and details could never be obtained in person. Illustrations of exhibits are distributed more or less logically among the five chapters. But to look at every thing of a kind or all images of a single exhibit, the reader must pore over the [End Page 411] entire volume. The catalogue, moreover, does not provide entries as such, so the details vary considerably from one exhibit to another depending on text and captions. A checklist records date, materials, dimensions, time of excavation; provenance, and brief references (pp. 210–221). A glossary of Chinese characters, notes, a good bibliography, and index complete the volume.

In a joint-author work, some texts inevitably overlap, and topics are addressed from different points of view. Jane Portal's introduction naturally previews topics presented in the other chapters and briefly considers the later reputation of the great man. Wu Yongqi's concluding essay rehearses material treated elsewhere. Robin Yates focuses on military organization and the Qin arsenal, but contrary to its title, his chapter says little about the Qin campaigns. Michael Loewe then (pp. 60–67) reconsiders some of Yates (pp. 31–35). The meatiest texts are Yates on the Qin armies, Kern on imperial stele inscriptions, Nickel's on the warriors and trenches, and Lin on armor.

Overall, this reader would like more detail. For example, none of the edicts on weights and measures (nos. 2, 38, 39, and 41) is translated. Likewise, since the stele texts are perhaps the most reliable expressions of Qin imperial ideology—melding notionally Legalist, Confucian, Taoist, and other strains of thought—more translations of them...


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