- China’s Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor’s Legacy by Liu Yang
In the last decade, the terracotta soldiers of the First Emperor’s tomb have starred in half a dozen exhibitions across the English-speaking world. In 2007, the British Museum prominently featured them in a special exhibition described on the Museum website as “exhibition of the year.” When the exhibition came down on 6 April 2008, some of the artifacts crossed the Atlantic Ocean and traveled across America with numerous stops, including the High Museum in Atlanta, the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC, and the Bowers Museum in California in a road show that ended only in 2011. Meanwhile, from December 2010 to March 2011, a new selection of soldiers and other archaeological materials went to New South Wales (NSW), Australia, and when that exhibition closed, some objects went on to Singapore from 24 June to 16 October of the same year. Then the terracotta warriors from the Australian tour were back in the United States, starting at the Minneapolis Museum of Art on 28 October 2012, and then traveling to the San Francisco Art Museum, where they were until 27 May 2013. Fortunately, different terracotta warriors can be the “stars” of different exhibitions simultaneously around the world since they number in the thousands.
Exhibition catalogues for these shows vary greatly. Some have great photos, like the large catalogue accompanying the Bowers Museum show. The British Museum catalogue (by Jane Portal et al.) and the Minneapolis Museum of Art catalogue (by Liu Yang et al.) are the most scholarly and break new ground. Liu Yang’s catalogue, in particular, incorporates much of the latest archaeological research on the Qin imperial family and their capitals and tombs.
There is much that is outstanding about Liu’s Minneapolis catalogue. It contains both photographs and brief descriptions of each object exhibited, whereas the British Museum catalogue only has a list of the objects, without photographs. Liu’s Minneapolis catalogue is divided into three parts: (1) the period of the Warring States before the Qin, (2) the First Emperor and the Qin, and (3) the First Emperor’s tomb and army. The organization of the exhibition are very similar to Liu Yang’s first exhibition. The title is even very similar, The First Emperor: China’s Entombed Warriors (Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2010). In the second catalogue, however, Liu was able to add essential parts that place the First Emperor and his world in context, both chronologically and culturally. Especially good are the contributions by Albert Dien on military history and Eugene Wang on Qin beliefs on death. [End Page 626]
The first part is made up mostly of Liu’s new work on the Warring States cultures existing before the Qin unified China, which greatly influenced the nascent empire. The chapter “From the ‘Barbarian’ Land: Recent Discoveries in the Archaeology of the Qin in Gansu” places Mount Dabuzi and its discovery of bronze vessels, including bronze bells, in context with the terracotta soldiers. In this chapter, Liu considers the implications of the Qin house being of western or eastern origins. This, in part, shows a historical obsession with the culture of the Central Plains being the true line for Chinese rulers instead of the “barbarians” of the west. In conclusion, the Qin house was most influenced by the culture of the Central Plains, but the Qin culture also draws, in burial customs, noticeably from the surrounding barbarian Rong and Qiang cultures.
The next chapter, “City, Palace and Burial: An Archaeological Perspective on Qin Culture in Shaanxi,” shows the eastward progression of the Qin state, newly minted as a vassal state of the Zhou dynasty. New archaeological research has uncovered details of successive Qin capitals named Qian, Yong, Yueyang, and Xianyang as generations of the dukes of Qin moved the center of their domain increasingly eastward. Xianyang was...