The Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang
August 1, 2008 6:03 PM   Subscribe

The Terracotta Army (a tiny part of which is now visiting Southern California) occupies the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, where they have resided for over two thousand years. Flickr hosts some outstanding photographs of the army in place, such as these sets and this panorama (see also the UNESCO site in the main link for a QuickTime panorama and brief video). Thanks to Google, you can see a satellite view of the tomb. And while the subtitling leaves something to be desired, YT hosts a documentary on the warriors. (The warriors have made brief appearances in other posts here and here.)

Yes, they inspired this would-be blockbuster, although it looks like the Hong Kong film industry got there first.
posted by thomas j wise (10 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Always fascinated with this army, ever since I saw it on "In Search of" back in the 70s... nice post!
posted by inthe80s at 7:00 PM on August 1, 2008

Ever since I saw them in person I have been convinced they are made in a factory in Zhengzhou and "excavated" for tourists and UNESCO evaluators.
posted by arruns at 7:58 PM on August 1, 2008

One thing that always bugged me about the popular historical record of the First Emperor of Ch'in was how he's so maligned for the bibliocaust that occurred sometime toward the end of the (very short-lived) Ch'in dynasty (221 BCE–210 BCE.)

As I recall, there isn't a lot of direct evidence to implicate the emperor Ying Cheng in this act. While it's true that the Ch'in government did exert a lot of control over information and did put a lot of effort into collection, organisation, and reproduction of even-then ancient text, the actual burning of books may just as easily have occurred when the Ch'in capital Hsien Yang was sacked by Kao Tsu in 207 BCE.

On a broader note, I think that this historical nit-picking ties in very interestingly to modern sentiments about China we see in the West. It seems important to note that the First Emperor of Ch'in sought the control of information not purely out of a desire to maintain his own power structures (I think it's a projection of modern social circumstances to think that in those days knowledge=power as it may today,) but out of what could be argued as a genuine desire for the welfare of his nation. If the best interests of the people lie in the creation of an economically prosperous agrarian state, then perhaps removing these literary distractions from the people's minds was not wholly an act of despotism.

I think the lesson here is that the modern political situation in China is not nearly as clear cut as we might think (- and the historical one even less so!)

For example, it is very tempting to project onto the Ch'in Dynasty the qualities that made Chinese communism under Mao Tse Tung unpalatable to Western critics, but I think in examples like the one above, there's something missing. Undoubtedly, Mao welcomed these kinds comparisons (and you see them clear-as-day in movies like Jet Li's Ying Hsiung) - suggestions that he might be a modern incarnation of the Ch'in rulers who, through cultivation of Legalist philosophy, transformed a backward nation into a powerful, ruling dynasty, and, importantly, that for this to succeed, it required submission of personal interests to the state.

But at the same time I think we risk ignoring a lot of significant historical differences when we are lured by these very liberal interpretations and fail to do justice to the remarkably complicated socio-political situation of modern China when we reduce questions about the "3Ts" to a black-and-white issues of democracy-vs-dictatorship.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:12 PM on August 1, 2008

@Sangermaine - it's funny that you jumped on this thread so early with your interesting comment. I was just going to contribute my little tidbit of knowledge about early Chinese history which was that with the death of Qin Shi Huang, (and the construction of the terra cotta army, also came this monumental event in the study of Chinese history that we call The Burning of the Books and the Burying of the Scholars, where they attempted to suppress other philosophies not compatible with the official state-sponsored one by massacring the scholars who knew these alternative philosophies and burning their books. It's kind of a Permian Extinction for historians of ancient china, only without the fossil record.

Of course anyone who makes parallels with events in modern Chinese history is being foolish and specious and facile. There are plenty of other parallels outside of Chinese history which are just as appropriate: Iconoclasm in the Christian world, for example. But aren't you making kind of a straw man here? How many people seriously make the parallel?
posted by jackbrown at 8:52 PM on August 1, 2008

Should we alert The Middleman and Wendy Watson to this new threat?
posted by anser at 11:23 PM on August 1, 2008

This is one of the first wonders I build if I can. Wait, what?
posted by wastelands at 1:07 AM on August 2, 2008

@anser: As the creator of that thread, a BIG LOL to you!

OTOH, that new Mummy flick, they seem to have really screwed the pooch. It should have been a no-brainer, but director Rob Cohen doesn't seem to have had a clue how to deal with two of China's BIGGEST martial artists in the same flick, it remains stuck at 10% over at RottenTomatoe.

(The number-crunchers out to have factored-in the Chinese audience numbers when they were costing the picture. This failure is going to cost them.)

I know that Universal is probably just another greedy American corporation -- esp. since they were bought by GE -- but they might have done well to partner with some Chinese filmmakers to produce a serviceable movie with HK fight choreographers and the like.

And don't forget that it's also a shame upon the Chinese officials who allowed the Americans to come to their country to make such a shitty movie.
posted by vhsiv at 7:20 AM on August 2, 2008

I saw these at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco when I was a kid...freakin sweet.
posted by radioamy at 4:01 PM on August 2, 2008

Ever since I saw them in person I have been convinced they are made in a factory in Zhengzhou and "excavated" for tourists and UNESCO evaluators.

That certainly was not the impression I came away with. YMMV depending on levels of innate cynicism.
posted by absalom at 6:02 PM on August 3, 2008

I bet that the KISS Army could totally kick their asses.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:30 PM on August 4, 2008

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