I’ve been looking forward to it for at least a month. And that might be part of the problem. Because when I look back at Sunday with ancient clay warriors, I kind of feel like I saw the movie trailer and not the main feature film. Oh, but wait, let’s not spoil this before I even discuss the event a little bit.
As people in Atlanta probably already know, the Qin Dynasty Terracotta Warrior exhibit has recently opened at the High Museum of Art. (I’m imagining the numerous disappointed sighs out there when they discover that “high.org” is a website for an art museum. Delicious.) I don’t remember the price of admission off the top of my head, but it is a heck of a lot cheaper than tickets concerts headlining ancient musicians.
What are these Terracotta Warriors, some imaginary person asks? They are the larger than life clay sculptures of Chinese soldiers and generals that were created to assist China’s first emperor in the afterlife. (After kicking a lot ass in life, he looked forward to kicking even more in death.)
In spite of sending out folks to track down his subjects to find all manner of immortality herbs and potions, the first emperor decided to hedge his bets. There was at least a 50-50 chance he’d die one day. He needed to prepare for life on the other side. It just wouldn’t do for his army and deathly possessions to fewer than the other kings he met on the other side. I mean, hey, nobody likes to be the butt of jokes. He had options. He could just have his army killed so he could bring them along. But that had been done before. And his warriors, as good as they were in conquering the warrior states, weren’t perfect. They could be a little taller. And maybe a little stronger. But he really could do too much about that. So he decided to make new ones. Taller, stronger, faster and decked out with really nice weapons. He was a clever guy, actually. Not only would his afterlife army be larger than everyone else’s, they’d be taller by several feet. Guess who will be calling the shots in death-land?
One thing that the first emperor didn’t count on was how unpopular he’d be with those who were still alive. His living enemies set fire to his massive burial grounds and stole his warriors weapons. It might have been too big a deal for the recently deceased emperor if all the supports to his subterranean weren’t wood. But they were and the roof collapsed, smashing and scattering his now defenseless warriors. Talk about damage during shipping. After all that work over all those years, and look who still is the laughing stock of the afterlife. (“You made your soldiers out of what?”)
Fortunately for us, a bunch of smart people with penchants for jigsaw puzzles have reassembled an incredible number of these damaged warriors for our viewing enjoyment. And with the OK of the Chinese government, they’ve decided to take the Terracotta show on the road, visiting museums all over the world. The show stars crossbow mean, generals, musicians, a chariot driver and even a headless guy with a weight problem. (Known as the “strong man”, but I think really just has a thyroid problem.) And to make sure the show is a success, it returns to China after each exhibit to be “blessed”. (I don’t know what that means exactly, but I’m sure it helps.)
It’s a show that’s really worth seeing, even if it is a little anticlimactic. I had hoped to see a room full of clay soldiers, but what I saw was merely a sampling of what has been unearthed and reconstructed. Probably 10 actual soldiers in total. It’s enough to intrigue and impress, but not to give you a sense of the magnitude of this ancient wonder of the world. To be fair, it would be prohibitively expensive and logistically impractical to ship a small room full of warriors all around the world. And they do try to give you this sense with a massive picture on one wall depicting the warriors in their sunken hallways. I guess it’s time for me to start saving up for a plane ticket.
So you’re probably wondering if it’s worth it to go and see the exhibit. Let me help you in your decision making process with a quick list of pro and con bullet points. (Man, am I helpful or what? Make your checks payable to Brian Hewitt.)
Why you should see the Terracotta Warrior Exhibit:
- You don’t have the money for a plane ticket to China or the vacation time to enjoy it.
- How often do you get to see 2000 year old Chinese sculpture? Or 2000 year old anything for that matter? Julius Cesar is younger than these things, and he didn’t hold up nearly as well.
- It’s always beneficial to admire fine craftsmanship. Whether it be a fine premium cigar, and incredible painting or a clay replica of a ancient Chinese soldier.
- In spite of being made from only 8 different molds, each soldier his striking unique. Different hair styles, clothing and facial features are suspected to represent a variety of the Chinese ethnic groups of the day.
- There’s more to see than just the warrior. Coins, replica bronze chariots with horses, birds, art, and even a cool model of the ancient assembly line that assembled the warriors.
Why you might be disappointed:
- If the exhibit in your museum is roughly equivalent to ours, you’ll probably be done in an hour. And that’s with the audio tour (which is an absolute must). But if you don’t have a lot of time, this could be a plus.
- You’ll only see 9 or 10 actual warriors.