Monday, July 4, 2011

Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor & His Legacy

Death as the great equaliser is indeed a potent notion that is embraced by some and resisted by others. One of the strongest rebels against the inevitable is none other than the first Emperor of China, 秦始皇 (Qin Shi Huang) who lived between 259 BC - 210 BC.

The great Emperor, whose personal name was 嬴政 (Ying Zheng), was obsessed with immortality. He was known to have gone enormous lengths to acquire the mythical elixir of life. Even after being defeated by Death, he continued to wage war by sending thousands of labourers to work on building a kingdom that he can rule in his afterlife - a jaw-dropping collection of terracota warriors, entertainers and animals were unearthed over 2000 years later in 1970.

To find out more about Qin Shi Huang's kingdom in the afterlife, I went down to the exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) and got more than I expected! The exhibition was not only limited to one gallery but ACM had a whole package for the visitors. Even before I entered the exhibition proper, I was greeted by these interesting characters...

After raising an eyebrow or two, I realised that ACM cleverly prefaced the exhibition with a modern and light-hearted take on the afterlife. These sculptures, which were done by Justin Lee, certainly brought a smile to everyone and I personally felt that it was a great counterpoint to the seriousness of Qin Shi Huang's ambitions in creating a kingdom after death.

Aside from that cheeky teaser, I do applaud ACM's efforts to not only keep up with the times but to ensure that all visitors do get a hands-on experience of the exhibition. This is done by creating a wonderful iPhone/ iPad app (do download this app before going to the exhibition!) to complement the exhibition as well as placing replicas of the warriors just outside the gallery for visitors to piece together the armour together.

Interactive Replica
 On to the exhibition proper, I felt that the artefacts on display did cover quite a lot of ground as it tries to give us some insights into what Qin Shi Huang wanted as well as the life and times of that era.

Depiction of the process of creating an afterlife kingdom

Decorative dagger believed to be comissioned by Lu Buwei


Replica of the chariot that was found in one of the pits

Intricately carved incense burner
Crane as part of the garden created for the Emperor's relaxation
Armour of the soldiers during the Qin dynasty

Various soldiers of different ranks and position
 The exhibition certainly sheds light on the struggle of Qin Shi Huang to continually establish his power and to leave a legacy. Additionally it showcased the grandeur of the time as there are several exhibits of burial items that are incredibly valuable which were buried with the aristocrats of the time. It also showed the influence of this practice on the Han dynasty as burial items were common as well albeit much simpler and smaller in scale.

Yet, all his struggles for immortality were certainly in vain but he did leave us an awesome spectacle to behold in so doing.

For more information about this exhibition, please click here. If you would like to see more photos of the exhibition, check out and 'like' our facebook page . To read more from Isaac, visit his personal blog, Prelude.

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