A new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum takes visitors on a journey of discovery to the life and times of the first Qin emperor, Li Xing reports.
A total of 192 faces greet visitors to the Warrior Emperor and China's Terracotta Army exhibition, which opened on Saturday at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Canada's largest city Toronto. Each face of the generals, soldiers and civilian officials of the first Chinese emperor is distinct in expression and make-up. Accounting for only a small number of the 8,000-strong terracotta army, they usher visitors into the life and rule of the Qin (221-206 BC) and Han (206 BC - AD 24) dynasties.
A chart elaborates the consonants and vowels of the name of the "warrior emperor", and some visitors were murmuring "Chin shih hwongdee", as they proceeded into the main exhibit area, as they tried to memorize the name of the first Chinese emperor Qin Shihuangdi (259-210 BC).
The emperor not only had the impressive terracotta army built, he also left a rich legacy that laid the foundations for imperial China that would last some 2,200 years.
The language chart is only one of the many details that Dr Chen Shen, chief curator of the show, incorporated into the exhibition.
A map draws a lot of visitors' attention as it marks the exact location of the generals amongst the huge army unearthed so far. "Only nine generals, the highest ranking army officers, have been found thus far," the subtitle reads.
The life-size statue of an armored general is just one of the 250 artifacts that Dr Shen selected exclusively from 15 museums and institutes in Shaanxi province for Canadian tour.
Many visitors lingered in the area where the life-size general, charioteer, cavalryman and horses are on display. "I am so lucky to see these pieces short of visiting China," says Nessya Neemron, a jeweler living in Toronto.
She says she has had Chinese students staying with her and seen a lot of pictures, but she was still amazed. "China is so lucky to preserve these incredible pieces," she says.
"I've never seen such a fantastic life-size piece," Jude Cowan, a Bell technician, says in front of a kneeling archer warrior with color pigment, placed in a glass case.
According to Shen, that particular warrior is traveling for the first time outside China.
"All of the previous artifacts displayed at exhibitions in the United States are not seen in the ROM exhibition," he tells China Daily. "About one-third of the artifacts have never been displayed outside China before, and most of them have not been shown to the public in China."
For the civilian official, one of eight found so far, Shen mulled over the question of whether he was an administrator or court official upholding the law. Shen also included the weight of the stone armor (20 kg), which is incased in a glass box with the helmet.
All these exhibits distinguish the ROM exhibition from similar shows, especially the one that started at the British Museum in London in Sept, 2007, and ended in March at the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC.
No wonder it drew a few hundred visitors in the first hour on its opening. And it was a full house for the videos showing interviews with archaeologists as well as farmers who made the initial discovery.
Mary Serniak, with Toronto Waterfront magazine, says that she was impressed with the vivid stories told throughout the exhibition, even though "it would take a lot of time to go through it".
Although ancient Chinese history may be mind-boggling, Shen says that the exhibition takes visitors on a journey of discovery to "the important transformation period in early Chinese history."
It not only illustrates how Qin Shihuangdi brought to an end 500 years of war and unified China but also shows how the Han Dynasty evolved, creating "the harmonious society, which was connected to the western world through its famous Silk Road," Shen says.
It is also "a dream come true" for Shen, who visited the terracotta museum in Xi'an, Shaanxi province in 1997 for the first time as a researcher and archaeologist and started work to bring the terracotta figures to Toronto.
He has done extensive research since then, and it has taken three years for Shen and his colleagues to develop the exhibition. Between 2007 and March this year, Shen and his colleagues visited Shaanxi province six times. They spent almost a week squeezing among the rank and file of the terracotta army to take photographs of the faces of the figures in the three pits at the terracotta museum.
"We would like our audience to understand that China has a rich culture and history, that produced unique artworks that are a part of the world heritage," Shen says.
Source: China Daily