Text and images by Diane LeBow
Once upon a time in central China about 2200 years ago, a ruthless ruler named Qin Shihuang called himself The First Emperor. Although his reign was short lived, 221-206 BCE, he had many accomplishments: he unified the seven states of China, standardized writing, currency, and measurements, and even created the first superhighway system. Finally he sought immortality by building an enormous tomb that is often called the Eighth Wonder of the World. The famed Terracotta Warriors are considered by archaeologists to be on a par with the tombs of Egyptian’s great pharaohs.
In 1974, farmers digging a well in central China stumbled into the 2200 year remains of a burial complex that contains 8000 life-like warriors in battle formation along with their chariots, horses, and weapons.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is visited by millions of people each year. The site is 250,000 square feet, the size of four football fields. A replica of the imperial palace and mercury filled rivers was part of the site.
I was fortunate to visit the site near Xian, China, about twenty years ago and it was an amazing experience to view this enormous project. However, there is no need to book your flight to China to experience the Warriors. The First Emperor’s Legacy is now on view at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum from February 22-May 27, 2013, where you can get much more up close and personal than in Xian.
On display at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum are eight of the warriors along with 110 rare objects including horses, jade armor, a chariot, a bronze crane, a swan and more. This exhibition helps celebrate the 10 year anniversary of our new Asian Art Museum.
A system of mass production was developed to create this vast number of figures over several decades. 100,000 households were relocated over the years for this enormous enterprise.
The exhibition covers the entire first floor of the museum and is divided into three galleries that are organized by theme: the emperor’s search for immortality, the creation of his vast empire, and the underground army.
Scheduled throughout the exhibition period are performances, films, lectures, evening events, and AsiaAlive arts demonstrations. Plan to visit the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin, San Francisco. www.asianart.org