Guarding the Emperor's tomb
August 10, 2008 | Last Saturday, Bob, Phil, and I went to the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana to see the exhibit of Terra Cotta Warriors from China. It was incredible!
Qin Shi Huangdi was the first ruler of a unified China, conquering six neighboring states and proclaiming himself emperor. To safeguard his realm he built what we now call the Great Wall of China and since he was determined to rule forever, he had built a huge tomb protected by an army of 8000 terracotta warriors and animals. Invaders later set fire to the wooden structure holding up the earthen roof, and the collapse buried the whole complex until 1974 when a farmer discovered one of the heads.
Although the exhibit at the Bowers contains only a tiny, tiny fraction of what has been found at the site, it does a good job of suggesting the enormous scale of Qin's project and the advanced processes used to manufacture so many free-standing statues. It becomes even more astonishing when you realize that the collapse of the roof shattered most of the pieces into bits, and they are being painstakingly reassembled and restored.
One of the most important rulers in Chinese history, this Emperor leaves a legacy as morally complicated as that of Peter the Great. For, like the Russian Tsar, he is as well-known for his contributions to the modern state as he is for sacrificing the lives of thousands of laborers to his visionary projects. Made King of the state of Qin at the age of thirteen, by the time he was thirty-eight he conquered the six neighboring states to unify China for the first time.
Although reviled for his tyranny, Qinshihuangdi is also admired for many radical and insightful policies which subsequent dynasties employed. To synthesize seven separate states into one nation, he standardized a common script and established uniform measurement and monetary systems. For effective government, he codified a legal system and replaced hereditary rulers with a centrally appointed administrative system. To improve industrial productivity he encouraged agricultural reforms and constructed many roads. And in an effort to limit the inroads of barbarian tribes, he supervised the construction of a defence fortification along the northern frontier, the first Great Wall. Although China benefited from these policies, thousands of Chinese workers died in completing this far-reaching public works program.
700,000 forced laborers were sacrificed to construct his tomb which was begun as soon as he ascended the throne. All workers and childless concubines were interred with him to safeguard its secrets. According to Sima Qian's "The Historical Records" written a century later, heaven and earth are represented in the tomb's central chamber. The ceiling, inlaid with pearls, represents the starry heavens. The floor, made of stone, forms a map of the Chinese kingdom; a hundred rivers of mercury flow across it. And all manner of treasure is protected by deadly booby-traps.
Photography in the museum was, of course, not permitted. The following images are stolen from the Bowers' website.
For even more stolen pictures, check out the slideshow (below).
After the museum we drove to beautiful downtown Orange and had coffee at a sidewalk cafe on the traffic circle that is the center of the town. It was a absolutely gorgeous day — moderate temperatures, low humidity, clear blue sky. Life is good!
Last updated on Sep 7, 2016