Yesterday I finally got to go to the British Museum’s exhibition on The First Emperor, having booked the tickets back in November.  The exhibition was good, if a little small and crowded, but the things they had on display were beautiful and if you bothered to have the audio guide (which I did) and to read all the information you could find out a great deal.

I have to say, what impresses me the most about the Terracotta Army is the scale and its context.  In 221BC Ying Zheng had conquered a pretty large chunk of modern China and declared himself the First Emperor of China.  He’d already started building his tomb twenty years before when he became King of Qin, his father’s kingdom, aged only 13.  The tomb complex itself, with at least 7000 Terracotta soldiers, horses, chariots, birds, acrobats, state officials, musicians and more, covers 56 km sq.  To create such a thing required a huge amount of organisation and unprecedented control of resources.  The First Emperor is known to have introduced reforms such as standardising weights and measures, the currency and the written script in order to rule his empire more effectively.  Seeing the world he created for himself to rule in the afterlife makes these acheivements more believable, and more awe-inspiring.  In Western Europe we are used to hearing about the Roman Empire as the great civilisation of the past, but this Eastern Empire surely must have rivalled Rome.

The statues are mass-produced, which in itself is impressive because I think many people think of mass-produced art as a modern phenomena, yet every figure and animal was finished by hand and is distinct.  It is a completely different technique from the marble carvings of Rome, yet just as beautiful and realistic.

I think it is extremely interesting to think about history from a global perspective, to think about the rise and fall of civilizations and to compare the progress of human societies in different parts of the world at the same time.  The length and scale of human history and achievement should be hugely inspirational.

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