Exhibit // Terra Cotta Warriors

By Sophie Keane

When I visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s installation of the Terra Cotta Warriors of the Qin Dynasty, I expected to see merely rows upon rows of the famous statues, transplanted from their original resting place in China to a comparatively sterile museum in the Twin Cities, and therefore without much meaningful context. And at first, I must say, I was slightly disappointed to see only eight warriors. Despite the dramatic nature of the exhibit design—one turns a corner and comes face-to-face with a cluster of the warriors—the strength in these statues, as I previously understood, lay in their sheer numbers. It is estimated that there are over 8,000 terra cotta warriors underground, most of which have yet to be unearthed, plus 150 cavalry horses and 130 chariots with 520 horses. The MIA’s eight warriors and two horses seemed, frankly, like a puny attempt to capture their majesty. However, what the MIA did manage to capture was the idea that the warriors themselves are only a portion of the Eternal City that Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China, had built and buried along with his body. He ordered architects and craftsmen to essentially build a second imperial city underground, complete with offices, reception halls, stables, acrobats, musicians—even an imperial zoo (the MIA displayed a few life-size bird statues alongside the warriors). Rivers were duplicated in quicksilver, with man-made constellations above. Certainly this underground city would be an astounding sight, and the craftsmanship behind the warriors is indeed something to behold. Each warrior is entirely unique, and if one draws close enough, their eyes seem alive; their hands are empty but molded to hold weapons. Each is poised for battle, but they do seem a bit weary after manning their stations for more than 2,000 years. One can envision these warriors guarding the treasures of the underground eternal city, even as they stand guard in an art museum in Minneapolis—the MIA displayed jewelry and other riches of the palace along with the warriors, which helped the viewer move past his or her current time and place. Qin Shi Huangdi had immortality on his mind when he built his Eternal City—thinkers like Laozi were household names during the Qin Dynasty, and the Taoist ideas behind living forever seem to have particularly interested the first emperor. We’ve moved beyond such ludicrous ideas now, in the 21st century, I suppose. But maybe that just depends on why you think people seek power today. Which brings us to one of the most current events: the presidential election. Are the millions spent on campaign funds today simply to fight for the “right” ideology, to make sure the best candidate is chosen to lead the nation? Or are election contests merely a modern day quest for immortality? Maybe Qin Shi Huangdi achieved his quest. After all, his warriors remain remarkably intact, despite their construction in 208 BCE. Of course, modern technology can move them anywhere in the world now, so their intended purpose as sentinels for the Eternal City is lost. What will people 2,000 years from now think of our presidential campaigns, then, when all that remains of them is historical records? Only time will tell. refresh –>