Monday, June 3, 2013

Terra Cotta Warriors

It's been awhile since I last posted a blog. I have been busy with work, writing, and all the hassles that go into daily life. Recently I put in quite a bit of overtime at work. While the sixteen hour shifts were tiring I did take home extra pay and even got some comp time off, which gave me a chance to spend an afternoon at the Asian Art Museum here in San Francisco. In a rare chance for an afternoon of self-indulgence I saw the exhibits, ate a leisurely late lunch in the restaurant, and prowled the giant building, enjoying all the exhibits there. I really recommend the place if you're ever in the city.
The main exhibit was the terracotta warriors from China. In case you're not familiar with the exhibit, it's a collection of life-sized clay statues discovered in China in 1974. They were buried to serve the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BCE), in the afterlife. There were eight statues on display here, out of the thousands discovered. They were  found buried, standing in precise military formation. Along with the statues were other artifacts, such as chariots, carts, and clothing, along with examples of calligraphy and art, and weapons.

One item of interest was a bronze trigger mechanism for a crossbow. The Chinese crossbow, dating back to about 400 BCE, was the assault rifle of its day, enabling mass armies of moderately trained soldiers to stand up to professional warriors and dominate the battlefield. In the Art of War, Sun Tzu mentions war chariots and crossbows, but not cavalry. Cavalry, and trousers, were introduced to the Chinese armies about 320 BCE by Wu Ling, the king of Chao state. It is believed by many historians that massed crossbow volleys put the war chariot out of business.

Qin Shi Huang is a controversial figure in China's long and turbulent history. As the first emperor he unified China, codified the laws and standards, and imposed a uniform written language, essentially creating China as we know it from a disparate collection of warring states. But he did it with one of the most brutal and despotic regimes known. In his defense it was probably the only way it could have been done. He is both revered and reviled.

In my DVD collection I have the movie Hero, starring Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, Chen Dao Ming, and Donnie Yen. It portrays a fictionalized attempt on the life of the emperor, of which there were many. It is a beautiful movie, told in Rashomon style, with several versions of the story. I really recommend it.

All in all I had a pleasant day.

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