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UPDATED: June 4, 2012 NO. 23 JUNE 7, 2012
Tomb With a View
China's famed Terracotta Warriors conquer the Big Apple
By Corrie Dosh

CHINESE ICON: Visitors appreciate China's Terracotta Warriors displayed in New York's Discovery Times Square museum at a preview of the exhibition on April 25 (WANG LEI)

A 600-pound armored general from China has invaded New York City. He has come in peace, along with a few warriors of his army, some livestock, a horse, kitchen supplies and even an acrobat. Nearby, a kneeling archer practices his aim, with a spray of arrows fanning out on the wall ahead. The entourage seems appropriate, since it is the 2,200-year-old general's first trip to the United States.

The selection of artifacts from the worldfamous Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, made their debut on April 27 at New York's Discovery Times Square museum. The exhibition, which will end on August 26, includes more than 20 artifacts that will be displayed in the United States for the first time, including a set of gates from an ancient Han burial chamber (making their world debut), a cooking utensil and a bronze wine vessel. Ten of the life-sized clay warriors are on display—the maximum amount that can be displayed outside of China at one time.

"The terracotta warriors, for an American audience, are one of the icons of Chinese culture and archeological history. They are recognized throughout the world," said Sara Judge McCalpin, President of New Yorkbased China Institute, a sponsor of the Terracotta Warriors exhibit. "You can actually see these warriors and you don't have to go all the way to Xi'an."

A Terracotta Warrior on display in New York (CFP)

The terracotta army, including an estimated 8,000 life-sized warriors, was buried with China's first Emperor Qin (259-210 B.C.), who unified the country and built key sections of the Great Wall. Construction of the tomb began in 246 B.C., not long after he assumed the throne. The New York exhibit is part art gallery, part history lesson, and visitors wind their way through three sections, each highlighting a different phase in the history of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.): The Rise of Qin, The Terracotta Army, and The Harmonious Han.

Qin's armored general stands alone in a shimmering room of silver, an illustration of the "rivers of quicksilver" that surrounded the emperor in his tomb—mercury that artisans used to recreate the empire's great Yangtze and Yellow rivers. These rivers of toxic mercury may have been designed to repel grave robbers. The emperor himself may have died from mercury poisoning after drinking cinnabar, a natural source of the metal.

The exhibit offers just a glimpse of the archeological treasures that were accidentally unearthed in Xi'an in 1974. Thousands of clay warriors remain buried at the site, all individually created and dressed for battle, with hundreds of life-sized horses and chariots, entertainers, musicians and officials. The emperor's tomb, the size of a football field, remains unopened.

"For anyone that sees them there (in Xi'an), the sheer enormity and sheer number of warriors give one an understanding of the incredible talent to make all of these statues, and there's something quite monumental about seeing them all lined up," McCalpin said.

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