Return to the museum – The Terracotta Warriors

October 30, 2007 at 1:10 pm | Posted in British Museum, General, London, Out and About, Travel | Leave a comment
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China’s First Emperor’s terracotta warriors are on display at the British Museum for a relatively short time. So drop everything buy a ticket and see it! Or so the advertising would have you believe. While it’s true that the exhibition won’t be here forever I’m not fully convinced that it is a must see. For a brief history of the warriors read the wiki.

So the basics, if you haven’t bought a ticket in advance online then you must vie for one of 500 extra tickets released each morning. I was going with Ankush at 2PM and walked into the museum at 11 and the earliest tickets were for 1:30. On a Monday and at 2 when we came for the tour they had completely sold out. So my advice is if you can pre-buy and if not get in early, buy your tickets for late afternoon or evening and then explore other parts of London or the museum.

There is no photography allowed inside but at the end of the tour you can get plenty of merchandise at the gift shop! Exciting, no? On the other hand for a few extra pounds you can pick up an audio tour. The audio tour helped keep me engaged with the subject matter but that’s probably because I have a short attention span. While there was some additional content on the audio tour I don’t think this really exceeded what was on the signs and explanatory materials. In many instances I was rereading what I’d only heard moments before thus protracting the experience.

While I was aware beforehand that each warrior was a unique work I was oblivious or failed to think about the other aspects of the tomb. What was new to me or at least reinforced was the variety of other statues found within the tomb complex such as civil servants, acrobats and animals. No women though. Maybe they’ll be uncovered one day.

The artistry and gruelling workload required to create the vast number of statues is inspiring and shocking at the same time given the number of prisoners ’employed’ in their construction.

I feel let down a little by the display as it only featured about a dozen warriors (as well as various other statues) and a part of me had imagined a more extensive display reminiscent of the columns of soldiers you see in videos of the excavation. Nonetheless, The British Museum has provided a snapshot of the Terracotta Army and it is likely that only the museum in Xi’an could do better.

One of my hopes was that by coming to this exhibit I could ignore Xi’an and the effort of going to the Terracotta Warrior site. I’d heard from numerous travellers that there isn’t anything else worthwhile in Xi’an besides the museum. Unfortunately, the British Museum only offered the tip of the iceberg or should that be tip of the burial mound so it looks like one of these days I will return to China and trek over to Xi’an and then get out quick!

The exhibit is interesting and something people with an interest in ancient history or China should see but there’s no rush, if you see something on the History Channel first then that might be sufficient.

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