The Warrior Emperor and China's Terracotta Army: Forever on guard

Forever on guard

Terracotta infantry warrior keeps watch at MMFA exhibit
Photo: Courtesy MMFA

The Warrior Emperor and China's Terracotta Army invades the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Fresh from wowing huge crowds at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, the blockbuster exhibition The Warrior Emperor and China’s Terracotta Army opened to much fanfare here in Montreal last week, and justifiably so. The exhibition features 240 works from 16 museums in China, including larger-than-life-size terracotta warriors dating back over two millennia. The warriors are a mere handful of the 20,000 made 2,200 years ago to protect Emperor Ying Zheng’s tomb complex, the last great archaeological discovery of the 20th century after King Tut’s tomb.

Many of the priceless artifacts on display have never previously travelled outside China and tell not just the life story of Emperor Ying Zheng (259-210 BC), but shed light on the creation of the new cultural and geopolitical cohesion that would shape China for centuries to come.

The exhibition itself covers about 1,000 years of Chinese history and is divided into three main parts: The Rise of Qin (ninth century to 221 BC), The Terracotta Army of the First Emperor of China (221 to 206 BC) and The Harmonious Era of the Han (206 BC to AD 220).

While the whole exhibit is fascinating – it took this reporter well over an hour to get through it all – crowds will likely most enjoy the middle section, which explores China’s famous first emperor and his terracotta army. In briefest terms, Ying Zheng acceded to the throne of the state of Qin at the age of 13 back in 246 BC, and after conquering the last independent state, he put an end to 500 years of war and became king of the whole of China in 221 BC. Wandering among these relics, one can’t help but marvel at this compelling exhibition as the new China now flexes its muscles in the 21st century.

The Warrior Emperor and China’s Terracotta Army

At the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1380 Sherbrooke St. W.), until June 26

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Visual Arts