China’s llrst Emperor, 0in Shlhuang, was born in 259 8C and was only eleven years old when he started arranging his own luneral. lie gathered a workiorce oi roo,ooo conscripts to build his tomb -a task which kept them busy iorthe remaining thirty-eight years oi his Ille- and meanwhile turned his attention to administrating a brutal regime which brought about the successiul unlllcatlon oi China through warlare, punishment, the standardisation oi currency, writing and measures, and (much to the regret oi modern historians) the bvming oi all books and records which might have excited opposition. lie implemented high rates oi taxation to iinance the massive scale oi construction projects such as a comprehensive network oi roads and canals, and being an absolute ruler, he had no dllilcully In lindlng a spare 500,000 labourers to start building The Great Wall. But despite his success and power, his concubines and lavish palaces, 0ln Shlhuang was discontent. . lie was alrald oi death. He craved Immortality with a passion that turned his tomb into an obsessive iantasy.
llearthe city olean he planned a vast chamber containing a world in miniature which he would rule ior eternity; replica buildings in gold and silver, oceans lllled by rivers ol llowlng mercury and heavens studded with jewels. The tomb would be deep underground, protected against intruders by an assortment oi engineered traps- and protected » against evil spirits on three sides by propitious landmarks and on the lourth by a replica oi his own elite bodyguard, a terracotta army ol 8,000 liiesize warriors.
The 700,000 who were iorced to turn this dream into reality seem to have comprised criminals, peasants, dissenting scholars, thieves whose laces had been tattooed as a mark oi disgrace, potters, metal workers,
architects, overseers, and perhaps100
master sculptors. The bulk oi the workiorce was engaged in excavating ioundations, constructing buildings, transporting clay and preparing moulds ior the torsos ol the terracotta warriors and horses. It was lelt to the master sculptors to create heads iorthe clay army, each one bearing individual . characteristics. The 8,000 iigures were 2 then iired in kilns, painted inthe lull colours oi their unllorrns and set up in battle ionnatlon in their subterranean chamber. The workforce had to endure the snows oi winter and Xian's dusty hot summers probably on a diet oi rice dumplings and cereals. Many labourers were iorced to wear leg irons , or were chained to the spot, and ended 5 their days in mass graves. The punishment ior idleness or desertlon was death by being buried up to the shoulders in sand and decapitated at the executioner’s leisure, and the reward ior those whose designs and hard work brought about the completion at their Emperor's tomb was the compulsory honour oi sharing i it with him. Architects, masons, childless concubines and 100 horses
were interred alive on the death oi the Emperor in 210 8C.
When i visited the industrial city oi Xian (Edinburgh’s twin city and, appropriately, a lorrner capital oi China) in 1982, Oln Shihuang's tomb was pointed out to me. It was a dull looking hlll, lorty metres high and six kilometres around, thinly covered with pomegranate trees. Archaeologists had not begun probing this mound but they were excitedly digging out the clay army (situated one mile away) which larrners drilling lor water had accidentally discovered six years earlier. The army was looted and broken iust iour years alter Oln's death but was then covered over and lorgotten. The 0ln Dynasty lasted a mere lllteen years and had been considered artistically lnslgniiicant in comparison to the earlier Zhou and the later Han Dynasties until this
incredible creation came to light. Under a huge canopy the iigures were being pieced together and restored to their ranks by the hundred. (it will take archaeologists longer to excavate and restore the clay warriors than the thirty-nine years it took to make them in the llrst place.) I was only allowed to view the results ol their work irom a distance while olilcials crept about among hordes oi Chinese visitors hoping to catch the inirequent ioreigner taking a lorbldden photograph ol the army so they could gleeiully rip the lllm out at his camera. Olilclals and tongue-twisting names aside, the experience was awesome.
Now the clay army- at least a portion ol lt- has come to Edinburgh. The City Art Centre is the only UK venue ior this unique exhibition which, alter 1 llovember, will be retreating to Hong Kong and then back to Xian. There are a
total ol thirty-two exhibits, some appearing ior the llrst time in Europe, and nine terracotta iigures. Their colours have iaded but their expressions are bewitching and their silent serenity is breath-taking. These iigures represent one at the world’s most astonishing and important archaeological discoveries, and while they may not match the dazzle oi Tutankhamun’s treasures. they exude the same evocative presence which seems to stem irom harsh times and 2,000 years at waiting. Oin Shlhuang, through notoriety and a line choice oi craftsmen. has achieved a certain immortality. (AlastairScott).
(Alastair Scott's book oi his travels Scot Free is published by John Murray in Jan. 1986)
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