New York City welcomes the Terracotta Warriors

Updated: 2012-04-30 11:17

By Liu Yuhan in New York (China Daily)

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New York City welcomes the Terracotta Warriors

Discovery Times Square becomes the temporary home of warriors from the mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor. [Liu Yuhan / China Daily]

Gazing at the Terracotta Warriors and Horses usually requires a trip to China, but residents and tourists in Manhattan can, through late summer, glimpse a few of the mysterious figures that guarded the first Chinese emperor's underground palace.

Discovery Times Square is the temporary home of nine of the more than 8,000 life-size replicas from the mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor. They were accidentally discovered in 1974 in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, by farmers digging a well.

Later came the archeological find of the tomb complex of Qin Shi Huang, or Ying Zheng (221-210 BC), who as the unifier of ancient China became its first emperor. (The complex is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.) At his direction, a "terracotta army" was created to protect the emperor in the afterlife. Each figure was uniquely designed and crafted - varying in uniform, height and hairstyle in accordance with military rank.

Terracotta Warriors: Defenders of China's First Emperor opened this past weekend and runs through Aug 26. Along with the nine clay soldiers, the exhibit dating to the third century BC includes 20 accompanying artifacts and, for the first time outside China, a set of gates from an ancient burial chamber of the Han dynasty (206 BC-220), which succeeded the Qin.

The exhibit represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many, said Chen Shen, vice-president and senior curator at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum. He curated The Warrior Emperor and China's Terracotta Army, which drew large audiences in Canada in late 2010 and throughout 2011.

"The exhibition includes three sections featuring the life and the afterlife of the first emperor, to present the development of terracotta figurines as part of funeral traditions in ancient China," Shen explained. "Later, other emperors also continued his legacies and built similar tomb complexes but they never managed to exceed his scale, which makes the first emperor's terracotta warriors so unique."

Although some of the artifacts were shown previously in Toronto, London, Washington, DC, and Santa Ana, California, the Discovery Times Square show features several artifacts on exclusive display.

Highlights include one of only nine generals ever recovered, a suit of stone-plaque armor, a bronze ritual vessel and a bronze "he," a water or wine container, for the US premiere.

Ann and Peter Holman, from Queensland, Australia, were visiting New York City when they happened upon a surprise.

"We've actually been to China - we went to Beijing about 2000 for our 25th wedding anniversary, and we missed out on the terracotta warriors." Ann Holman told China Daily. "We've come here today, it caught our eye. When we were going past we thought, 'We have to stop and see it.' And it's just phenomenal."

"We thought there were maybe only one or two of the terracotta warriors; later we were amazed at how many there were there." Peter Holman said of the 6-foot-tall, 600-pound figures.

Having studied Mandarin on and off for two years, New Yorker Susan Feldman said she has long been fascinated by traditional Chinese culture.

"The exhibition is marvelous with its documentation of a wonderful history and culture that goes back thousands of years. The description didn't even do it justice."