From Kudzu to Shizu, Part 3

SleepingBuddhaOn Guard Forever or “The Emperor wants me to do what?!!”

We exit the Circle of Heaven and proceed down a corridor to the symbolic heart of the Imperial Tombs of China exhibition: the terra cotta tomb warriors of the Emperor QinShiHuang. QinShiHuang wasn’t an emperor, he was the emperor. The first. He was the one who overpowered every other Chinese kingdom, bringing about the end of the Warring States Period of Chinese history. The modern name “China” is even derived from Qin (pronounced “chin”). His dynasty only lasted about fifteen years, but the Empire he creatd pretty much stayed together with temporary lapses–during the succeeding dynasties.

QinShiHuang’s tomb was rediscovered in 1974 by some farmers digging a well in Shaanxi province. The burial pit covered at least 5 1/2 acres (I say “at least” because they’re not sure they’ve found it all yet). The entire Necropolis including walls and standing wooden buildings was supposed to have covered 22 square miles. The pit contained over 8000 pottery figures of warriors, charioteers, and horses. The warriors were in perfect battle formation, as confirmed by military texts of the time that have survived. They were originally brightly painted and carried real weapons of bronze (swords, spears, falchions, halbards, crossbows), many examples of which survived. A spearpoint and a long straight-forged sword blade of bronze were on display. The fittings had all rotted away, but the blades were in an incredible state of preservation, and, after treatment, gleamed like new steel.

It was also reported in the “Basic Annals of Qin” that the tomb itself was boobytrapped with spring loaded crossbows set to go off if the tunnels were disturbed. Since the actual burial chambers have not yet been excavated, no one knows for sure, though it was also reported that the tomb was in fact looted soon after the fall of the Qin dynasty. Also note: the terra cotta figures were included instead of real people because the custom of human sacrifice was dying out by this time. It wasn’t completely dead. The “Basic Annals” lists a report that the orginal craftsmen who created the tomb traps and such were sealed in the tomb to help keep the secrets safe.

There were four of the tomb warriors present, including a foot soldier, two officers, and a general. All of the figures are shown with brigandine armor (bronze or leather scales); rank was indicated by the type (or lack) of head covering, as well as ornateness of dress. The general was 6’2″ and looked larger. All the faces were very individual and expressive. The heads were done separately and then attached later, but the bodies were created from the same basic shape and then further molded/ individualized before being put in the kiln. Across the corridor was a chariot horse (full size, gad) rendered with the same great artistry.

The last part of the exhibition was a recreation of a throne room from the time of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.) It was full of marvelous stuff as you can imagine. Particularly striking (no pun avoided) were the freestanding bell and chime frames. The construction was different of course, being in gilt wood instead of bronze, and they were much larger (7-9 feet high at least) but the same basic design appeared in the Marquis Yi’s stone chimes from 2000 years earlier. These had a phoenix and dragon design throughout, and the chimes were made of several pounds of jade each. They could be played only when the emperor was present.

The throne was more like a loveseat, of wood lacquered in gold. This gave it a more reddish-coppery hue than what you normally think of as “gilt.” Carved with dragons, of course, but there was a surprisingly playful quality to the sculpture, with dragons entwining on the arms and frame and climbing over the back of the throne as if they were playing chase and tag like impudent children while the Emperor brooded his broods and decreed his decrees.

There were several robes on display, of silk and satin with dragon, phoenix, and bat motifs in gold, blue, yellow, and black (bats were thought to be a sign of good fortune). The guide book only mentioned one of the robes having the bats, but Carol says they were on all of them (Being a weaver, she paid close attention to the textiles). Calling them gorgeous is true enough but lame, so let me just say that, yep, they were suitable attire for the Emperor and his Lady. Not bad duds at all.

Besides the robes and jewely and cloissonne cranes and ceremonial weapons, there also a pair of really interesting supernatural critturs called _luduan_. These look like a cross between a pot bellied stove and a gorilla. There were done in brass partly covered with blue and green cloissonne, and had big grins that wrapped halfway around their heads. According to legend, these creatues had the natural ability to distinguish between good and evil upon hearing them, and they had ears shaped like funnels to indicate to all present that they Missed Nothing. Personally, I wouldn’t trust the pair of them as far as I could throw them, but then I wasn’t the Emperor

So much for Saturday. Sunday was occupied with an exhibition of Chinese Art (private collection) at the Pink Palace. Jade. Lots of jade. And a 12-14 inch lion carved completely out of rose quartz. After that we went to the (at the time) newly renovated Memphis zoo and saw real lions, and other marvelous cats.

In more recent news, I’m working on some story revisions. Announcement may or may not follow, since nothing’s firm yet.

From Kudzu to Shizu, Part 1

SleepingBuddhaWhen I was going through some of my old files looking for something else, I stumbled upon a report I wrote several years ago about a trip my wife and I took to Memphis to the see the “Imperial Tombs of China” exhibition. Since that was the trip that inspired one my favorite early stories, “Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Zeng,” I decided to reprint the trip report here. It’s pretty long, so I’m going to break it up over the next few days. Continue reading

From Kudzu to Shizu

This is an account of a trip to Memphis my wife and I made several years ago. It’s relevant for the simple reason that it was my first real introduction to the artifacts and history of ancient China, and at least some of the interest I’ve developed over the years for Asian themes can be traced directly to it. Not to mention stories like “Golden Bell, Seven, and the Marquis of Yi,” (Black Gate, Nov. 2000) “Palace of the Jade Lion” (coming up in Beneath Ceaseless Skies next month) and my Mythopoeic Award finalist novella, The Heavenly Fox. Sometimes research is an Adventure. Continue reading