A Terracotta Family Reunion in Melbourne 2019, by Charles Qin

I am imagining a visit from my Chinese ancestors – my surname Qin is the name of China’s first and most famous emperor who built a stone army to guard his tomb in China. As Hong Kong University’s Xun Zhou has said: “No Qin, no China.” And we would have needed to find a different name for our Chinese language and communications company (in Chinese: qinhuang fanyi gongsi 秦皇翻译公司) or Chin Communications, and I’d probably be called John Wang, or something similar!

Audiences in Melbourne in 2019 will be able to see some of my heritage – China’s magnificent Terracotta Warriors at the NGV.

Qin (sometimes written as Ch’in – the descendants of the Dynasty took Qin as their surname) is where ‘China’ came from – so my name is not only from China’s first emperor, but also the name of the country where I was born.

The Qin emperor was 39 years of age when he unified a number of warring states into the Qin kingdom and he declared himself the first emperor of China in 221BC. He died at age 49 while pursuing the Elixir of Life and, in one sense, he found it as the Terracotta Army and his tomb will live forever.

He used the name Qin Shi Huangdi. According to Wikipedia:

  • 秦, Qínor Ch‘in, “of Qin, the kingdom”
  • 始, Shǐ, “first”
  • 皇帝, Huángdì “emperor”, a new term coined from:
    • 皇, Huáng, literally “shining” or “splendid” and formerly most usually applied “as an epithet of Heaven”
    • 帝,  the high god of the Shang, possibly composed of their divine ancestors, and used by the Zhou Dynasty as a title of the legendary Five Emperors, particularly the Yellow Emperor

The Qin Emperor was responsible for

  • Common currency
  • Standard measurements
  • Standardised writing system
  • Road and canal building
  • Unifying the Great Wall

He also

  • Outlawed religion, and
  • Banned most books

Discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well, the Terracotta Warriors (兵马俑 Bīng Ma Yong) is now regarded as the 8th wonder of the world.  The tomb was built by 700,000 workers with 8000 soldiers, horses and chariots to protect him in the afterlife; only about 2000 have been excavated so far.  No two are exactly alike and the shortest figure of the Terracotta Army measures 1.78 metres in height while the tallest is over 2 metres. The average height of 1.90 metres is taller than modern Chinese.

Qin’s actual tomb is under a hill – Mt Li in Lintong County near Xi’an surrounded by a moat of mercury and no one has been inside, possibly out of respect or more likely that the technology hasn’t been developed to properly excavate it.  The Terracotta Warriors were originally painted but after exposure to the air lost that pigment, so archaeologists  are determined to find the best solution to preservation before tackling the tomb proper.

The famous historian Sima Qian said of the young king:

“With his puffed-out chest like a hawk and voice of a jackal, King Qin is a man of scant mercy who has the heart of a wolf. When he is in difficulty he readily humbles himself before others, but when he has got his way, then he thinks nothing of eating others alive.” (秦王为人,蜂准,长目,挚鸟膺,豺声,少恩而虎狼心,居约易出人下,得志亦轻食人)

“Every time he captured people from another country, he castrated them in order to mark them and made them into slaves,” says Hong Kong University’s Xun Zhou. “He was a ruthless tyrant.”

Ruthless tyrant or jackal; I hope those are not traits inherited by me, but I recommend you visit and find out more!

The Melbourne Winter Masterpieces presentation of Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality and Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape (维多利亚州国立美术馆墨尔本冬季大师杰作展:永世勇士兵马俑与蔡国强:山水烟云 will be on display from 24 May 2019 – 13 October 2019 at NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, Australia.


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