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Here & There

Frank McGinity: China’s Emperor Qin Finds a Home at The Met in New York City

Museum exhibit features ruler with a short reign and a long-lasting impact on China — and the resolute loyalty of a terracotta army


In 2012, my wife, Sheila, and I made our first trip to China. One of the trip’s highlights was a visit to Xi’an and the famous terracotta soldiers from the Qin Dynasty.

The soldiers were discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well. This discovery would lead to excavations of thousands of soldiers guarding the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang.

Some of these terracotta soldiers and animals were exhibited at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 1998 — a very exciting evening.

We were so moved by both the exhibit and our tour in Xi’an that I bought a replica of Emperor Qin. Five feet tall and weighing 160 pounds, the statue stands comfortably in our garden in Riven Rock in Montecito. It appears to both guide and oversee the garden. My wife refers to the statue as “Frankie.”

The Met

A recent trip to New York brought back memories of our China trip, and provided more substance and support for the remarkable life of Emperor Qin. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a whole section devoted to the Qin and Han dynasties. We were fortunate to spend a half day absorbing the culture and artifacts, so skillfully exhibited.

Although Emperor Qin’s reign only lasted from 221 to 209 B.C., his accomplishments were remarkable and united China for centuries to come. He was responsible for formulating a central language, for unifying the country previously under feudal kingdoms and for providing a central government.

Qin was ruthless, causing deaths in the hundreds of thousands, but he maintained law and order and set the stage for more orderly centuries ahead under the Han Dynasty. The Great Wall of China, a major public works project involving 300,000 men, was also started by Qin. It was built to protect China from the nomadic tribes from the north.

But it was Qin’s death that led to the creation of the famous terracotta soldiers. The Chinese in this period, particularly royalty, believed they could extend life after death. So, they would build elaborate graves, manned, in Qin’s case, by thousands of soldiers.

Like Egypt to a degree, they would include in the graves many objects of everyday living, as well as jewels, especially jade. The ideal would be enclosed in a jade coffin and jade suit.

The Met displayed many objects that would be housed in dynastic tombs. One interesting exhibit was a long cane. Canes were issued only to citizens over 70 years of age. They allowed the owners to travel on the emperor’s side of the road, and to have access to government offices to which ordinary people were not entitled.

Respect for the elderly, even so long ago, was of primary importance.

The China Institute in New York’s Financial District also had an exhibit on the Qin and Han dynasties. Again, we would review many objects and jade was saved from those ancient tombs.

Intrepid Museum and Drones Exhibit

Moving from the ancient past to the future, we had an opportunity to visit the Drones exhibit at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, at Pier 86 at West 46th Street and 12th Avenue.

While the other museums were displaying horse-drawn chariots, we sat in a new drone, which we may someday use to commute to work.

The Intrepid Museum was fascinating with its lively display of drones. Like Emperor Qin, who changed the Chinese world in 210 B.C., drones will clearly change our future.

Today, drones are used extensively in agriculture, the oil industry, exploration and security, and the applications are expanding exponentially.

The museum is located inside the decommissioned aircraft carrier, the storied USS Intrepid, so we had a double tour — drones and the Navy. Also included was the prototype space shuttle Enterprise. It never flew, but was used for testing and experimentation.

Our trip wasn’t all museums. We were also able to take in the new show, Hello, Dolly! But, for us, Emperor Qin took center stage — so many years ago, but certainly alive today in New York.

— Frank McGinity is a Montecito resident. The opinions expressed are his own.

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