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Museum Watch: China Men

Of the 10 life-size terracotta figures on display at the Asian Art Museum’s new show about the astonishing underground tomb of Qin Shihuang, China's first emperor, this warrior is the one you’ll be drawn to again and again.

"China's Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor's Legacy," Feb. 22-May 27.


The Emperor: Qin Shihuang, aka China’s First Emperor (259 BC to 210 BC), unified the country, standardized currency and writing, and built part of the Great Wall. But these days he's best known for the vast underground tomb (think four football fields), buried deep under a hill in central China and unearthed in the 1970s.

The Tomb: Bigger than any city then in existence, it housed a palace, 8,000 figures and 10,000 weapons.

The Warrior: One of 332 warriors discovered in a pit that held the First Emperor’s core defensive army.

The Body: Crafted by mixing and matching seven basic segments in an ancient version of an assembly line, then painted with natural pigments. 

The Hands: The position suggests an archer loading a crossbow, a Chinese invention. Using the knees and feet as leverage increased the weapon's range, making it more lethal.

The Face: Individually rendered and likely based on a real person. Traces of green paint indicate that the warrior may have worn camouflage or served as a necromancer,"a kind of divination specialist who predicted the outcomes of battles," says museum executive director Jay Xu.

"China's Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor's Legacy," Feb. 22-May 27, 

Originally published in the February 2013 issue of San Francisco.

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