Monday, March 1, 2010

Terracotta Warriors at Nat Geo-- The Emperor Has No Clothes!

I just visited the much-hyped "Terracotta Warrior" Exhibit at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. See The exhibit chronicles the discovery of the "Terracotta Army" found near the site of the mausoleum of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang.

At the end of the exhibit, there was the usual guest registry. I paged through it. Kids loved the exhibit, judging from the child-like scrawls. Grownup reaction was more mixed. Some loved it. Others complained about the difficult to read explanatory texts. I was particularly struck by the contrast between pictures of the excavations at Xi'an (see and the reality that relatively few warriors were actually on display. Couldn't they have at least mustered a line of infantry? I had to agree with the rather unkind but apt comment I also found in the guest registry:" The Emperor Has No Clothes!"

It's not that it was a bad exhibit. What warriors there were were interesting. I also liked the architectural elements that were displayed as well as some of the weapons and jade. There were coins too, but all from the American Numismatic Society in New York. You would think if China really thought coins were important enough to ask for import restrictions on them, they could have at least sent a few along with this exhibit for display. After all, there are bazillions of them floating around-- and its not as if shipping them would have been an insurmountable task.

I also question the entry fee. For what you got, it seemed steep at $12 ($10 for National Geographic members). And don't forget an extra $5 to rent the audio tour. And by all means save some money for all those trinkets at the end-- like the Chinese piggy bank!

Archaeologists are always talking about how loans can substitute for imports of cultural artifacts, with the underlying premise that commerce is bad and pure knowledge is good. But if such loans seem mostly designed to generate cash for countries like China, does this argument really hold?

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