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One of the Greatest Archaeological Finds in History Conquers Toronto
"Terracotta Horse". ©Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau and the Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Centre, People’s Republic of China, 2009.
TORONTO.- The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) hosts the Canadian premiere of The Warrior Emperor and China’s Terracotta Army from June 26, 2010. Prior to its embarking on a Canadian national tour, the exhibition will be displayed in the Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall on Level B2 of the ROM’s Michael Lee-Chin Crystal until January 2, 2011.

The Warrior Emperor and China’s Terracotta Army showcases one of the most significant archaeological finds in history: the 1974 discovery, in Shaanxi province in north-central China, of thousands of life-sized terracotta sculptures of Chinese warriors. These extraordinary figures, along with countless treasures yet to be uncovered in the elaborate underground tomb complex of China’s First Emperor, were created 2,200 years ago, during the Qin dynasty.

“The ROM is extremely proud to be named organizing museum of this significant national tour and accorded this great sign of respect by the Government of China,” states William Thorsell, the ROM’s Director and CEO. “The Museum’s focus will not solely rest on these remarkable terracotta figures and accompanying objects. Further enriching our visitors’ experiences will be a rich assemblage of engaging and enlightening programming to introduce our visitors to China’s rich cultural legacy. The ROM is thrilled to present this opportunity to our Toronto visitors and audiences across the country.”

Dr. Chen Shen, Senior Curator and Bishop White Chair of Far Eastern Art and Archaeology in the ROM’s World Cultures department is the exhibition’s curator and responsible for developing the content of the Canadian tour. Dr. Shen emphasizes, “This Canadian national tour is a newly developed and contextually different presentation than previous, international displays. The exhibition’s scope makes this the most significant display of the First Emperor’s terracotta army ever showcased in North America. Many of the artifacts displayed during the upcoming Canadian tour have never before left China. In fact, some have not yet been displayed in any museum in China. This is a major triumph for the ROM and its Canadian tour partners.”

The ROM’s engagement of The Warrior Emperor is presented by the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation. “The Foundation takes great pleasure in joining with the Royal Ontario Museum and the Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center to present the premiere Canadian engagement of The Warrior Emperor and China’s Terracotta Army,” says Robert H. N. Ho, Founder of the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation. “The Foundation believes that this exhibition will promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of ancient Chinese civilization. It is a fine example of important cross-cultural exchange between museums in China and Canada.”

BMO Financial Group is the exhibition’s lead sponsor during its ROM engagement. “BMO is proud to be associated with helping bring The Warrior Emperor to the ROM and we look forward to sharing some of China's rich cultural history with Canadians,” said Gilles Ouellette, President and CEO, Private Client Group, BMO Financial Group. “BMO has had a longstanding association with China. We were the first Canadian bank to do business in China and understand and appreciate the importance of Canada's relationships with the Chinese people.”

The Exhibition and the First Emperor
Since 1974, archaeologists have unearthed approximately 2,000 full-sized terracotta warriors and horses from three ancient pits. Located near the monumental tomb complex of Qin Shihuangdi, “First Emperor of Qin” (pronounced chin), the terracotta site is only a small component of the largest tomb construction in China. It was the first archaeological site museum in China and remains the largest. As this site continues to be excavated, archaeologists are now using innovative conservation techniques to preserve the fragile colours on these painted warriors. With thousands of full-sized figures yet to be excavated, the terracotta soldiers, in magnificent military formations, are now thought to number nearly 8,000. Often referenced as the eighth wonder of the world, the site was added to the official list of World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1987.

The Warrior Emperor and China’s Terracotta Army features nearly 250 artifacts, dating mostly to the first millennium BC, which include 10 life-sized complete terracotta sculptures, comprising eight human figures and two life-sized horses. The human figures depict a range of military and civic personnel including six warriors, one civic official, and one entertainer. Notably, the exhibition features two of the nine terracotta generals ever recovered from the terracotta pits. All figures are unique, exquisitely executed and accorded a distinct personality.

The ROM’s presentation also includes numerous stellar objects making their North American debut, including a striking wall painting from the Emperor’s Palace; numerous gold objects (among them, currency, pendants, ornaments); a bronze ritual vessel describing the history of a noble family that served the Kings of Zhou in 8th century BC; and a beautifully painted and decorated tomb gate set. Other objects from the site of the First Emperor’s tomb complex include a suit of stone-plaque armour, a stone-plaque helmet, and a life-sized bronze swan. Loaned by 15 of the most important archaeological institutes and museums across Shaanxi Province, nearly 30% of the exhibition’s featured objects have never before been displayed internationally.

Highlighting the life, times, and afterlife of the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty, as well as the terracotta soldiers produced during his lifetime, the exhibition explores the figures in a broad historical and social context. Exhibition visitors will learn about China’s rich history during these periods and about the political and social transitions, including the dramatic change from war to peace, that took place during various dynasties. These changes inevitably influenced the form, style and purpose of the terracotta sculptures.

In exploring this important transformation period in early Chinese history, the exhibition follows a chronological sequence of events with a three-part storyline. The first section concentrates on The Rise of Qin with a narrative beginning in the 9th century BC. At that time, the Ying family was an unimportant clan serving the Royal Zhou Court. However, as a result of their military prowess and involvement in rescuing the ruling family, the Ying family acquired lands and was granted the title of Duke of Qin. This section features recently excavated figures (not yet displayed in China) as well as the earliest terracotta warriors found anywhere in China. A highlight of this section is a spectacular wall painting from the Emperor’s complex, another piece never before presented outside China. Documented as the First Emperor’s favourite colour, black is dominant in the multi-coloured painting on clay.

The exhibition’s second section The Terracotta Army focuses on the First Emperor’s life and legacy, and the emergence of his Terracotta Army. Ying Zheng ascended the throne of the State of Qin in 246 BC, at the age of 13. In 221 BC, after conquering the last independent Chinese state and ending 500 years of war and state rivalry, Ying Zheng became king of all China. On this unprecedented accomplishment and to demonstrate his power and position, he pronounced himself Qin Shihuangdi, or First Emperor of Qin, in the hope that the Ying family’s rule would continue for thousands of generations. Many of the objects found in this section are from the latest archaeological discoveries in the Emperor’s tomb complex and are considered national treasures of China.

The third section The Harmonious Han explores the political and social changes that took place with the rise of the Han dynasty (206 BC – AD 221) following the First Emperor’s sudden death in 210 BC. The Han emperors maintained the First Emperor’s administrative policies as well the burial practices of his time. While they, too, buried terracotta figures to administer to them in the afterlife, their size never rivaled that of the sculptures produced during the Qin dynasty. Much smaller and produced in large groupings, the terracotta sculptures of the early Han Dynasty also explored different themes and were far more representative of daily life. An interesting selection of Han terracotta artifacts that were unearthed in the 1990s are presented in this section: multiple-coloured terracotta soldiers, beautiful terracotta ladies and an assortment of farm animals, including pigs, dogs, sheep, goats and chickens. These figures all speak to the period’s relatively peaceful life, a period in which integral Chinese traditions were established that are still reflected in today’s China.

Ying Zheng remains a controversial figure in Chinese history. While his autocratic rule lasted 37 years and was heavily marked by tyranny and bloodshed, he also accomplished much during his reign, such as establishing a strong central government, unifying the law code and standardizing coinage, weights and measures, and starting a national road and canal system. It is, however, the terracotta warriors that constitute the most tangible evidence of Ying Zheng’s legacy. Beginning at age 13 and continuing over his reign, he oversaw approximately 700,000 workers in constructing an enormous mausoleum with life-sized terracotta warriors and other beautiful sculptures. Believed to have been sparked partly by a series of assassination attempts, Ying Zheng felt the complex and its terracotta guardians would protect him in the afterlife. Recent archaeological discoveries indicate that this underground tomb complex is far larger than initially thought and resembles an entire underground palace, complete with royal gardens. After a few decades of fieldwork, it is now known that the terracotta warriors comprise a very small part of an enormous site. More than 180 pits, including those containing the terracotta warriors, are located both inside and outside a double walled enclosure surrounding the tomb mound. In all, more than 500 archaeological components, such as burials, walls and gates, have been identified since the 1970s.

The discovery of the terracotta army in 1974 was only the beginning of great finds at the site. Aspects of the First Emperor’s life are continuously being revealed with archaeological work ongoing to this day. The inclusion of these recent finds in the exhibition emphasizes the site’s ongoing importance to archaeologists and scholars.

The Royal Ontario Museum | Dr. Chen Shen | "The Warrior Emperor and China's Terracotta Army" |


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