Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Terra Cotta Army - what is so great about it?

Emperor Qin’s Terra Cotta Army is a kind of must-see in Xian. Many of us are quite proud of it. I wonder, however, what exactly is it that we are so proud of?

Are we proud of the fact that 2000 years ago, some Chinese artisans made thousands of such beautiful statues? That an army of architects, engineers and labourers built a humongous tomb over many years? That is certainly an achievement.

But they most definitely did not do this voluntarily. There are in fact many stories of people who suffered terribly under such power. Are we proud of a tyrant who wielded absolute power at such a scale? That an individual could conceive of such a vast project, and compel so many people to realize his dream for him?

Many pointed to his military genius at unifying China by force. Or his standardization of measurements. Or his instituting a centralized administrative system which essentially lasted 2000 years. But the period immediately preceding him was also one of the most creative (some would even say THE most creative) periods in Chinese history. All major schools of thought: Confucianism, Taoism, etc., arose in that period.

Many thought unification and standardization, while improving efficiency of administration, also stifled innovation, and caused China to enter a super-steady state of uniformity from which we have not yet escaped. Each change of dynasty was simply a disturbance in the steady state. There have not been a truly creative thinker in China in 2000 years.

So what exactly are we proud of?


Liu Yunxia said...

I think his achievement should be considered under the unique circumstances of his time. It was a chaotic time before Qin. If it was not him, China may spend centuries like the European Medieval time.

I would not say he was a creative thinker. He just happened to be there at the right time. The 2000 years after Qin, China was moving forward smoothly and gradually. There were numerous unnamed creative thinkers behind this history.

StephenC said...

Certainly he did some impressive things. But was it "good"?

The unification was probably a good thing. But I am not convinced that China would have fared worse had it not been "unified" by him in that way.

And I did not mean to consider him as a creative thinker. I was thinking more about Confucius, Lao Tse, ...

That is only my personal opinion, of course.

fisher said...

I would say the terra cotta itself, the stone warrior and horse, are what we are pround of, like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City. Yes the stoies behind may not sound good, but we coundn't deny the value of the relics, from a cultural perspective.

In terms of another creative thinker other than Confucious, Mr. Sun Yat-sen & Mao Tsetung are whom I would advocate.

StephenC said...

I would agree I am proud of the artistic and engineering achievements, but not the emperor who ordered it, nor the system which allow an individual to wield so much power.