Wednesday 25 June 2008

Terracotta Worriers: the (very late) First Emperor

I was so looking forward to being Flavour Of The Month at home in Old Blighty for a moment or three, what with the excitement of the Beijing Olympics in August. But due to certain events at the roof of the world, any profile I might have enjoyed has been relegated to somewhere between Empress Ming The Merciless and the Evil Daughter of Fu Manchu. Here I am, plonked in the middle of a three-minute hate where someone’s lost the stopwatch. Less Anna the Honey and more Atilla the Hun.

Still, that’s showbiz. On with the show ...

I caught the first and biggest of the UK China-themed events, the Terracotta Warriors at the British Museum, which drew to a close in April (Stop the presses!) having played to packed audiences. Which is understandable, because an hour after you’ve seen it, you want to go round again.

This being the adoptive home of the Elgin Marbles, the looted treasures of the pyramids, and assorted plunder from around the globe, it never was going to be a simple task for the curators. Unable to make up their minds whether the First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi was the heroic uniter of the seven warring kingdoms or one of the biggest baddies the ancient world had ever seen, the narrative of the display resembled a wolf caught in a trap, chewing off its own foot with the madness of its own contradictions.

But I enjoyed it. It was a good-looking beast, lit and designed by artists in the world famous Reading Room where Marx, Lenin and Orwell once studied and changed the world, though only Gandhi rated a biopic.

As an added bonus we sat in the Great Court cafe, afterwards, watching dusk fall, with an intrepid mouse foraging food off the floor around us. A magic moment.

The First Emperor, who united China in 221BC, loved war. He said the only way to make everyone else enjoy his hobby was to make peacetime so horrible that they welcomed a bit of rape, pillage and bloodshed just for the relief.

But his namesake of 2,500 years ago, the Yellow Emperor, also known as Huangdi, loved life. He was the Sting of his day, a practitioner of tantric sex, feeding off female energy, believing it would help grant him longevity. How sad that women never loomed as large in the First Emperor’s sex-life as they did in the Yellow Emperor’s. Women figured not at all in his after-life fantasy world according to the artefacts on show. There were soldiers, acrobats, musicians, civil servants and stable boys, but not a single female in sight.

Chinese women — invisible even in ancient China.

Here's a teatowel for the ladies.


Anonymous said...

I love the pics (you shoulda bought that tea towel!!)

The exhibition was great and fascinating and am still going through the exhibition catalogue.

Madam Miaow said...

Thanks, Harpy. I had a great time. The Great Hall is an amazing space (despite some architectural horrors, such as the green glass bridge someone's tacked on).

But inside, over the bridge and past the mummies, there's a double-door to an exhibition space where, if you stop and listen, I swear you can hear voices. It's only the wind passing through and changing pitch as the doors open and close, but you can almost hear them speak ...

Madam Miaow said...

That's "Great Court", of course. Not hall.

Anglonoel said...

Hi Anna, interested in coming down the V&A tomorrow evening for more Chinese culture? (I've sent some info via da 'Book if you are out of this info loop.)

Madam Miaow said...

Thanks, Noel. Would love to but I have to get my comedy set together for my St Ives gig. Plus there's something interesting going on with my books, so it's head down and charge for a bit.