Vaulting Ambition: China’s Terracotta Warriors at the Asian Art Museum of San …

Armored kneeling archer (detail), Qin dynasty (221-206 BCE). China. Terracotta.
Excavated from Pit 2, Qin Shihuang tomb complex, 1977. Qin Shihuang
Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum, Shaanxi.

It’s hard not to give oneself over entirely to awe when regarding any of the great man-made wonders of the world. One wants to stare moist-eyed at these masterpieces and ponder the soaring ambition, ingenuity and perseverance of man, but there’s always that moment when the docent or catalogue informs you of the horrific human cost of the endeavor: slaves crushed under limestone blocks and blinded architects and the like. With the introduction of the unwelcome historical factoid, uttered apologetically or printed small in the footnotes, what should be monuments to man’s genius instead become ostentatious symbols of his cruelty.

On display through May 27th at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum is “China’s Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor’s Legacy,”

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