Treasures of Ancient China

Did you happen to catch this article in National Geographic?
Rising to Life: Treasures of Ancient China
By Peter Hessler
Photograph by O. Louis Mazzatenta

They make an odd couple, the archaeologist and the statue. Duan Qingbo stands in the restoration workshop of the Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses Museum, looking up at a statue he helped excavate in 1999. The terra-cotta figure is more than 2,200 years old, its life-size, naked upper body is powerfully muscled, and it has no head. Duan is 36 years old, his build is slight, and he has a face like an open book—quick-moving eyes and an easy smile. He laughs a lot. He is never far from a Stone Forest cigarette. Dwarfed by the massive figure at his side, he grins and says, “He’s like Mike Tyson.”

The statue absorbs the cultural non sequitur without comment. Silence and mystery compose his aura—nobody knows exactly what this statue represents, what the object is that he presses against his potbelly. The few known facts about the figure are little more than clues: It is the earliest example ever found in China of life-size statuary that shows the human form, apart from the face, in realistic detail, and it is part of a startling collection of new discoveries recently unearthed near the tomb mound of Qin Shi Huang Di, the first emperor to unify China under one dynasty, the Qin. In a burial complex previously best known for its regimented terra-cotta army, the potbellied statue is remarkably out of step—a mostly unclothed, nonmilitary figure whose head has been destroyed.

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