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Dragons in China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors

16 June 2018 by Joe

This weekend marks the Chinese holiday of the Dragon Boat Festival, an ancient celebration where boats are decorated in the form of dragons and raced in towns and cities across the country. To commemorate the festivities, we are exploring some of the dragon-themed objects on display in our landmark exhibition, China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors.

Read more…

Chinese contemporary art in Liverpool

10 May 2018 by Sam

screen showing video artwork in St George's Hall

Susan Pui San Lok, ‘Trailers (from RoCH Fans and Legends)’. Photograph Pete Carr

At the Walker Art Gallery we have had a long interest in Chinese contemporary art, and the John Moores Painting Prize China was launched in August 2010. Since then the five prizewinning paintings from the John Moores Painting Prize China have been displayed as part of each John Moores Painting Prize exhibition – you can see this year’s from 14 July to 18 November at the Walker Art Gallery.

Video screen showing wooden boats at sea, hung above a small wooden boat at St George's Hall

Chen Ching-Yuan, ‘The (Flare-s)’. Photograph Pete Carr

If you can’t wait until then, there is currently a great opportunity to see an exhibition of Chinese contemporary art at St George’s Hall as part of China Dream. The exhibition curator tells us more:

“I’m Lindsay Taylor, Curator of PRESENCE: A Window into Chinese Contemporary Art which is open until 3 June at St George’s Hall. The exhibition is a counterpoint to the Terracotta Warriors on display at World Museum – it showcases artworks by 19 artists from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the diaspora. Some of these are based on traditional Chinese art forms such as paper cuts and landscape painting – but with a modern twist. Other works vary from a zombie film to a sculpture of a shoe for a bird made by a former John Moores Painting Prize (China) winner! The exhibition is full of surprises, however the same age old themes of communication, love, death and power that are told in the Terracotta Warriors exhibition are also prevalent here – not much has changed in over 2000 years!

As Curator of the University of Salford Art Collection I aim to develop a collection that tells a story of now. If we live in what some call ‘the Chinese Century’ I feel it is important to explore contemporary Chinese culture within our museum collections as we move to a less western–centric world. Each of the works on show has been collected over the last six years mainly through working in partnership, mainly with our friends at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art in Manchester but also with Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool. We’re also working with Culture Liverpool and commissioning a new work as legacy of this project which will feature in Episode 2 of China Dream – This is Shanghai opening in July.

If you would like to hear more about ‘PRESENCE: A Window into Chinese Contemporary Art’, I am giving a guided tour of the exhibition in St George’s Hall on Thursday 17 May at 2pm and my co-curator Stephanie Fletcher will give a tour on 31 May at 2pm – the tour is free and we would love to see you. We are also bringing innovators from across the UK together in Liverpool on 11 May to share our experiences of working with and in China and to look for future collaborations. For more information please visit the exhibition events page.”

large screen showing video artwork in St George's Hall

Cao Fei, ‘Haze and Fog’. Photograph Pete Carr

China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors in numbers

4 May 2018 by Jennifer Grindley

From the tender age Qin Shi Huang first became king to the enormous terracotta army built to protect him for eternity, we delve into some of the astonishing numbers that make up the story of China’s First Emperor and his world-famous burial site.

Qin Shi Huang, China’s First Emperor

Qin Shi Huang, China’s First Emperor

 1974

Shaped like a pyramid and clearly visible above ground on the outskirts of China’s ancient capital Xi’an, the tomb mound of China’s First Emperor has been well-known for more than 2,000 years. Almost everything we think we know about it comes from the historian Sima Qian, writing a century later in the early Han Dynasty. Curiously though, his writings contain no mention of the vast terracotta army guarding the Emperor’s tomb and so their chance discovery on 29 March 1974 surprised the world.

13 years

The future First Emperor – then a prince named Ying Zheng – was just 13 years old when he became King of the Qin state in 246 BC. Remarkably, in just over a decade he overpowered the six remaining independent kingdoms of the Late Warring States Period (the Han, Zhao, Wei, Chu, Yan and Qi), declaring himself Qin Shi Huang, First Emperor of China, in 221 BC. According to Sima Qian, construction of the Emperor’s mausoleum began soon after he ascended the throne as King of Qin, whilst modern archaeological surveys suggest the scale and complexity of the site grew considerably when he became First Emperor.

A visualisation of Qin Shi Huang’s tomb mound. Image courtesy of Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Museum.

5,000 kilometres

Stretching about 5,000 kilometres, the Great Wall of the Qin Dynasty was one of many ambitious construction projects completed during the First Emperor’s reign. Made of compressed earth, the wall connected, lengthened and fortified the pre-existing walls built by individual states during pre-unified times to create a single defensive system against northern tribes. With some sections remaining today, the wall was extended in later dynasties to become the Great Wall of China and stretches over 20,000 kilometres.

200 times bigger

Spanning 56 square kilometres, Qin Shi Huang’s burial site is the biggest-known on earth and is almost 200 times bigger than the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Poised for battle to protect the Emperor in his afterlife, the terracotta warriors are buried in three pits to the east of the Emperor’s mausoleum. A fourth pit has been left empty, suggesting the Emperor died before his immortal army could be completed.

General Qin Dyansty (221-206 BC), Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum. Image © Mr. Ziyu Qiu.

1.8 metres

Standing at an average of 1.8 metres, the life-size terracotta warriors are far taller than an average citizen of the Qin Dynasty would have been. Incredibly, each warrior also weighs between 110 and 300 kilos. Not surprising then, that archaeologists estimate the creation of the warriors alone – who are thought to number almost 8,000 – would have taken at least 10 years to complete.

 600 pits

The scale of the terracotta army is even more impressive when you consider it is only a small part of the First Emperor’s grand preparations for the afterlife. Designed like a microcosm of his earthly world, more than 600 pits to date have been identified across the burial site. Only a tiny number have been excavated so far, revealing a trove of riches including armour, chariots, terracotta musicians, cauldrons and weapons so that in death, as in life, the Emperor had everything he needed to rule.

700,000 labourers

In a monumental feat of engineering and organisation, an estimated 700,000 labourers from all corners of the Empire toiled for almost 40 years to construct the Emperor’s tomb complex. Work even continued after the Emperor’s unexpected death at the age of 49 in 210 BC. In the 1980s, 42 mass graves were uncovered near the mausoleum, and archaeologists believe these belong to the workers who were buried to keep the secrets of the First Emperor’s underground kingdom once it was completed.

15 years

For all the elaborate preparations the First Emperor made to rule eternally, his Qin Dynasty collapsed after only 15 years following a period of civil war. The popular revolt was finally quelled in 206 BC, and Liu Bang was proclaimed Emperor of the Han Dynasty. This makes it by far China’s shortest ruling dynasty. Despite its brief tenure though, the Qin Dynasty’s political, social and cultural achievements were immense and laid the foundations for the China we know today.

See incredible finds from this eighth wonder of the world at our blockbuster exhibition, China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors that runs until Sunday 28 October 2018.

Who was China’s First Emperor?

16 February 2018 by Jennifer Grindley

China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, was born on this day (18 February) in 259 BC – that’s 2,277 years ago! Famed for his army of terracotta warriors built to protect him for eternity, the Emperor is also one of the most controversial figures in history. Seen as a visionary by some and a tyrant by others, his achievements in such a short space of time were nevertheless remarkable and far-reaching. On his birthday, we take a closer look at the life of the man at the heart of our landmark exhibition.  Read more…

Guest blog: Yan Preston on her work, ‘Now and Before’

24 April 2017 by Laura

Man

Yihao, student and amateur footballer, Wyncote Sports Grounds, Liverpool, 2016 © Yan Preston.

As part of Look/17 Yan Preston’s ‘Now and Before’ is on display on Museum of Liverpool‘s media wall and within Liverpool One shopping district.

In this guest blog Yan tells us more about the project: Read more…

“Freud was always my favourite artist…”

29 April 2014 by Lisa

Zeng Fanzhi talking about 'Interior at Paddington'

Zeng Fanzhi talking about ‘Interior at Paddington’

Zeng Fanzhi, one of the world’s top contemporary artists, visited the Walker Art Gallery earlier this year while judging the John Moores Painting Prize.

It was a really exciting opportunity to not only meet but also interview such a renowned artist – especially a Chinese artist – as this is not something that happens every day! Zeng seemed to really enjoy talking a tour of the gallery and then telling myself and Sandra (Director of Art Galleries) about his favourite painting from the gallery, Read more…

Chinese New Year!

8 February 2013 by Lucy

Most of us have already celebrated the New Year, and enough time has passed that we have made – and broken – New Year’s resolutions a plenty!

If like me you’ve taken a while to get started with your plans to start a new fitness regime or take up a new hobby, why not have another crack at starting a fresh this Sunday, with the dawning of the Chinese New Year.

2013 is the Year of the Snake, and World Museum can certainly boast a lot of snakes in its collections. You can visit the Clore Natural History Centre to see some of the snake specimens and skeletons on display, or have a look at our online collection if you really want to have a good nose at what’s in our stores. Read more…

Free copies of the John Moores China catalogue

21 December 2012 by Karen

Galleries are fab places during the Christmas holidays. They’re quiet, uplifting, not the television, and you leave feeling slightly virtuous before returning to the orgy of chocolate and booze that has been your diet for most of December. And in the case of our venues, they’re totally free.

If you wander to the Walker this festive season to catch the John Moores Painting Prize before it closes on 6 January, you’ll no doubt see the rather large and rather excellent prize winners from the John Moores China exhibition. These are just five of the 63 pieces from the Shanghai exhibition, all of which are featured in the Chinese exhibition catalogue. In the spirit of festive generosity we’re giving away this Chinese catalogue for free to anyone who buys a copy of our own John Moores exhibition catalogue. Read more…

Ready to set sail…

23 November 2011 by Gemma

Main sail before treatment and junk after conservation

Main sail before treatment and junk after conservation

The conservation of the Chinese junk from Swatow is now complete. Being such an interesting project, I will briefly share the treatment processes which have transformed a dirty, unstable model, back to its original beauty.

Firstly the hull and wooden components required cleaning. The model was vacuumed to remove any loose dirt on the deck and inside the bulkheads. After testing to find the safest, and most effective cleaning materials, the hull was cleaning using detergent in deionised water, which made a huge difference to the models appearance, as the shine of the wood oil can now be appreciated. The painted surfaces on the model were carefully cleaned using saliva, which is a surprisingly effective cleaning material. Read more…

Chinese Junk

5 October 2011 by Gemma

chinese junk ship model

Ship models have been made for centuries, representing changes in style and function of ships and boats, all around the world, making them such interesting objects! My current project in ship and historic model conservation illustrates this point well, as it is a model of a Chinese junk. A “junk” is a ship from China, and as you can see they are most unlike the European ships we are used to seeing. This project represents a challenge as the historical context of objects is an important consideration when conserving objects, and I had no knowledge about junks prior to starting the project. Read more…



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We try to ensure that the information provided on our blog is accurate and that appropriate permissions to use images have been sought. The opinions in each blog are very much those of the individuals writing.