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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Entertainment Idea: National Geographic Terra Cotta Warrior Exhibit

By JC Leahy

After March 31, you'll have to go to China if you want to see these famous terra cotta warriors. A collection of them has been on tour in the US for the past 2 years. Washington, DC is their last stop, and March 31 is their last date. If you want to see the greatest archeological find of the 20th Century close up and close to home, you need to hurry.

(Photo at right taken byJC Leahy at the National Geographic Building, Washington, DC)

The warriors are on exhibit at the National Geographic building located at 17th and M Streets, NW, Washington, DC 20036. Leave your camera at home, because National Geographic strictly prohibits photography. It has omnipresent guards who carefully watch anyone carrying a camera. If you ask the guards about it, they will tell you that there is a photo-opportunity at the end of the tour. This so-called photo-op consists of a single imitation terra cotta warrior outside the exhibit exit with poor lighting and a horrid orange background. Parking could be another problem. There are a limited number of on-street, public, metered parking spaces and a few parking garages within walking distance. Consider Metro for this one.

Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, whose real name was Ying Zheng, by all accounts, was a harsh despot who defeated the Chinese kingdoms of Han, Zhao, Wei, Chu, Yan, and Qi. In doing so, he created one big kingdom -- the first unified Chinese state, in 259 BC. He then proceeded to burn the books he didn't like, and kill the scholars whom he didn't like, and to enslave large numbers of people for "public works" projects. One such public works project was a joining together of separate defensive walls that had been constructed by the various defeated kingdoms.. In hindsight, this connecting of defensive walls is recognized as the precursor of the Great Wall of China. He also created a truly amazing Imperial Palace -- which you will learn about at the National Geographic display. Another major public works project was to create a vast army of these terra cotta warriors, with horses and chariots. This army was buried with him when he died, so that the could serve him in the afterlife. There were at least 7,000 of them because that's how many have been found so far..

The Emperor's influence went far beyond public works projects. Obviously, his biggest influence was that he created a unified Chinese state. He also created a unit of money that lasted into the 20th Century.

On display at the National Geographic is a representative sample from this army -- including soldiers, officers, horses, a chariot, and another carriage.

Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi actually didn't plan to die. At least that wasn't  Plan-A.  He sent his ministers far and wide seeking an elixir of immortality. While that quest was in progress, however, he was out on an inspection tour of his kingdom when he suddenly became ill and died. To me, this sounds suspicious of poisoning. Luckily, he had his large army to accompany him into the afterlife for Plan-B.  He was so hated that his dynasty lasted for only 15 years altogether.

Personally, I scheduled my visit to National Geographic on a Sunday, when downtown traffic would be minimal.  I went with a few friends and enjoyed the amazing Sunday Champaign Brunch at the Army and Navy Club on Farragut Square. After brunch, we strolled two blocks to the National Geographic building to view the exhibit.   I recommend that approach -- combine a nearby meal,  some good company, and this exhibit.  You'll have an enjoyable time.

The exhibit is open 7 days a week until March 31. Hours are 10 am to 6pm, except Wednesday it is open till 9pm .  Additionally, until March 28, the exhibit is open until 8 pm on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Click here to see prices and how to buy tickets. One sneaky little thing to note: In addition to the ticket prices, they charge you another little fee apparently to compensate themselves for doing you the favor of actually selling the ticket. This fee is an irritant but should not dissuade you from attending this excellent exhibit.

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