The first emperor's dancing birds

Updated: Feb 21, 2024 By DENG ZHANGYU and QIN FENG in Xi'an CHINA DAILY Print
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A bronze swan on display at the Qinshihuang Mausoleum Site Museum in Xi'an, Shaanxi province. CHINA DAILY

Apart from the life-size Terracotta Warriors buried in the mausoleum of Qinshihuang, the first emperor to unite China more than 2,000 years ago, bronze aquatic birds also accompanied him into the afterlife.

A show now on at the Qinshihuang Mausoleum Site Museum in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, displays 57 bronze water birds and clay figures discovered in a pit, the contents of which are said to be related to the emperor's favorite entertainments. The show is divided into three sections, which recount the discovery of the bronzes, the ancient crafts used to make them, and how they were designed and made to match their surroundings. It runs through May 5.

Everything on display was unearthed in Pit No 7, a burial pit far from the one containing the terracotta army. So far, 46 life-size water birds, including cranes, swans and wild geese, as well as 15 kneeling pottery figures, have been discovered.

"It's rare to see figures and water birds together in imperial tombs. It's also very different from what has been found in other pits and chambers at Qinshihuang's mausoleum. It's an illustration of the inner world of Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) people," says Wang Rui, curator of the exhibition.

The kneeling pottery figures and life-size waterfowl were found arranged neatly alongside remnants of ancient musical instruments when they were unearthed in Pit No 7. According to Wang, this indicates that the figures were keepers, who trained the birds to dance to the music. Entertainment was one of the other themes of China's first emperor's underground world, in addition to military power.

The bronze birds, including swans, cranes and wild geese standing in lines, are unique and well-made. Even birds of the same species are slightly different from one another.

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