We made plans to visit London several months ago. And the primary reason for visiting was to see the First Emperor exhibit at the British Museum. I reasoned that it was less expensive to visit London than having to get new visas for China, travel 25 hours, plus more time traveling from Beijing to the original site of the terra cotta warriors.
This is called “Amy Logic.”
What we didn’t expect was that it would be so hard to get tickets to the exhibit. I tried to purchase tickets online without success. I called the museum and they suggested calling back as we got closer to our trip to purchase tickets. And then we found out there were no more advanced tickets available.
However, we had one other option. The British Museum made available 500 tickets each day (700 tickets on the weekend). This meant waiting in line at the museum before it opened for the day.
Eric went to the museum on both Friday and Saturday mornings and stood in line. And waited. And then he would make it into the museum. And then he would be told “Sorry, we’re sold out.” On Saturday the lined wrapped around the front of the museum to the back. He asked the security guard what time people started arriving to queue up. The security guard told him that during the week, people arrive by 6:30am and on the weekend people arrive by 5:30am.
We agreed to get up early on Monday, our last day in London. We arrived at the museum around 6:45am and had about 30-40 people all ready waiting in front of us. Eric walked to a nearby cafe and brought back breakfast. Later I walked over to Starbucks and bought us some tea. I listened to Craftcast on my iPod; Eric listened to tunes on his iPod. We talked with the gentleman in front of us. He came into the city from outside London to get tickets for himself and his family. He had also been there on Friday.
I chuckled to myself thinking how different this was from waiting in line to buy concert tickets to say, the Rolling Stones or the Bay City Rollers (and that was a looong time ago!)
Around 8:30am the line started to move from the sidewalk in front of the museum to the stairs leading up into the museum.
The musuem staff have moving a queue down to an art. Once the gates open, they line you up on the stairs and then down into the courtyard. The line snakes back and around in long S-shapes. They count each person, and at a certain point, tell you whether or not you’ll get tickets based on your position in line. Inside the museum there is a sign on a pedestal that they place at a certain spot along the line. The sign said “Beyond this point you may not get tickets.”
Around 9:00am we all moved into the museum in a nice long line. Fortunately the weather this morning was tolerable; a little chilly; cloudy but not raining. But it was nice to be inside a warm building.
Once the tickets started selling the line moved rather briskly. An L.E.D. sign showed the entrance time for which tickets were currently available. We bought two tickets for the 10:20am showing. It was maybe 9:15am.
The 500 tickets for the day were sold out by 10:00am.
Was it worth the wait?
The exhibit was displayed in the reading room of the museum. The first part of the exhibit contained historical information on the Emperor including his rise to power, his innovations in the development of chariots, weaponry, the calvary, the development of government and the use of money. A film was projected on one wall, artifacts including weapons, weights, money, portions of terracotta soldiers, and replicas of maps and inscriptions were displayed here.
It is believed that the name “China” is derived from Emperor Yin Zheng’s Qin empire. In 215 BC, the Emperor ordered the construction of the Great Wall. This wall was not the first to be built however. Rival states had also constructed walls over hundreds of years to mark the boundaries of a state’s territories. But the size of the Emperor’s Great Wall demonstrated how much territory the Qin claimed.
Near the end of the exhibit stood approximately 20 different terra cotta warriors, acrobats, and musicians positioned with a chariot, a miniature chariot, and bronze birds. The detail on the warriors is amazing. Their faces were created from molds yet each one has a distinctive look from a hairstyle to a mustache and/or beard. The care in detail is carried all the way down to the treads on their boots.
And what surprised me the most? The warriors were originally painted! What we see now as concrete figures originally were painted in vibrant colors including skin tone and eyes. The horses were painted brown and black.
The Emperor feared death and after two assassination attempts his desire to live forever only deepened. He consulted occult specialists and sent officials to look for plants that would allow him to evade death and live forever. And he created a great tomb for himself on the slopes of Mt. Li near present day Lintong to ensure power into and through eternity.
700,000 men were summoned to build his tomb and other structures. The Emperor died in 210 BC at the age of 50. His grand imperial tomb and final resting place was unfinished when he died.
The First Emperor exhibit will be in the United States later this year. It opens May 18 at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, CA. It travels to Atlanta in November, Houston in May, 2009 and Washington, DC in November 2009. For more information go here.
Pictures of the exhibit were not allowed. Images below were scanned from The First Emperor: China’s Terra Cotta Army exhibition book.
In October, 2007, children who saw the exhibit were given the opportunity to re-create the warriors in clay. The results were on display in the museum. Aren’t they wonderful?
We spent the rest of the day touring the British Museum, returned to our hotel for a nap, and then a wonderful Chinese dinner at Shanghai Blue (thus bringing our Chinese themed day full circle.)
Now we’re back home readjusting to our time zone and thinking about our next adventure.