Book Review Tuesday

China’s First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors by Frances Wood

China has 3,000+ years of history, and it makes sense that that long history would have its fair share of interesting characters. One of these, Qin Shi Huangdi, was the first emperor of what would come to be known in the Western world as China. He unified the warring provinces of China and kept them together by means of a centralized bureaucracy and a standardized and codified law system rather than the previous feudal system. Qin Shi Huangdi also standardized all weights and measures used in China, and it was during his reign that the Chinese system of written characters became used throughout the land. Today’s Chinese characters are written differently, but are direct descendants of those used during Huangdi’s reign.

Despite these interesting achievements, Qin Shi Huangdi is perhaps best known for causing the creation of two world wonders: the Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Army. Huangdi’s part in the Great Wall may be doubted, as there is no direct evidence that the parts in existence today were built during his time. This may be because they have been covered over by recent construction, or that the stones have been re-used, which has been known to occur in China. Other walls around the country have been found that date to Huangdi’s reign.

There is no question, however, about the origin of the Terracotta Army, a much more recent archaeological find. Three different sets of life-sized men, all unique, completely outfitted for battle and made entirely of ceramics (except for their weapons, which were crafted the same way actual weapons used by the Chinese army were made) surround Huangdi’s magnificent tomb. Scholars speculate that there would have been a fourth set of soldiers, except Huangdi died before that set could be completed. The description of the Terracotta Army in the book is fascinating, although I wished for some pictures!

For an excellent and readable introduction to this fascinating (and mysterious – we really don’t know much about him) ruler, China’s First Emperor is an excellent choice.

This book can be found at the library with the call number DS747.9.Q254 W66 2008.

-Adrienne Meier, Librarian for Social Sciences and University Archivist

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