Bowers unveils new Chinese exhibit

'Warriors, Tombs and Temples' brings terra cotta statues and other artifacts not seen before in O.C.

September 29, 2011|By Imran Vittachi
  • Terra Cotta Warriors, including the Figure of Kneeling Archer, are on display at the new exhibition "Warriors, Tombs and Temples" at the Bowers Museum.
Terra Cotta Warriors, including the Figure of Kneeling… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

SANTA ANA — As a follow-up to its acclaimed 2008 "Terra Cotta Warriors" exhibition, the Bowers Museum on Saturday will open an entirely new one covering a much broader sweep of ancient Chinese history.

The museum plans to display artifacts that date back to as many as 2,300 years ago and have never before been seen in Orange County.

The "Warriors, Tombs and Temples: China's Enduring Legacy" exiibition comprises some 150 artifacts unearthed from tombs of rulers from three imperial dynasties, which were concentrated in and around the city of Xi'an, in modern day Shaanxi Province: The Qin Dynasty (221 – 206 BCE), the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) and the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 CE).

"The challenge was how to do something that would be a spinoff or a sequel to the 'Terra Cotta Warriors' exhibit … but basically it was to take that very limited time of the Qin Dynasty, which was something like 20 years, and go to the next thousand years in Chinese history," Peter Keller, the museum's president, said at a Thursday morning media preview.


He was referring to the short-lived Qin Dynasty, which was the narrow focus of the 2008 exhibit.

That show brought together 17 of the world-famous Terra Cotta Warriors, the largest such grouping at one time on U.S. soil, said Julie Lee, the museum's curator of exhibitions.

Most of the pieces in the new exhibit — around 90% — are traveling to the U.S. for the first time, and some of these Chinese national treasures being shown at the Bowers have been rated as "Level 1" pieces — the highest of ratings for artifacts designated by China's authorities, museum officials said.

The exhibition is making its first stop in the U.S. at the Bowers. It will spend five months here before moving to its second and last American stop at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Because of a new governmental regulation in China, such collections of Chinese artifacts can no longer travel outside of the People's Republic for more than a year, said Nancy Ravenhall Johnson, the museum's communications director.

The new exhibit features miniature carved armies excavated from Han period imperial tombs. The pieces from the Tang Dynasty — the most opulent of the three dynasties — include a Level 1-rated collection of nesting boxes, which were excavated at the Famen Temple, a sacred Buddhist site. The smallest of these boxes is said to have held the bone from one of the Buddha's fingers.

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