LONDON will say goodbye with sadness to what has turned out to be an unexpectedly successful exhibition at the Royal Horticultural Hall.
The artefacts that have been on show have been described as the eighth wonder of the world. There is still just time to see it in case you have missed it before now. It consists of terracotta warriors and horses characteristic of a whole army of such figures made 22 centuries ago.
The third century BC struggle between Rome and Cathage has often been thought of as the fiercest battle of its time. But at the other end of the Old World, in China, an even more decisive conflict was coming to a close at about the same time.
In 221 BC, three years before Hannibal led an army from southern Spain across the Alps into Italy, the forces of Qin completed the conquest of all rival states and brought the Chinese people under the rule of a single man. His name was Zheng (pronounced Shoong) and he was the king of Qin. He became the first Emperor of China, and it was he who commissioned the making of this model army.
The surrender in 221 BC of Qi, one of the most ancient states in China, confirmed Zheng as the asbolute ruler of "all under Heaven." The exhibition has made hundreds scurry to their history books to read about a little known but fascinating segment of ancient history. It was only possible to reconstruct the full story after excavations carried out a dozen years ago.
The leading scholar on the subject is Arthur Cottrell whose
book The First Emperor of China is well known. His latest work, China, a Concise Cultural History is about to be published by John Murray.
Zheng entitled himself Qin Shi Huangdi, First Sovereign Qui Emperor.
His mausoleum was of breathtaking magnificence according to historians. But none of their accounts prepared archaeologists for the shock of an accidental discovery in 1974 when farmers, digging a well, broke into a pit containing part of the amazing terracotta army.
Eventually thousands of lifesized models of soldiers and chariots were discovered, some of which have been on display in London. One of the most striking is a kneeling figure excavated in 1977 showing a degree of artistry which would be remarkable even today.
Thus can an awe-inspiring glimpse be had of a civilisation which has endured uninterrupted from ancient times.
There is a footnote to it all which poses a question for Christians: did the early Church, in the post-Constantinian era, get the idea from China to burn all books written by those giving a critical account of established belief? Almost certainly not, but such burning took place in both cases.
We only know about the existence of early anti-Christian polemics by answers which were made to them. Much of patristic doctrine is contained in learned treatises which were written "Adversus" some heresy or heretic. The first Chinese Empire went further and eliminated not only inimical writings but also innumerable unwanted scholars.