“Field Museum Profiled by Museum Access for the Second Time,” by S.M. O’Connor

The eighth episode of Museum Access marked the show’s return to The Field Museum of Natural History and was devoted to the semi-permanent exhibit Cyrus Tang Hall of China and the special exhibit China’s First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors.  This episode, “The Field Museum; Installation of Terra Cotta Warriors,” aired for the first time anywhere on Friday, February 16, 2018. The series is in syndication, so P.B.S. stations are not airing it at the same time.  W.T.T.W. aired this episode, as scheduled, on Sunday, May 20, 2018.  At least at the time the episode originally aired on W.T.T.W., Comcast viewers were able to watch episodes on the On Demand Service.  The sponsor of the show is the marketing firm TFI|Envision, Inc. (“The Connection to Conversion Agency”).

The episode opened with Museum Access producer-hostess Leslie Mueller standing in the portico of The Field Museum explaining the first emperor of China built the first Great Wall of China,[1] built roads that facilitated trade throughout his empire, and standardized the alphabet.[2]  He was buried with an army of 8,000 terracotta warriors (as well as civil servants and acrobats), discovered by a farmer in 1974.[3]   The purpose of this episode was to showcase the special exhibit China’s First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors, which was comprised of artifacts on loan from Chinese institutions to The Field Museum,[4] and it included archival footage of the installation of the exhibit.  Please note that the special exhibit China’s First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors opened on Friday, March 4, 2016 and ran through Sunday, January 8, 2017.

For the benefit of viewers who missed the second episode, the eighth episode included a recap of Ms. Mueller’s interview of Jaclyn Johnston, The Field Museum’s Director of Public Relations, from the second episode of the show “The Field Museum; Tyrannosaurus Rex, ‘Sue.’[5]  They discussed the exhibit Evolving Planet, the assembly of dioramas, the Hall of Botany, and the Grainger Hall of Gems.  For the second episode about The Field Museum, Ms. Mueller conducted a second interview with Ms. Johnston.

This time, they met outside the Cyrus Tang Hall of China.  [The Cyrus Tang Hall opened on Wednesday, June 24, 2015 and is scheduled to close Saturday, December 31, 2050.  This exhibit includes textiles, sculptures, bronzes, rubbings, and ceramics that were produced over thousands of years of Chinese history, including artifacts recovered from the 13th Century Java Shipwreck.]  Ms. Johnston explained it included 350 artifacts out of The Field Museum’s collection of 33,000 artifacts that illustrate the cultural history of China.  Ms. Johnston said, “We all know China as a powerful and complex country today, but this really takes us back through 5,000 years of their history.”

Cyrus Tang immigrated to the U.S.A. with his family as a boy in 1950.  Ms. Mueller related, “Through hard work and perseverance, he became a successful businessman, and founded or acquired over one hundred companies.”  He founded the Cyrus Chung Ying Tang Foundation.  This discussion of the Cyrus Tang Hall of China and Cyrus Tang served as introduction to The Field Museum’s relationship with China.

The special exhibit China’s First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors was displayed in Yates Exhibition Hall.  The exhibit entrance had a stone suit of armor.  Archeologists have found eighty-seven such stone suits of armor in the pits that surrounded the emperor’s tomb.  It took about 400 man-hours to make each stone suit of armor, archeologists believe.  These stone suits of armor were purely ceremonial.  Ms. Mueller related that we do not know if they were meant as offerings or were supposed to be worn in the afterlife.  In any event, the emperor’s troops actually wore lacquered leather armor.

Ms. Mueller interviewed Field Museum Project Manager Thomas Skwerski, who explained The Field Museum had first approached Chinese authorities about mounting the exhibit seven years beforehand.  Ten terracotta figures and 163 other artifacts were loaned to The Field Museum for the exhibit.  All of the artifacts that have been uncovered came from a complex of pits around the emperor’s tomb (rather than from the tomb itself), Mr. Skwerski explained.  [Ms. Mueller did not address the issue in the episode, but the mound that contains the emperor’s tomb has yet to be opened because, according to legend, it had a moat of liquid mercury, and tests have so far indicated this was true.]  The tomb complex took up twenty-two square miles.  They related in conversation that the first emperor of China became a king at thirteen and after conquering five other kingdoms became the first emperor of China at the age of thirty-nine,[6] which brought a close to the Warring States Period.[7]

The artifacts on loan to The Field Museum were packed in Shanghai and shipped to The Field Museum with a conservator and when The Field Museum packed them back up to return them, a Field Museum conservator accompanied them back.  Each artifact was examined to ascertain whether it had been damaged in transit.

The ten figures were a general, a kneeling archer, a standing archer, a charioteer, a cavalryman, an infantryman, a stable boy, a civil official, an acrobat, and a horse.  The 6’2” figure seems to represent a general, of which only nine had been found by the time the episode had been recorded.  [The average height of a Chinese person during the era in which the first emperor lived was 5’6”.][8]  This particular general figure may have been on display in The Field Museum in 1980.  At the time the episode was recorded, Skwerski explained, archeologists had excavated 2,000 of the estimated 8,000 terracotta warriors, of which 1,000 to 1,100 had been reassembled.

IMG_6359-1024x768Figure 1 Credit: Photo courtesy of Museum Access. Caption: These are terracotta warriors and chariots from the special exhibit China’s First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors at The Field Museum.


[1] His public works projects included the consolidation and expansion of smaller walls composite states of his empire had previously erected to keep out northern nomadic tribes as the Great Wall of China.

[2] Qin Shihuangdi (260-210 B.C.) was the first emperor of China.  Qin Shihuangdi (pronounced “chin she-wong-dee”) is a throne name.  His birth name was Ying Zheng.

[3] Tens of thousands of men built his city-sized mausoleum.  Many, if not all, of them were killed, as were his concubines who had not given to birth to sons living at the time of the mausoleum’s completion. His tomb has yet to be opened, but in 1974 a group of farmers digging wells discovered the Terracotta Army, which had been fashioned as a garrison for the necropolis.  The terracotta troops were armed and equipped with approximately 40,000 bronze weapons and bronze chariots.  They were made with mix-and-match clay molds.  Artists individualized each statue.

[4] The Field Museum organized China’s First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors in partnership with the Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau, Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Center, and Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum of the People’s Republic of China.

[5] Note that as of this writing, Ms. Johnston’s title is Public Relations and Community Awareness Director.

[6] Qin Shihuangdi (260-210 B.C.) was the first emperor of a unified China.  Qin Shihuangdi (pronounced “chin she-wong-dee”) is a throne name.  His birth name was Ying Zheng.  At the age of thirteen, he inherited his father’s throne, which made him King Zheng of Qin.  An assassination attempt on his life in 227 B.C. inspired the film Hero (2002), which starred Jet Li.  The name for the empire he created, “China,” is derived from Qin, which is also the name of his dynasty.  The word is also spelt Kin Ch’in in English.  When he conquered the other kingdoms in what we would now call China, he invented the title huang di.  The first word was a preexistent title that meant god-king and the second was a preexistent title that meant sage-king.  This title is invariably translated into English as the Roman title emperor.  Variations on this title would be used by Chinese, Mongolian, and Manchurian rulers for over 2,000 years until the Chinese revolution ended the reign of the last Manchurian emperor in 1911.  Ying Zheng’s consolidation of all the Chinese states in 221 B.C. brought to a close an era that became known as the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.).

[7] The name for this period comes from an ancient history book written during the Han Dynasty: Intrigues of the Warring States.  The preceding era was the Spring and Autumn period, during which fortified city-states came to dominate rural surrounding areas as vassal states.  There were seven major powers and six smaller powers amongst the Warring States, also known as Contending States.  The Kingdom of Qin occupied a strategic place, the Wei River Valley, in what became northwestern China.

[8] In ancient times, it was common for artists to depict leaders as being physically larger than everyone else.

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