Thursday, November 01, 2007


The last lecture of the Chester Literature Festival (for me, anyway) was at the Grosvenor Museum and an interesting account of some aspects of the first emperor of the Qin by Frances Wood, head of the Chinese department at the British Library who has written a book on the subject.

Here are some amusing little factoids.

The First Emperor (TFE) has generally been vilified by all those who came after him except for ten years during the cultural revolution when he was praised because of his opposition to Confucius.

It is a myth that he was responsible for the Great Wall of China as the structure is the amalgamation of many buildings.

Generally peasants at the time wore dull oatmeal coloured clothing and TFE (and his army) were reputed to wear black. This has been disputed by recent Japanese scholars.

He developed a successful bureaucratic system that last until the early twentieth century.

He standardised weights and measures.

He introduced a coin of the type that was still in use in 1911.

He developed a writing system that was understood all over the empire and is still in use today.

It is known that the spoken language has changed significantly since TFE's day because peoms no longer rhyme. This is mainly die to the endings of words being lost. There is thought to be less change in Cantonese as this was a language learnt by foreigners and they were more careful to keep to the correct idiom.

TLE reputedly burnt all books except those dealing with practical aspects of life (medicine, engineering and soothsaying) and buried several hundred scholars alive. The burial is doubtful but the burning of the books is thought to have taken place.

When he died his administrators were so worried about the possibility of unrest that they kept his death a secret and transported his body in a covered chariot for hundreds of miles pretending he was alive and accompanying the chariot with a cart of stinking fish to cover up the smell of his decaying body.

Frances's book THE FIRST EMPEROR OF CHINA is well-illustrated and looks like it has some more very interesting facts about this enigmatic life: I bought it as a present for my mother as a keepsake for our visit to the exhibition at the British Museum together.


Blogger Shameless said...

Oooo, I must watch out for the this. I've become more interested in China after visiting there a few years back.

Thu Nov 01, 09:18:00 pm  
Anonymous clare said...

Sounds like you're a well-travelled man! Apparently the terracotta warriors are amazing en masse. I'd love to see that.

Sun Nov 04, 02:45:00 pm  

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