Likeness of No One: (Re)presenting the First Emperor's Army
There has been much debate surrounding the significance of the findings during a 1974 excavation from the site near the supposed burial chamber of the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi. Most of the attention has been focused on the several thousand life-size terracotta soldiers that were found. Many scholars believe the army was created as a replica of the Qin army and some even go as far as saying the clay soldiers were portraits, or modeled after living soldiers. Furthermore, others have tried to link the meaning of the army to a religious practice or artistic style of current and previous time periods. In the article, "Likeness of No One: (Re)presenting the First Emperor's Army", Ladislav Kesner takes a closer look at some of the accepted and even assumed meanings of the army, while offering a more sufficient justification of what the soldiers and underground world were representing.
Kesner begins by approaching the style of the Qin figures and the meaning of Mingqi. The late Zhou ritual texts Li Ji and Zhouli name a distinct category of objects destined to go with the dead into the afterworld, called mingqi. These objects were used as substitutes for real things or people, which would act in the hereafter the same as they did in this world. In using this "substitution" explanation, the style is labeled "realistic." Kesner explains however, that by the time of the construction of the First Emperor's tomb, this ancient practice was being replaced by artificial objects that were not meant to substitute their real counterparts, but instead were there to present an obvious difference from the living models. In support of this theory, Kesner points out various explanations to demonstrate the unrealistic characters of the figures. For example, although most of the soldiers are seen with many details to their hair, belt buckles, facial expressions, etc., they all exhibit a stereotypical appearance. If the sculptors intended for the soldiers to be seen as truly realistic, Kenser explains, then they would have been created with additional anatomical structures, such as many of the Greek sculptures display. Conversely, each soldier has identifying parts that separate him into a specific group within a whole structure, the army, rather than set apart as an individual. The emperor obviously did not care about the identity of any one individual in this army, but instead sought to convey the army as a uniformed and disciplined unit. Kesner adds, that while considering the army, which is only one part of the burial complex, it is important to take a look at the assorted components that contribute to the entire site, because only then can one comprehend the relevance of each separate element.
As Kesner probes the findings in each pit of the burial complex, it is...