The good news is that I thought the exhibit was worth the £12 admission fee. The bad news is that the British Museum, a madhouse on a good day, has addressed high demand by limiting “day of” tickets to just 500, available on a first come, first-served basis beginning at 9:15 am. So in order to see the warriors, you can either try to pre-order on-line (currently sold out through the end of December) or you can do what Jon did, which was to line up at 9:15 am at the British Museum and wait patiently for a chance to buy a ticket.
After waiting almost an hour, he did snag tickets (which are timed entry) for 5 pm today. For us, 5 pm was pretty cool because even though it’s probably annoying to have to leave your entire day unplanned/flexible in order to see the exhibit, the Museum is otherwise closed at that hour, and I enjoyed the after-hours atmosphere during our visit.
We’d tried a few weeks ago to see the exhibit, and I’m sure we’re not the only ones to have arrived at the counter only to find the following message:
The terracotta warriors, I learned, were discovered only recently, in 1974, and the story is basically “farmer digs a well, hits something weird, and discovers it’s a terracotta head.” As for the creation of the Qin Emperor’s afterlife goodies, it took 700,000 workers 38 years to make 8,099 clay warriors as well as all kinds of accoutrements, from horses and chariots to exotic animals and court acrobats.
Even though the exhibit displays only ten of the warriors (I recall two are displayed on their own and eight were grouped together), it’s an amazing thing to see. I was skeptical about the 40 minutes we spent snaking our way single file through the exhibit, reading somewhat-tangential gloss that I can only describe as “killing time.” But at the end of all the queuing, text-reading and viewing of minor artifacts (e.g., coins and bells contemporary to the First Emperor’s lifetime), the large room displaying eight of the soldiers with horses and chariots makes all the preceding hassle and tedium worthwhile. There’s no glass separating you from the soldiers. You can reach out and touch them (if you don’t mind being tackled immediately by security guards, that is).
And everything I’d read about the soldiers proved true — I appreciated the soldiers’ individual facial expressions, unique hair styles, detailed uniforms, and lifelike gestures. I also couldn’t help thinking about those 700,000 workers who slaved away (literally) at creating these beautiful statues for some crazy, egotistical, death-obsessed emperor who, I’m guessing here, didn’t think twice about burying workers alive in his tomb to make sure nobody would leak the secrets of its treasure. (What is with these absolute rulers and protecting the secrets of gargantuan tombs?) For me, the soldiers were mysterious, deeply saddening, and also awe-inspiring.
So try and get tickets, even if you think one day you’ll make it out to Xi’an to see the other 8,089 warriors. Just try to ignore all the brazen money-making slickness of the thing. Not only are photos of the exhibit prohibited, but also photos of the exhibit’s souvenirs are prohibited. No joke.