BURIED HIS­TORY

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

IN­DI­ANA Jones has noth­ing on the story of the ter­ra­cotta army and the in­trigue and power strug­gles that gripped China at the time of the first em­peror. As his­to­rian John Man writes, it’s amaz­ing no one has made a film about it. But, then, much of the tale is just too in­cred­i­ble.

Man’s TheTer­ra­cot­taArmy (Ran­dom House, $35) is a wor­thy sub­sti­tute for a Hol­ly­wood block­buster. His ter­rific book goes well be­yond the war­riors but never quite loses touch with its main sub­jects, the spirit army built to pro­tect an em­peror ob­sessed with mor­tal­ity or, as Man neatly de­scribes them, ‘‘ the ghosts from his­tory’s sub­con­scious’’.

The first em­peror may have worked won­ders unit­ing a war­ring China but he was clearly no Mr Nice Guy; he bumped off his sub­jects at the drop of a hat. Mind you, com­pared with the em­peror who fol­lowed, he was a saint. Man says the ter­ra­cotta war­riors, fan­tas­tic though they may be, were a mere sideshow com­pared with the build­ing of the em­peror’s as yet un­opened tomb. He teas­ingly spec­u­lates on what sur­prises, and trea­sures, may lie inside (though he’s du­bi­ous about talk of loaded cross­bows wait­ing to wel­come vis­i­tors). Could the great man be pre­served in mer­cury inside a nest of coffins? Are there re­ally rivers of mer­cury that ap­pear to flow? In­trigu­ing stuff. In­ter­ested film direc­tors should form a line, prob­a­bly be­hind Kevin Cost­ner.

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