China and the West 'in contact before Marco Polo'

The famed Terracotta Army could have been inspired by ancient Greek sculptures and art, says Dr Li Xiuzhen, a senior archeologist at the Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Site Museum.
The famed Terracotta Army could have been inspired by ancient Greek sculptures and art, says Dr Li Xiuzhen, a senior archeologist at the Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Site Museum.PHOTO: MOKSIM SALEH

LONDON • China and the West were in contact more than 1,500 years before Venetian explorer Marco Polo arrived in China, new finds suggest.

Archaeologists say inspiration for the Terracotta Warriors, found at the tomb of China's Qin Shi Huang near today's Xian, may have come from ancient Greece, reported the BBC yesterday.They also say ancient Greek artisans could have been training locals there in the 3rd century BC, the report said.

Marco Polo's 13th-century travels to China had been thought to be the first by a European.

"We now have evidence that close contact existed between the First Emperor's China and the West before the formal opening of the Silk Road. This is far earlier than we formerly thought," BBC cited Dr Li Xiuzhen, a senior archaeologist from the Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Site Museum, as saying.

Qin Shi Huang lived between 259BC and 210BC, and was the first emperor of a unified China.

Farmers first discovered the 8,000 life-sized terracotta figures buried less than 2km from his tomb in 1974. But there was no tradition of building such statues in China before the emperor's time; earlier statues were simple figurines about 20cm in height.

Dr Li believes that influences that came from outside China could explain the change.

"We now think the Terracotta Army, the Acrobats and the bronze sculptures found on site had been inspired by ancient Greek sculptures and art," Dr Li was quoted by the BBC as saying.

Prof Lukas Nickel from the University of Vienna says statues of circus acrobats recently found at the First Emperor's tomb support this theory. He believes the First Emperor was influenced by the arrival of Greek statues in Central Asia in the century following Alexander the Great, who died in 323BC.

"I imagine that a Greek sculptor may have been at the site to train the locals," he said, according to the BBC.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2016, with the headline 'China and the West 'in contact before Marco Polo''. Print Edition | Subscribe