Eternal Entertainment? Revisiting the So-called Acrobat Figurines at the First Emperor’s Tomb

Oct 23, 2019, 4:30 pm4:30 pm
202 Jones



Event Description

Not too long ago, the so-called “acrobat” figurines yielded by Pit 9901 (K9901) at the First Emperor’s (Qin Shihuangdi 秦始皇帝) funerary park became somewhat (in)famous. One scholar argued that these particular sculptures were not only influenced by Hellenistic art, but produced by Greek artisans in the Qin capital Xianyang. Such bold claims naturally sparked lively discussions. However, the majority of arguments do not address the archaeological material itself; rather, they are enmeshed in more or less helpful speculations on Early Chinese cross-cultural contacts.

I will take a different approach to the finds and features from Pit 9901, one that looks at the archaeological material from a comparative angle. The purported acrobats were but one of several kinds of larger than life-sized sculptures that have emerged from the First Emperor’s mausoleum complex to this date. The several thousands of famous terracotta warriors are certainly the best-known group of figurines, but additional excavation campaigns over the past two decades also yielded officials, musicians, and the so-called acrobats. Thus, the acrobat figurines must be viewed in a larger context. Based on comparisons of descriptions of weight training in the ancient Mediterranean world and early Chinese written sources, I will demonstrate that the archaeological finds and features from Pit 9901 call for a different interpretation. The sculptures were not representing acrobats but something else entirely… 

Program in East Asian Studies