Wu Yongqi: The make-up artist of the terracotta army

By Chen Xia
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China.org.cn, May 25, 2011
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Following the accidental discovery of the terracotta warriors of Emperor Qin Shihuang in the 1970s, the old soldiers have been carefully restored and preserved. They look well for their age and this can be attributed largely to Wu Yongqi. He is the Curator of the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses, also known as the Terracotta Army Museum. Wu himself is also known rather less formally as the "make-up artist of the terracotta army."

Born in Beijing in 1951, Wu went to Yan'an in 1971 when he graduated from secondary school. Two years later, he was transferred to the Museum of Shaanxi Province as a tourist guide. In 1978, Wu was transferred again, this time to the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses at Xi'an in Shaanxi Province. "I didn't choose the work,” Wu said. β€œThe work picked me out."

Since then, he has devoted his life to the restoration and preservation of these national treasures.

The preservation of terracotta warriors is no easy task. Most difficult of all is dealing with the colors, for originally all the terracotta warriors were painted. Many years spent underground has taken its toll on the ancient paint. Once excavated, what remains of the fragile coloring is lost within minutes of contact with the air.

"Only when we restore the color can we say with confidence that a terracotta warrior has been preserved. To address this problem, we set up a joint team of experts from the museum and the Bavarian State Department of Historical Monuments," Wu said.

After a decade of strenuous joint efforts, the Chinese and German specialists cracked the problem by 2001. Their success was hailed by archaeological experts around the world and their methods seen as the leader in the field.

In 2006, the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses staged a three-month exhibition in Bonn, Germany, which included a terracotta archer with a green face.

In addition to working on the terracotta warriors, Wu took part in the excavation and restoration of a painted bronze chariot of Emperor Qin Shihuang. Weighing 2.45 tons, this has been recognized as a work of brilliant artistic achievement. It is a half size replica of the real chariot the Emperor used to ride.

In 1999, an exhibition featuring the archaeological discoveries in Shaanxi was staged in the UK and was well received by the public. When the exhibition was over, a duplicate chariot, one-fourth the size of the original, was kept permanently by the Cultural Office of the Chinese Embassy.

After nearly three decades in the museum, it is not surprising that Wu has become very knowledgeable about terracotta warriors. This has led to his colleagues giving him another nickname, "No.1 guide of the terracotta warriors." Since the museum was opened to the public on October 1, 1979, it has received over 56 million visitors from home and abroad. They have included some 140 leaders of foreign countries and Wu has met more than 60.

According to Wu, the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang boasts a rich repository of cultural heritage. The splendid terracotta warriors are only a part of the treasure . "Thanks to the era we are living in, more and more people are able to see the magnificent terracotta warriors and experience the brilliant cultural heritage of the Chinese nation," Wu said.

In 221 BC, Emperor Qin Shihuang founded the first centralized, unified and multi-ethnic feudal state in Chinese history. Situated 35 kilometers east of Xi'an, his imperial capital, the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang is China's earliest imperial mausoleum. In December 1987, it was listed as a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO.

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