A leading Chinese economist's proposal to unearth the tomb of China's first emperor has sparked controversy on China's Internet sites, triggering another debate on whether or not to leave the tomb alone.
Steven Cheung, former dean of the economic and finance school of the University of Hong Kong, wrote on his blog on October 6 that the mausoleum of Qinshihuang, who united seven warring states and founded the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC, should be opened.
Cheung wrote in an article titled "It's Time to Unearth the Qingshihuang's Mausoleum" that it would be a "stupid" waste if the tomb remained untouched. "It's like it doesn't exist."
Cheung admitted some of the cultural relics buried in the tomb could be damaged if the tomb were unearthed, but he stressed that people would have an opportunity to appreciate the culture and history of 2,200 years ago.
In addition, the economist said the tomb would bring huge profits. "If the ticket was sold at 500 yuan, 5 million visitors will bring an annual revenue of 2.5 billion yuan."
Located near the ancient capital Xi'an, in Shaanxi Province, the 2,200-year-old Qinshihuang mausoleum occupied an area of 60 square kilometers.
A survey of the mausoleum has lasted nearly 40 years, but the site remains a mystery even after the terra cotta warrior underground army has long been unearthed and hailed as the world's eighth wonder.
Cheung's article attracted over 200,000 visits. Many expressed strong curiosity in the mysterious tomb and support for Cheung's suggestion, and the hope that they might one day glimpse its contents.
"I am so curious.... If we don't unearth the relics, we never know what they are," an unnamed respondent said.
However, more voiced opposition. "You are right from the economic perspective. But our technology is not good enough to well preserve the relics," said "Lie0037".
According to historical records, 720,000 workers labored 38 years to build the mausoleum for the emperor, who ruled China's first unified dynasty from 221 to 206 BC.
Archaeologists, using remote sensing equipment, have located symmetrical staircases and wooden structures inside the tomb.
They have also discovered that the tomb was built with an effective drainage system that has prevented ground water from seeping inside.
Legend has it that a huge underground palace was modeled on the emperor's realm with rivers flowing with mercury and a ceiling studded with pearls and diamonds representing the stars and sun.
The mausoleum was also said to have architectural features that archaeologists believe have successfully kept out tomb robbers.
In fact, the debate on whether to unearth the emperor's tomb or not has been going on for decades. As the tomb has remained untouched by robbers, many believe it would be of great value in studying ancient Chinese history if it were excavated.
But the government has repeatedly reaffirmed that it has no plans to unearth the mausoleum for fear of damage.
"Current techniques cannot ensure that the mausoleum will be properly protected after excavation," said Duan Qingbo, a senior archaeologist with the Shaanxi Provincial Archaeology Institute.
"The best choice is to leave the ancient tomb untouched because, given the complicated conditions inside, excavation errors could lead to its destruction," said Duan.
(Xinhua News Agency October 21, 2006)