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Tony Grist

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The Greatest Tomb [Oct. 17th, 2016|11:34 am]
Tony Grist
It's beginning to look as though China's first emperor may have imported Greek artists (not necessarily from Greece itself but from the further reaches of Alexander's empire) to oversee the work on his mausoleum complex- with its terracotta army, bronze chariots et al. How else to explain the sudden great leap forward in Chinese art- from funny little pots to realistic, life-sized statuary? The BBC had an hour long programme about this last night- fronted by Dan Snow, Alice Roberts and David Lin- and I was surprised at how willing the Chinese authorities were to co-operate with them and encourage them in their speculations- even to the point of allowing them to fly drones over a landscape studded with military installations.  Not so very long ago all of this- including the theory itself- would have been quite unthinkable. But now, I suppose, with China reaching out to the west commercially, politically and culturally, the leadership is happy to expose and publicise precedents for what would once have been seen as a break with tradition. You think it's odd that we're selling you our power stations?  But why not when you sold us your bronze casting techniques?  Those 2,000 years of isolation behind the Great Wall were just a blip- and really we've always been the best of friends....

It was pleasant- heartwarming even- to watch the western scholars getting on so well with their Chinese counterparts. So much smiling, laughing and joking. The Chinese had even gone to the lengths of fishing an unChinese-looking skull out of a mass grave and reconstructing the face for us in the hope that it would look Greek. Sadly it didn't, but the intent was there...

[User Picture]From: porsupah
2016-10-17 04:34 pm (UTC)
But then, people - as opposed to governments - have usually been all about just making a life for themselves, adding trade and cultural exchange here and there. And changes can take place quite quickly - consider Japan's emergence from isolation, and that they're now the epitome of absorbing cultural influences from elsewhere (whilst not losing themselves), and second only to the US in exporting such.

Certainly sounds like a fascinating premise! I'll be sure to download that when I get back home. Many thanks for bringing it to my attention!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-10-17 04:44 pm (UTC)
I've noticed recently that lots of stories about China- often domestic stories- have been cropping up in the media- many more than would have once been the case. It's clear that relations are being "normalised".
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2016-10-18 10:23 am (UTC)
I was surprised that the programme - which, as you say, showed so many signs of goodwill - was so keen to hammer the 'not Chinese at all' story, rather than the 'look how long there's been contact' side.

I also wanted to know more about 'of course, there were Greekjs in Afghanistan', whichh was presented as something we all knew all along.

Those drone pictures were wonderful, though.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-10-18 11:06 am (UTC)
I guess the Greeks in Afghanistan is a whole other story. I'd like to know more about it too. The difference is the scholars have always known about it- even if the general public didn't- whereas Greek artists in China is a new idea.
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[User Picture]From: heleninwales
2016-10-18 11:15 am (UTC)
How far did Alexander the Great get? But of course, there may not have been actual Greeks in Afghanistan, it may just have been that people were buying Greek products, just as people trade today. Usually, the deeper the historians and archaeologists look, the more complicated it gets.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-10-18 03:46 pm (UTC)
Alexander took his armies into Northern India and founded cities there. He didn't hang around personally, but I'm sure he left some of his people there.
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