A Terracotta Version of History; Frozen in Time: Much of the Curation of the British Museum's Blockbuster Is as Antiquated as Its Exhibits

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The First Emperor British Museum

MUSEUMS have been the playthings of nations for as long as they've been openfor business.

Even if the First Emperor wasn't an exhibition about state unification, itwouldn't take a genius to work out that a year before the Beijing Olympicsthese are warriors turned global ambassadors.

I didn't expect the British Museum to provide a leaflet on heritage diplomacy.But neither did I expect an exhibition swinging between two styles of curation,one of which appears to be as archaic as the relics, and brings with it a whiffof propaganda.

It opens, "The First Emperor was one of the world's greatest rulers. Over 2,000years ago he founded what was to become the nation of China". Oneinterpretation, sure, but I feel uneasy at the emphasis on progress overdisruption and tyranny.

It is tempting to see the display of artefacts leading up to the warriors asmere padding. Look again. Weapons and bowls are reduced to their technologicalfunctions and dimensions. Such bland accounting is a common feature of Chinesemuseums.

Winding its way through warfare, writing, weights and measures, the display isnot only patronising, it validates a continuous story of technologicaldevelopment and a powerful past for modern China. …