Warrior in cellophane

One of the main problems in preserving colour in the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an is that the lacquer and pigments which were used to colour them deteriorate rapidly - in just a few minutes - when removed from the safety of humid soil to the dry air outside.

Once pragmatic solution to maintain the humidity is to wrap them in the equivalent of cellophane used in the kitchen, as seen on the warrior in Pit 1 awaiting restoration.


Exhausted Boxer

This extraordinary bronze sculpture, in the National Museum of Archaeology in Rome, represents a boxer after combat, with signs of wounds and scars on his body (on the nose and cheeks, for example). It is thought to have been sculpted by a Hellenistic artist around the 2nd century BC, but inspired by or even copied from an older work by one of the most celebrated Greek sculptors, Lysippos - the personal sculptor of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC.

Boxer head.jpg

The Stele from Mount Youyi

The most beautiful ancient calligraphy. This stele was set up on Mount Youyi by the First Emperor on his inspection tour of the empire in 219 BC. The original is lost, but this copy was made by a celebrated Song dynasty calligrapher in 993 AD. This close-up clearly shows the unusual and elegant forms of the characters. It may be seen in the Beilin Museum in Xi'an.

                                                                          ©Edward Burman

                                                                          ©Edward Burman

Surviving murals from the Ming period

Not much is left of Ming interiors, which were often destroyed by war, fire or theft, or simply rebuilt from the imperial parts' stores and then more recently overpainted in gaudy reds and greens.

So it was a delight to be invited into an upstairs chamber with the west gate of the city walls of Xi'an - not open to the public - which has miraculously escaped both revolution and the restorer's hands. Having survived thus far, it will now be treated with the respect it deserves, for the delicate murals and decorations on the beams and walls are quite unique,

                                                                         ©Edward Burman

                                                                         ©Edward Burman

Wenfeng Ta, Anyang

                                                                        ©Edward Burman

                                                                        ©Edward Burman

The 10th century Wenfeng Ta, or ‘Literature Peak Pagoda’, in the grounds of Tianning Temple in Anyang (Henan), a curious inverted pagoda raised on a plinth-like base which grows wider with height. In its present form, a Ming structure. Anyang is off the usual tourist routes, even for the Chinese, although in the 14th century BC the Shang dynasty created the first named Chinese capital here, called Yin.

These photos were taken in early morning winter sunshine, which enhanced the brickwork and rich terracotta-coloured plaster.

                                                                        ©Edward Burman

                                                                        ©Edward Burman

Zhou Gong and the qin

The theatre inside the temple dedicated to Zhou Gong, an early Zhou philosopher, in the west of Shaanxi Province. On the right is a row of stone qins, the ancient Chinese instrument, hanging on a structure similar to a clothes' horse. An emperor's qins might be made of jade, with a beautiful delicate sound, and would have been placed in his tomb to provide entertainment in the afterlife.

In the photo below, the ritual bronze bells can be seen on the left.

Lorenzo Ghiberti

I'd forgotten how astonishing and deep are Ghiberti's reliefs on the Baptistry. I've been to Florence several times a year since I first saw them but for some reason never came this close.

                                                                         ©Edward Burman

                                                                         ©Edward Burman

Paris: Le Rubis

A favourite bistro near Les Halles. I used to go there as a student for onion soup with a splash of cognac at 5 or 6 in the morning. One of the last traditional eateries near the great market now closed for many years. Still open 24 hours a day, with hot food at lunchtime and cold platters (cheese or cold cuts) in the evening. The boisterous current owner is the fourth since it opened in 1949, and maintains the tradition of bottling his own wine. 

Double standards

                                                                          ©Edward Burman

                                                                          ©Edward Burman

There was no prostitution and there were no concubines in China in the past, so this reconstruction of a Qing dynasty brothel in a province where no foreigners were allowed to live shows the resident "workers" as foreign.

On the difficulty of Chinese

An intriguing example of the difficulty of Chinese pronunciation even for the Chinese. In the white rectangle marked on this Ming dynasty stele from Tongchuan there is one large character, 观, in pinyin guan, but written with an ancient and difficult character that a reader of this stele might not be able to pronounce. 

So beneath are two smaller characters: on the left a simpler character for guan, 官, with beside another character meaning “pronounce”, 音, which indicates that 官 is an aide to pronouncing and understanding the more complex character above.

In other words, a scholarly footnote.