Human Journey

Terra Cotta Trauma


First-graders from Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School, a Chinese-language immersion school in the District, assembled in the courtyard at National Geographic headquarters last week for the opening of individual ticket sales for the upcoming exhibition Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor.


The charming munchkins donned masks and performed two songs in Mandarin for the assembled crowd. All were thrilled when a “bona fide” warrior was unveiled, then dismayed to hear from Susan Norton, director of the National Geographic Museum, that she’d somehow lost their promised free tickets to the exhibition.


Then the statue moved.


To countless squeals of delight—and only a few of terror—the warrior brandished the missing tickets, then took slow, stiff strides down the steps to deliver tickets, high-fives, and respectful bows.


Zheng Chi Chang, who specializes in “live statue performance art” and who traveled from Taiwan for the event, had a busy social schedule lined up afterward, with appearances in full Terra Cotta regalia at a Washington Nationals game, the Kennedy Center, a street festival, and the Giant Panda Habitat at the National Zoo.


A number of the clay warriors from the tomb of emperor Qin Shihuangdi—which lay buried for more than 2,000 years before being discovered by farmers in Xi’an, China, in 1974—will be at the National Geographic Museum beginning November 19 as part of their first-ever tour of the United States. Prior to the exhibition’s D.C. appearance, the Terra Cotta Warriors and related artifacts will be on display in Houston’s Museum of Natural Science from May 22 through October 16.


Tickets, information on National Geographic’s companion book, a teacher’s guide, and more are available at

Photographs by Ford Cochran

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