Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies


The First Emperor and sculpture in China

Lukas Nickel 

SOAS, University of London


Sculpture as an artistic medium was widely employed in the arts of Greece and the Hellenistic East, but played only a minor role in ancient East Asia. This changed dramatically with the First Emperor of China who marked his ascent to the throne in 221 bc with the erection of giant bronze sculptures outside his palace and the installation of thousands of terracotta figures in his tomb. The current text sets out to investigate the sudden and short-lived surge of sculpture making in third-century bc China and places it in the context of developments across Asia of the time. The text joins art historical, archaeological and textual evidence to investigate whether the First Emperor's extraordinary interest in sculpture may have been the result of contacts with the contemporary Hellenistic world.


  • Sculpture;
  • Hellenism;
  • Cultural exchange;
  • Qin-period China;
  • Terracotta warriors;
  • Qin Shi Huangdi;
  • Graeco-Bactria;
  • Ai Khanoum