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Becoming a Ruin: Breaking into the First Emperor's Necropolis

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image of Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

This article focuses on representations of Emperor Qin Shihuang's necropolis, an example of the tomb as a special form of landscape in Chinese literature and visual culture. Unlike remnants of other historic structures, the tomb is built to be an enclosed space and is contained in its own system of time. If a tomb is broken into, its system of time/space is fractured, and it becomes a ruin from the point of view of both its own historical function and its larger contemporary context. Both Chinese and American popular culture have a demonstrated fascination with breaking into Emperor Qin Shihuang's tomb. This article provides an analysis of three groups of texts from China and the United States, including Lilian Lee's novella The Terracotta Warrior and its screen adaptations, the 2005 film The Myth, directed by Stanley Tong, and its TV adaptation, and American texts including the 2001 NBC TV movie The Lost Empire, directed by Peter MacDonald, and the 2008 film The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, directed by Rob Cohen. After demonstrating how the special chronotope of Qin Shihuang's tomb directly affects the major thematic developments of these texts, this article then examines and compares how the different groups of texts confront the topics of death and immortality, excavation vs. preservation, and good vs. evil in ways that reflect the politics of representation.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Modern and Classical Languages, George Mason University


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