Wednesday 7 December 2016 – Terracotta warriors, giant puppets & tall ships: Liverpool thinking big for 2018


The terracotta warriors of Xi’an (photo: the Guardian)

Liverpool is already building up to a year of spectacular events, exhibitions and anniversaries in 2018. That year will see the city mark the 10th anniversary of it being European Capital of Culture, the 20th anniversary of the Liverpool Biennial contemporary arts festival, and the 30th anniversary of the opening of Tate Liverpool.  The city will also welcome the return of the Tall Ships and the spectacular Giants puppets created by the French company Royal de Luxe which proved incredibly popular in 2012 and again in 2014. Today, in China, Karen Bradley – the British culture secretary – has put the icing on the cake when she announced that an agreement has been made for a selection of the the  terracotta warriors in Xi’an in China will visit Liverpool in 2018, the first time they’ve been seen in the UK since 2008 when they were on display at the British Museum.


Around 120 objects, including terracotta warriors themselves, will form the exhibition at the World Museum Liverpool between February and October 2018. It will be paid-for exhibition, but will no doubt prove incredibly successful. The British Museum exhibition in 2007/8 was seen by over 800,000 people and was the Museum’s second-most popular exhibition ever, after the 1972 Tutankahmun exhibition. The warriors were first discovered in 1974 when a man was digging a well in Xi’an. Since then over 8000 have been uncovered. The life size figures were created to accompany China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang into the afterlife. Each has individual clothing, hairstyles and facial expressions. Of the cultural coup for Liverpool and the UK, the culture secretary said:


“The terracotta army represents one of the most significant archaeological excavations of the 20th century, and I am delighted that a selection of the warriors will be coming to Liverpool for the first time in 2018. I am sure that the exhibition will be very warmly received by the people of Merseyside and beyond as Britain welcomes back the terracotta warriors.  The exhibition will also encourage an ongoing cultural exchange between China and Britain, further progressing the relationship between our two nations and strengthening lasting ties.”


Liverpool’s exhibition will be hoping to achieve the success achieved by the British Museum and will no doubt highlight that the Liverpool exhibition will include objects never seen in the UK before. Also, the Liverpool show will differ from London’s in that it will cover the pre-unification Qin kings (307 to 221BC) and the first emperor’s legacy in the Han Dynasty (206BC to AD220). The World Museum Liverpool is especially pleased to have been offered this tremendous opportunity.  David Fleming, the director of National Museums Liverpool, said the organisation was “highly excited.” He said that as Liverpool has Europe’s oldest Chinese community it was especially pleasing that the terracotta warriors were coming to the city. He continued:


“Following the success of our Mayas Exhibition in 2015, and the reopening of our Ancient Egypt gallery in 2017, this is a significant time for World Museum and National Museums Liverpool. It is really important that we stay in healthy dialogue with our international colleagues.”


The Blackie & Chinese Gate on Nelson Street in Liverpool China Town

Beyond Liverpool, the agreement with China is part of an ongoing process of strengthening cultural ties between the two countries. This comes after a difficult period with China and after Prime Minister Theresa May’s suggesting that we could be entering a “golden era” of relations with China after she met Ma Kai, a Chinese vice-Premier. The Guardian wrote of the increasing cultural ties between our two nations:


“The UK has been using culture as a soft power tool in China for a number of years. This year, for example, the Royal Shakespeare Company embarked on its first major tour of China and the British Library has organised exhibitions with literary treasures such as Shakespeare’s First Folio and Charlotte Bronte’s fair copy manuscript to Jane Eyre. Bradley also visited the McKinnon Hotel in Shanghai where the theatre group Punchdrunk is about to open its hit show Sleep No More with Chinese partners.”


The giants in Liverpool in 2012 – Giant Uncle on Dale Street, Giant Girl in Anfield & Xolo the Dog


The terracotta warriors are certainly a big coup for Liverpool which, in recent years, has gained a reputation for staging world-class and spectacular events. The return of the Giants to the city for the third time is especially significant as it shows that the Royal de Luxe company holds the city in special regard as it has chosen only Liverpool to host its giant spectaculars in the UK. In 2012 they brought three of their giant puppets to the city – Giant Uncle, Giant Girl and Xolo the Dog – as part of the Sea Odyssey spectacular.  The three paraded around the city’s streets, parks and docks, drawing hundreds of thousands to the streets from around the country and world. In 2014 they returned with Giant Girl, Xolo the Dog and the spitting and farting  Giant Grandma to mark the anniversary of the beginning of World War One in an event called Memories of August 1914. The giants are set to return to Liverpool  in 2018 as part of the city’s Eighteen for 18   plans for exhibitions and events to mark the 10th anniversary of the city’s European Capital of Culture status in 2008.


The giants in Liverpool in 2014 – Giant Grandma at Queen Square, Giant Girl on Renshaw Street & Xolo the Dog at Falkner Square


As if the terracotta warriors and the return of the giants weren’t enough, the return of the ever-popular Tall Ships to Liverpool in 2018 will round off what promises to be a fantastic year of events, exhibitions and celebrations in the city.


The Tall Ships at Liverpool on previous occasions, including (left) off Crosby Beach in 2008 (photos BBC)


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