Planet China

Pottery imposters

Imagine travelling all the way to Paris and being shown a dodgy copy of the Mona Lisa; or going to Rome and ending up in a knock-off version of the Sistine Chapel that’s just round the corner from the real one.

Well, until last week that was exactly what was happening to tourists keen to see the Terracotta Army in Xi’an. Instead of making it to the final resting place of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang, unlucky visitors were being rerouted to a fake burial pit just down the road.

While the original museum holds close to 10,000 almost-life-sized soldiers and horses, the fake museum contained just 40. The scam came to light when an irate visitor wrote a blog about her day trying to visit the real mausoleum only to be misdirected by fake police officers and on-the-make taxi drivers. Apparently, the shanzhai museum even laid on a free shuttle bus (shanzhai is the popular Chinese term for ‘fake’) .

As the story went global Xi’an’s local government swung into action and a team of police officers was sent to smash the fake warriors to bits. The owner, however, got off with a stern talking to. More amazingly, he wasn’t alone. The Xi’an government has since announced it has closed 46 other ‘fake’ Terracotta Warrior museums in the city. The original emperor – who famously practiced a legalist principle that doled out draconian punishments to those who crossed him – must be turning in his grave.


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