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Home > China-UK Events > 2007
Remarks by Prime Minister Brown at the Opening Ceremony of the Terracotta Army Exhibition

(September 11, 2007, in the British Museum)


This is a great day for Britain, it's a great day for the strengthening friendship of Britain and China, and it's a first for London.  It's a gift across continents from the largest country in the world.  It's making possible the biggest ever exhibition mounted by the British Museum, mounted by one of the greatest cultural institutions in the world. 


Let me thank, first of all, the Government of China and all the authorities of China.  To send here some of the eight thousand individually crafted terracotta solders, soldiers that took the labour of more than ¾ of a million people and took them nearly 50 years to build, and to celebrate an empire and emperor of some 2 thousand years ago, the Emperor who was the first to unite China, who launched the construction of the Great Wall, who developed the first single currency in the history of the world, who perhaps to less critical acclaim invented the first modern central bureaucracy of the world, and whose legacy is the terracotta model of the fighting army that is now a wonder of the world.  And to think that this was only unearthed for modern times in 1974 and perhaps not surprisingly for the country that invented the first civil service, the discovery of these beautifully and individually crafted soldiers was followed by the discovery in 2000 of a pit of not so individually crafted civil servants as well.  Now these soldiers are signed by no sculptor and the artistic achievement of no one we can name in person today, but great art this is and to paraphrase the words of Mary McCarthy, "the silent terracottas speak to us, not just across the centuries, but across the millennia". 


I've just seen them exquisitely individual, every face different, eyes closed or open, looking happy or sad; unforgettable gazes, entirely Chinese but a universal avocation of our common humanity and I believe that one by one they will mesmerise and capture us here because they awe inspire, they touch our souls and make us think of what passes and what endures.  In their preservation and in their presence here for this exhibition is a genuine miracle so let me, on behalf of everybody here, congratulate for his innovative genius and for what he has achieved by the use of this wonderful space Neil MacGregor, the Director of the Museum.


Let me join everybody here in welcoming Professor Chen, the President of the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences who has just spoke to us and Madame Fu the Ambassador of the People's Republic and let me also congratulate this great partnership between the British Museum, between China and Morgan Stanley that is going to make this record breaking exhibition possible.  It is, as we have just heard, the largest sponsorship of a museum event ever, it's the high point of a 5 year programme of exchanges between the British Museum and museums in China. 


Already we know that more than 100,000 advance tickets have been sold and this is a tribute to the ethos of this great museum, which was founded 250 years ago.  It was the first institute in this country to be named British, but even as the most British of institutions, its objective now realised yet again today, is to have under its roof the whole world.  And let us also celebrate this as the first event of the Cultural Olympiad that will mark the years between the Olympics in Beijing next year and the Olympics in London in 2012. Next year in celebration of the growing friendship between our two countries there will be China Now, which will be the largest festival of Chinese culture ever held in this country.  And reflecting this great and inter-dependent world that bridges these continental divides, this exhibition's final visitor a few months from now will be the Torch Bearer who will leave the British Museum carrying aloft on its way to Beijing from the United Kingdom the Olympic torch to be lit in Beijing in the summer of next year.  So as you can see this exhibition marks the strengthening relationship between our two countries whether on development, on climate change or on trade generally there has never been a more important moment in the history of the increased understanding between our two countries and, in that spirit, celebrating with so many distinguished people that have made a contribution to that ongoing cooperation and celebrating the wealth of cultural and political understanding that unites our two countries I'm delighted, on behalf of everybody here, to be able to officially open this great exhibition now. 


Thank you all very much.

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