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Blog digs up debate over ancient tomb
2006-10-21 06:38:52 Shanghai Daily

SHANGHAI, Oct 21 -- A LEADING Chinese economist's proposal to unearth the tomb of China's first emperor has sparked an online controversy over whether or not to leave the tomb alone.

Steven Cheung, former dean of the economic and finance school of the University of Hong Kong, wrote on his blog on October 6 that the mausoleum of Qinshihuang, who united seven warring states and founded the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC, should be opened.

Cheung wrote it would be a "stupid" waste if the tomb remained untouched. "It's like it doesn't exist," he argued.

Cheung admitted some of the cultural relics buried in the tomb could be damaged if the tomb were unearthed, but he stressed that people would have an opportunity to appreciate the culture and history of 2,200 years ago.

The economist also said the tomb would bring huge profits. "If the ticket were sold at 500 yuan, five million visitors would bring an annual revenue of 2.5 billion yuan."

A survey of the mausoleum has lasted nearly 40 years, but the site has remained a mystery.

Cheung's article attracted more than 200,000 viewings. Many said they were interested in the tomb and supported Cheung's suggestion in the hope that they might one day glimpse the tomb's contents.

"I am so curious ... If we don't unearth the relics, we'll never know what they are," an unnamed respondent said.

However, more voiced opposition. "You are right from the economic perspective, but our technology is not good enough to well preserve the relics," said a reader with the online name Lie0037.

According to historical records, 720,000 workers labored 38 years to build the mausoleum for the emperor, who ruled China's first unified dynasty from 221 to 206 BC.

Archaeologists, using remote sensing equipment, have located symmetrical staircases and wooden structures inside the tomb.

Legend has it that a huge underground palace was modeled on the emperor's realm with rivers flowing with mercury and a ceiling studded with pearls and diamonds representing the stars and sun.

As the tomb has remained untouched by robbers, many believe it would be of great value in studying ancient Chinese history if it were excavated.

But the government has repeatedly reaffirmed that it has no plans to unearth the mausoleum for fear of damage.

"Current techniques cannot ensure that the mausoleum will be properly protected after excavation," said Duan Qingbo, a senior archaeologist with the Shaanxi Provincial Archaeology Institute.

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