Not That Kind of Big Men A Response to Lukas Nickel’s Interpretation of the Term da ren 大人 in Lintao 臨洮

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Frederick Shih-Chung Chen



Lukas Nickel’s article “The First Emperor and Sculpture in China” in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (2013) has drawn significant attention to the issue of Hellenistic influence on the making of the terracotta warriors excavated from the mausoleum of the First Emperor of China. In the perspective of textual evidence, Nickel attaches much importance to the connection between the Chinese report of the twelve da ren 大人 (“Big Men”) in Lintao 臨洮 in the Hanshu and the account of the construction of “altars” to the twelve Olympian gods by Alexander the Great at the easternmost point of his expedition to India in the Bibliotheca Historica. This coincidence suggests to Nickel that the twelve Big Men are a possible reference to large sculptural figures erected on the western border of the empire. This article aims to question this interpretation of the twelve da ren as sculptures in the Hanshu. A twofold examination of the textual and other historical sources will make clear that the twelve Big Men were mentioned not as huge statues but as exceptionally tall visitors, an exemplary omen related to human illness manifested in physical abnormality.

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