Anthony J. Barbieri-Low, "The Many Lives of the First Emperor of China" (U Washington Press, 2022)


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In the strategy game Civilization VI, where players choose world leaders to be their avatar, Qin Shihuang, the First Emperor of China, has one goal in mind: building wonders (like the Great Wall of China). His workers can build wonders faster and more cheaply, and he hates leaders that build more wonders than he does.

That largely corresponds to how people in the West think of the First Emperor: powerful, responsible for unifying China, despotic–and focused on building great works like the Great Wall and the Terracotta.

Civilization VI isn’t one of the many works detailed in Anthony Barbieri’s most recent book, The Many Lives of the First Emperor of China (University of Washington Press: 2022). But it does explore the many ways the life of Qin Shihuang has been represented in books, historical works, mythology, political narratives, movies, tv shows and, yes, video games.

We welcome Anthony back to the show to talk about the First Emperor, and how different writers, politicians, and producers portrayed the different aspects of his life.

Anthony J. Barbieri-Low is professor of history at the University of California Santa Barbara. His book Artisans in Early Imperial China won top prizes from the Association for Asian Studies, American Historical Association, College Art Association, and International Convention of Asia Scholars. He is also the author of Ancient Egypt and Early China: State, Society, and Culture (University of Washington Press: 2021), which was also the subject of an Asian Review of Books interview last year.

You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, including its review of The Many Lives of the First Emperor of China. Follow on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.

Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at@nickrigordon.

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