The First Emperor, founder of the short-lived Qin Dynasty (221-207 BCE) and even “China” writ large by some accounts, is a well-known historical figure. The excavation and subsequent global circulation of the Terracotta Warriors, crafted to guard his tomb, have given rise to a certain “Qinomania” Stories of the entombed ruler only heighten the fascination of the mass-produced and life-sized soldiers. Born into a hostage situation, the man known as Ying Zheng broke with the past, burned books, and buried scholars alive as he forged a new kind of centralized state. He survived assassination attempts and became infamously obsessed with a doomed quest for immortality. But how do we really know what we know about this world-shaking unifier of “all under heaven”? 

I was reading Worlds of Knowledge in Women’s Travel Writing on an airplane when the pilot suddenly announced that we would be returning to our airport of origin due to a possible issue with the plane’s de-icing system. It was only my third flight since the onset of the pandemic and things were not going smoothly. As my plane banked sharply, my mind turned to the words of the volume’s editor, James Uden, who references the hurdles of COVID-era travel in the introduction.