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At the entrance to the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing, two 10-ton, 9-foot solid granite lions once stood guard where emperors of the Qing Dynasty ruled from 1644 through the first decade of this century.

On Thursday, all 38,800 pounds of these monolithic felines arrived at Brigham Young University's Museum of Art, along with 248 featured Chinese art treasures that were buried with the country's greatest emperors.The national five-city tour of the Imperial Tombs of China, touted as "the most dramatic and important exhibition ever to emerge from the Far East," begins Nov. 1 at BYU. The exhibit closes March 16.

According to museum officials, Imperial Tombs represents 2,500 years of Chinese culture and displays the kinds of artifacts meant to accompany emperors and their courts into the next world.

The priceless pieces, which were to be enjoyed by kings in a post-world palatial setting, are works of gold, silver and jeweled artifacts, carved jade, inlaid bronzes and cloisonne.

Also included in the exhibit are four terra-cotta warriors and a chariot horse, which were part of a military regime numbering in the thousands that to this day protects the tomb of Qin Shi-huang-di (246-210 B.C.).

Originally unearthed by peasants in 1974, the legendary figures that guard the burial site of the Qin Dynasty's founder are considered the premiere archaeological find of the 20th century.

Priceless objects from the tombs of Marquis Yi of Zeng and the King of Zhongshan from the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.), the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) and the Tang Dynasty (618-906) also are featured in the exhibit. The Kingdom of Liao (907-1125) and the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) are represented, too.

Along with the stone lions, treasures from the Qing Dynasty will be seen, including a gold-lacquer, carved throne from the Imperial Palace in Shenyang.

The exhibition began in Memphis last April, and will continue to Portland, Denver and Orlando after spending five months in Provo.

Museum of Art director James Mason said the artifacts may be the most important objects lent by the People's Republic of China.

"With its focus on the lavish tombs of China's great emperors, it provides an unparalleled opportunity to explore a people's beliefs surrounding life, death and afterlife," Mason said.

The massive stone lions, which workers spent most of the day unloading and getting into the museum, will greet visitors at the entrance to the exhibit.

Mason said three 900-pound I-beams were placed directly underneath where the lions will be located in the museum to support and disperse the weight of the statues.

"You really can't see this kind of an exhibition anywhere else, not even in China," Mason said. "A person would need to visit 21 different museums and cultural centers in nine separate Chinese provinces to see what this offers."

Tickets are sold for a specific date and entry time and can be purchased by calling 378-BYU1 or 1-800-322-BYU1. For more information, call 378-8250.