Everyone knows about China's Pu Yi, whose life was turned into the spectacular 1987 feature film, The Last Emperor. Pu Yi was forced to abdicate in 1911 and ended his days as a gardener during Mao's communist regime. But what about the First Emperor of China? He made a much larger mark on history. What's his story?

Take a two-hour drive to Montreal to find some answers. There, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, is the very spectacular globe-trotting exhibition, The Warrior Emperor and China's Terracotta Army.

Is this terracotta army the same one unearthed by archeologists in 1974 in China's northern Shaanxi province? The very terracotta army of 8,000 or so life-size soldiers buried near the tomb of China's first emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, to guard him in his afterlife?

Right you are.

Is the entire army at the museum?

No. There are fewer than a dozen of these life-size figures, ranging from two generals to a kneeling archer, a cavalryman standing beside a horse and even an immortal acrobat for the emperor's entertainment in the hereafter. The workmanship on the sculptured soldiers is so detailed and realistic that you expect these terracotta figures to march across the museum floor. Maybe they do at night when all visitors are gone. The soldiers, now a dull grey, were originally painted in bright colours.

What else is in the exhibition?

There are many other artifacts including weapons, armour, jewelry, brass jugs and excellent audio-visual aids to teach you everything you ever wanted to know about China's first emperor.

What time period does the exhibition cover?

There are three distinct periods. The first covers the rise of the state of Qin in west-central China from the 9th century BC to 221 BC. Then comes the period dominated by the emperor Qin Shihuangdi as he conquers neighbouring states, creates the country we now call China and builds his vast tomb, complete with the underground terracotta army. The third period, following the death of the first emperor, covers the succeeding Han Dynasty from 206 BC to 220 AD.

Tell me more about the First Emperor.

He was born in 259 BC and was initially called Ying Zheng. While still a boy, he became king of the state of Qin during what is called the Warring States Period.

He became the first emperor of a unified China in 221 BC and ruled until his death in 210 BC at the age of 49. He standardized weights and measures, started construction of the Great Wall of China and was generally deemed to be effective and ruthless.

What is the most ghoulish aspect of the emperor's tomb?

Hundreds of workmen who helped build the tomb were, while still alive, locked into the vast underground cavern to spend eternity with the emperor.

Will the kids like this show?

Definitely. Hordes of children who visited the same show recently at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto seemed mesmerized by the life-size soldiers and horses, patiently sat through some imaginative (and brief) videos on the tomb and seemed to ask Mom and Dad endless questions.

Is there anything the kids should not see?

Well, there are some Han Dynasty bronze and bone dildos on display. These objects may provoke more questions than parents care to answer.

Is there anything really surprising beyond that?

Yes. The Han Dynasty army, or at least the cavalry, appeared to be an equal opportunity employer. Women played integral roles. On display are earthenware cavalry figures, many 56 centimetres tall, representing both men and women. In other words: Placing women in combat roles is hardly a modern phenomenon.