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Xian Travel Guide

Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses

 
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China Travel Guide - XianThe Terra-cotta Warriors (literally "soldier and horse funerary statues") are the Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses of Qin Shi Huang the First Emperor of China. The terracotta figures were discovered in 1974 by some local farmers near Xi'an, Shaanxi province, China near the Mausouleum of the second Ming Emperor. The figures vary in height (183–195 cm - 6ft–6ft 5in), according to their role, the tallest being the generals. The figures include strong warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 100 chariots with 400 horses and 300 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits.

The Terra-cotta Warriors was discovered in 1974 in the eastern suburbs of Xi'an, Shaanxi Province by local farmers drilling a water well 1.5 miles east of Lishan (a mountain). This discovery prompted archaeologists to proceed to Shaanxi Province, China to investigate. The Terracotta Army is a form of funerary art buried with the First Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huang, Shi Huang means the first emperor) in 210-209 BC (he declared himself the first emperor of China in 221 BC to the end of his life in 210 BC). Their purpose was to help rule another empire with Shi Huang Di in the afterlife. Consequently, they are also sometimes referred to as "Qin's Armies." Mount Lishan is also where the material to make the terracotta warriors originated. In addition to the warriors, an entire man-made necropolis for the emperor has been excavated.

China Travel Guide - Xian - Qi Shi HuangAccording to the historian Sima Qian (145-90 BC) construction of this mausoleum began in 246 BC and involved 700,000 workers. Qin Shi Huang was thirteen when construction began (he specifically stated that no two soldiers were to be made alike, which is most likely why he had construction started at that young age) . Sima Qian, in his most famous work, Shiji, completed a century after the mausoleum completion, wrote that the First Emperor was buried with palaces, scenic towers, officials, valuable utensils and 'wonderful objects,' with 100 rivers fashioned in mercury and above this heavenly bodies below which he wrote were 'the features of the earth.' Some translations of this passage refer to 'models' or 'imitations' but in fact he does not use those words. Recent scientific work at the site has shown high levels of mercury in the soil on and around Mount Lishan, appearing to add credence to the writing of ancient historian Sima Qian. The tomb of Shi Huang Di is under an earthen pyramid 76 meters tall and nearly 350 square meters. The tomb remains unopened, in the hope that it will remain intact. Only a portion of the site is presently excavated.

Qin Shi Huang’s necropolis complex was constructed to serve as an imperial compound or palace. It comprises several offices, halls and other structures and is surrounded by a wall with gateway entrances.

It was also said as a legend that the Terracotta Warriors were real soldiers, buried with Emperor Qin so that they could defend him from any dangers in the next life.

Construction

China Travel Guide - Xian
China Travel Guide - Xian

The terracotta figures were manufactured both in workshops by government laborers and also by local craftsmen. The head, arms, legs and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Studies show that eight face moulds were most likely used, and then clay was added to provide individual facial features.Once assembled, intricate features such as facial expressions were added. It is believed that their legs were made in much the same way that terracotta drainage pipes were manufactured at the time. This would make it an assembly line production, with specific parts manufactured and assembled after being fired, as opposed to crafting one solid piece of terracotta and subsequently firing it. In those days, each workshop was required to inscribe its name on items produced to ensure quality control. This has aided modern historians in verifying that workshops that once made tiles and other mundane items were commandeered to work on the terracotta army. Upon completion, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to rank and duty.

The terracotta figures are life-like and life-sized. They vary in height, uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank. The colored lacquer finish, individual facial features, and actual weapons and armor from battle used in manufacturing these figures created a realistic appearance. The original weapons were stolen by robbers shortly after the creation of the army and the coloring has faded greatly. However, their existence serves as a testament to the amount of labor and skill involved in their construction. It also reveals the power the First Emperor possessed, enabling him to command such a monumental undertaking as this.

The pits

The four pits associated with the dig are about 1.5 km east of the burial ground and are about 7 meters deep. The outside walls of the tomb complex are as if placed there to protect the tomb from the east, where all the conquered states lay. They are solidly built with rammed earth walls and ground layers as hard as concrete. Pit one, 230 meters long, contains the main army, estimated at 8,000 figures. Pit One has 11 corridors, most of which are over 3 meters wide, and paved with small bricks with a wooden ceiling supported by large beams and posts. This design was also used for the tombs of noblemen and would have resembled palace hallways. The wooden ceilings were covered with reed mats and layers of clay for waterproofing, and then mounded with more soil making them, when built, about 2 to 3 meters higher than ground level.Pit two has cavalry and infantry units as well as war chariots, and is thought to represent a military guard. Pit three is the command post, with high ranking officers and a war chariot. Pit four is empty, seemingly left unfinished by its builders.

British Museum Exhibition

China Travel Guide - XianA set piece of 120 objects from the mausoleum and 20 terracotta warriors were displayed at the British Museum in London as its special exhibition "The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army" from September 13, 2007 to April 2008. This Terracotta Army exhibition made 2008 the British Museum's most successful year ever, and made the British Museum the United Kingdom's top cultural attraction between 2007-08. The exhibition also brought in the most visitors to the British Museum since the King Tutankhamun exhibition in 1972. It was reported that the initial batch of pre-bookable tickets to the Terracotta Army exhibition sold out so fast that the museum extended the exhibition until midnight on Thursdays to Sundays.According to The Times, many people had to be turned away from the exhibition, despite viewings until midnight,and during the day of events to mark the Chinese new year, the crush was so intense that the gates to the museum had to be shut. The Terracotta Army has been described as the only other set of historic artifacts (along with the remnants of ruins of the Titanic) which can draw a crowd simply on the back of the name alone. The exhibit subsequently travelled to the USA where it was displayed at the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, in Houston, Texas, and at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C.

In Popular Culture

  • The Terracotta Army was featured in a 1992 episode of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?
  • In 2004 the Terracotta Army was visited by the contestants competing on Season 6 of The Amazing Race.
  • In 2005 film The Myth, the mausoleum was raided and revealed to be a huge anti-gravity field complete with floating armies and mock palace.
  • The premise of the 2008 movie The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was that the mummy of Qin Shi Huang was revived and would conquer the world with the Terracotta Army if he reached Shangri-la.
  • In Lionhead Studio's Fable II, Terry Cotter's Army, a spoof of the Terracotta Army, can be found behind a "Demon Door"

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