The Teracotta Warriors

On a trip to china in 2007 one of the cities on our itinerary was Xi’an, home of the famous Terracotta Warriors. It was one of the highlights of the trip, second only to the breathtaking cruise from the Three Gorges Dam. The Terracotta Army was discovered in the eastern outer suburbs of Xi’an, in Shaanxi Province by local farmers drilling a water well.

The warriors are a form of funerary art buried with the First Emperor of Qin, Qin Shi Huang in 210-209 BC. Their purpose was to help rule another empire in the afterlife. They are also sometimes referred to as “Qin’s Armies.”

It was a sweltering day when we arrived, but the excavation was so amazing we simply had to see it all. There are four pits associated with the dig, and they are about 1.5km 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. 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. 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. The first sight of all this is breathtaking. To see all those figures lined up majestically is really something.

According to the historian Sima Qian (145 BC-90 BC) construction of this mausoleum began in 246 BC and involved 700,000 workers. Qin Shi Huang was thirteen when construction began. One can only wonder at the monumentally grandiose ego of someone who would sanction such a project. It is similar to the tombs of the Egyptian Pharaohs in that regard, but on a much grander scale. The numbers above don’t really do it justice, nor do the pictures we were able to take, as the one above. It is massive, and a huge complex has been built around it, with manicured gardens leading up to it.

The figures vary in height (183–195cm – 6ft–6ft 5in), according to their role, the tallest being the generals. The figures include 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, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits.

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.

We visited a factory nearby where they make replicas of the warriors in sized from a six inches or so tall right up to the actual size of the originals. The prices on those was eye-watering. I didn’t even want to think about what shipping to New Zealand would have cost. We did buy some some of the smaller figures as gifts and souvenirs. The production was done right out in the open, so it was great to be able to see how they were made, and to see them in various stages of completion.

No trip to China would be complete without a visit to the site. Highly recommended.


3 responses to “The Teracotta Warriors

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