China’s First Emperor and his Terracotta Warriors

On site, Pit number 1

Little was known about Qin Shihuangdi (259 BC – 210 BC) until his astonishing army of life-sized terracotta warriors was discovered in 1974 by some farmers while building a well in Xi’an, China. Still not fully excavated, the Terracotta Army is estimated to number more than 8,000 figures, including 400 chariot horses and 300 cavalry horses. I had the opportunity to travel to China several months ago to see the Terracotta Army in situ and I have to say, it was breathtaking!

For centuries, Chinese people viewed the first emperor as a vicious tyrant who would do anything to get his way and there probably is some truth to that but to an exaggerated extent. But most would agree that his

I wasn’t expecting much from the site since several of my friends who have previously been there said there wasn’t much to see. But that being said, I wasn’t fully convinced of their criticism. Them not having any interest in history didn’t help and one can tell the reason why they didn’t enjoy the visit was because they don’t appreciate history at all. But for those who do, you know the feeling you get when you see something as extraordinary as this!

One of the many statues found at the site. Unfortunately, the photo is of the back-side of the statue. There were way too many people and they wouldn't let me through!

As you will see in the photograph I took of one of the many statues found at the site which is housed at the museum, the details are absolutely stunning! Unfortunately, I was only able to take the shot from the back-side as there were way too many people to even try from the front.

I was told by my guide at the mausoleum that the Terracotta Army were once colorfully painted but has lost most of it’s color now. I wasn’t able to get close to any of the statues that still had the vibrant colors on them as they are held in the storage to protect them from any further damage. I did, however, manage to get a shot of some of the soldiers that, if you look closely enough, you will notice they still have some color albeit not of the same vibrancy of the original color.

Terracotta Soldiers with a bit of color still visible

During Qin Shihuangdi’s lifetime, he undertook numerous projects, including the first version of the Great Wall of China, the now famous city-sized mausoleum guarded by the life-sized Terracotta Army, and a massive national road system, all at the expense of thousands of lives. To ensure his stability as emperor of a unified China, he outlawed and burned many books. I can see why people didn’t like him!

In 215 BC, the emperor ordered the construction of his own tomb. The tomb was to have an army to protect him in the afterlife. The figures vary in height (183–195 cm – 6 ft–6 ft 5in), according to their role, the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. The majority of which are still buried in the pits. Archaeologists believe there are many pits still waiting to be discovered. According to historian Sima Qian (145-90 BC), construction of this mausoleum began in 246 BC and involved 700,000 workers. Qin Shi Huang was 13 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. I guess by the time they finish construction, he would be pretty old!

Some of the higher ranking officers in Pit 3

The head, arms, legs, and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Facial features among other things were later added by hand to give each individual a distinct look. 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.

All in all, I think it’s definitely worth a see! The Terracotta Army will be traveling to Canada in June of 2010 so if you haven’t seen them yet, definitely give it a go! It won’t be the same as seeing them in situ but it’s still good and you won’t be disappointed. BUT –  if you have the money and time……it’s absolutely worth it to see the Terracotta Army in situ and perhaps if you’re lucky enough you may have the chance to meet one of the farmers who discovered the mausoleum on March 29, 1974!

Mr. Yang Zhifa

I had the wonderful opportunity to meet the gentleman, Mr. Yang Zhifa, and it was pretty awesome I have to say! You can request an autograph if you want too! And no, in case you were wondering…..I did not ask for his autograph, there were just too many things to do at the time and I felt…a little…well, overwhelmed.

Did you know that before he discovered the Terracotta Army with other fellow farmers that he did not know how to write? So after he became well-known, he learned how to write his name specifically so that he can sign autographs for the tourists! Talk about devotion!

That’s it for now! I hope you enjoyed my article as much as I did writing it! Hopefully, it has triggered your interest in learning more about China’s history and/or art. If you’ve seen the Terracotta Army, I would love to hear about your experiences and your thoughts on them!

One of the many statues from the tomb

Until next time, guys and gals!


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Anthony says:

    Wow this is definitely on my list of places to see. Well done!

    1. Explorer MF says:

      Hey Anthony,

      If ever given the chance, you should definitely check it out! It’s simply amazing 🙂

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