Sunday, April 19: While we drive to the The Museum of Qin Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses, quite some distance outside of Xi’an, our guide Chelsea tells us the story of the emperor, Qin Shi Huang. After ascending the throne in 246 BC at the age of 13, he managed within 25 years to vanquish the unruly eastern states, thus becoming the first emperor of a unified China. During his tyrannical rule, he set out to destroy all books, except those about the history of Qin state or practical matters such as agriculture, as well as the scholars who wrote them. He unified all parts of the empire with a network of roads, mainly to aid military campaigns, and built the Great Wall, conscripting much of the populace to construct it; this, even more than his high taxes and harsh laws, was the thing that finally turned his subjects against him (Lonely Planet China).
He seems to have been an egomaniacal man. Ever ambitious, he died in 210 BC while on a quest to find the legendary island of immortals and their secret drug of longevity. The Terra-Cotta Army and his mausoleum, which took 11 years to complete, reflect the workings of a paranoid mind filled with delusions of grandeur.
We finally arrive at the museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. A scholarly statues welcomes us into the complex.
There is apparently no historical record of the Terra Cotta Army. In fact, it was only discovered in 1974, by a group of peasants digging for a well near what is now known as the royal tomb. They uncovered some pottery there; these discoveries immediately got the attention of archeologists, who established that these artifacts are associated with the Qin Dynasty (211-206 BC) (China Travel Guide: Terra Cotta Army). The current museum was authorized by the State Council to be built shortly after the discovery of the Warriors, in 1975, and Vault 1 was opened to visitors in 1979.
The Terra Cotta Warriors vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Estimates from 2007 were that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers and 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits near Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum. Other terracotta non-military figures were found in other pits, including officials, acrobats, strong men and musicians (Wikipedia: Terracotta Army). It is speculated that many buried treasures and sacrificial objects had accompanied the emperor in his afterlife (China Travel Guide: Terra Cotta Army).
Seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors is one of those travel moments that takes your breath away. The sheer number of them and the story behind them defies imagination. The tale of this egotistical young emperor who ruled with an iron fist, dreamed of being immortal, built the Great Wall as a defense against invaders, constructed a mausoleum as big as a city for himself, and created an army of lifelike soldiers to guard him after he died is a story better than fiction.
The museum covers an area of 16,300 square meters, divided into three sections: Vault 1, Vault 2, and Vault 3 respectively. They were tagged in the order of their discoveries. Vault 1 is the largest, first opened to the public on China’s National Day – Oct. 1st, 1979. (China Travel Guide: Terra Cotta Army).
The Terracotta Warriors are extremely lifelike and vividly depict the wartime scenes of the Qin dynasty. Based on their roles, they are divided into soldiers and commanders of the Imperial Guard. The soldiers normally don’t wear hats but the commanders do. The hats, as well as the armor, vary greatly between low-level commanders and the generals. The soldiers are divided into infantry, rivalry and carriage soldiers. According to their roles, they are equipped with different weapons. (terracottaarmy.com: The Mysterious Terracotta Warriors).
Vault One is the largest and most impressive, enclosed as it is within what looks like an airplane hangar. It is believed to contain over 6,000 terracotta figures of soldiers and horses, but less than 2,000 are on display. There are columns of soldiers at the front, followed by war chariots at the back. All soldiers and horses face east in a rectangular array. The vanguard appears to be three rows of infantry who stand at the easternmost end of the army. Close behind is the main force of armored soldiers holding weapons, accompanied by 38 horse-driven chariots. Every figure differs in facial features and expression, clothing, hairstyle, and gestures, leading to speculation that each one represents an actual soldier from the emperor’s Imperial Guard; these provide abundant and detailed artifacts for the study of the military, cultural, and economic history of that period. (China Highlights: The Terra Cotta Army — Why and how they were made).
The warrior figures average about 1.8 meters in height and are hollow from the thighs up. The heads and hands were modeled separately and attached to the mass-produced bodies. Traces of pigment show that their dress was originally bright yellow, purple and green, though it’s gray now. Originally, the warriors carried real weapons, bows, swords, spears and crossbows, which were still sharp when found; the arrowheads contained lead to make them poisonous. Over 10,000 of these weapons have been found (Lonely Planet China).
After leaving Vault 1, we proceed to Vault 3 which is the smallest one, unearthed in 1976. There are only 68 terracotta warriors, many of which are without heads, a war chariot and four horses. It’s obvious that Vault 3 represents the command post, as all the figures are officials. They’re not in battle formation, but they form a guard of honor. Animal bones found here suggest ritual sacrifices, which would have been made by an army going into battle. This vault went on display in 1989 (China Highlights: The Terra Cotta Army — Why and how they were made).
We then move on to Vault 2, found in 1976; it is still undergoing excavation. It contained over a thousand warriors and 90 chariots of wood and was unveiled to the public in 1994. It is thought that Vault 2 holds more warriors than Vault 1.
In Vault 2, the first unit contains rows of kneeling and standing archers; the second one is a chariot war array; the third unit consists of mixed forces with infantry, chariots and troopers standing in rectangular array; and the last one includes numerous troopers holding weapons. The four units form a rigorous battle array (China Highlights: The Terra Cotta Army — Why and how they were made).
Altogether over 7,000 pottery soldiers, horses, chariots, and even weapons have been unearthed from these pits. Most of them have been restored to their former grandeur. (China Travel Guide: Terra Cotta Army).
One hundred sixteen cavalrymen with horses, like the one shown below, were found in Vault 2.
In a small museum beside Vault 2, two bronze carriages are displayed. They were mainly made of bronze, but there were 1,720 pieces of golden and silver ornaments, weighting 7 kg, on each carriage. The carriages were so well-made, and so vivid, that they boast being the best-preserved and having the highest rank among the earliest known bronze relics in China. These chariots are the biggest pieces of ancient bronzeware ever found in the world (China Highlights: The Terra Cotta Army — Why and how they were made).
Sadly, I couldn’t get a very good picture of them as it was so dark.
After we finish with the Terra Cotta Warriors, we go by car to the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang, which is just an artificial hill.
According to UNESCO: Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor: The mausoleum is “the center of a complex designed the mirror the urban plan of the capital, Xianyan.”
According to accounts by historian Sima Qian, 700,000 laborers spent 36 years creating an imperial city below ground. The heavens of the central chamber were depicted with pearls on the ceiling and the geography of the world was shown on bronze floors, with seas and rivers represented by pools of mercury made to flow with machinery. Crossbows were set to protect gold and silver relics. High levels of mercury have been found in the surrounding soil, suggesting that at least parts of these accounts are true (Lonely Planet China).
The tomb has yet to be excavated and Chelsea tells us that it may be a long time before it is. She says scientists need to figure out ways to excavate without exposing the inside of the tomb to the elements and without being poisoned by the mercury.
Our small group poses near a rock marking the site of the emperor’s tomb. The hill in the background is apparently the tomb, but as there’s nothing to see inside, we head on to other sites.
Andrew and I will head with Chelsea to Huaqing Pool, and Mari and the Israeli ladies are returning to Xi’an, as they only wanted a half-day tour. Mari and I have arranged to meet at a show arranged by Chelsea on Monday night.