Qin And His Terracotta Warriors.
Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
402Trip End Dec 31, 2013
What on earth made Emperor Qin Shihuang back in 200BC decide that having a full size replica army complete with chariots, horses and some 8,000 individual warriors would really protect him in the afterlife? What was he thinking putting so many resources into building his terracotta army?
As the first emperor of China, he abolished the feudal system, united the states and territories his army had conquered to unify China, and then ordered the connecting of the disjointed sections of the northern defensive walls to make the Great Wall of China (NOT for keeping the rabbits out!). However Qin was obsessed with finding the secret to immortality and failing that, he wanted a backup plan to protect him in the afterlife if he died. His quest for immortality was in fact what killed him, his immortality potion contained mercury as the defining ingredient
We are in Xian, (pronounced She-ann) to see the amazing and relatively recent archaeological discovery of the Terracotta warriors. There are some surprises in store for us, mostly in relation to the state the relics were found and the relatively small amount that has to date been put on view. We have a wonderful new guide Chris, to surprise us with details we did not understand about the terracotta warriors.
It was 1974 when a farmer was drilling holes for a series of village wells that he uncovered a life size terracotta head and reported the find to authorities. Qin's tomb’s whereabouts was known to be one and a half kilometres away but there were no historical writings that hinted at the enormity that lay beneath. One major surprise was that we see pictures of the terracotta warriors all standing in rows as they were placed by Qin but this was not how they were actually found. 15 years after Qin’s death the pits were raided by a peasant rebellion force and most of the statues were smashed into pieces then the wooden roof burnt and the pit closed over. Archaeologists have been painstakingly putting the army back together again for the past 36 years after they lay undiscovered for over 2,000 years.
The second big surprise is the enormity of the task still ahead of the Chinese archaeologists
It is heartening that China has kept this all insitu. So often when we have travelled to out of the way places we are told most of the artifacts have been plundered for museums around the world. Not in Xian. Huge buildings have been constructed over the pits and the archaeologists can be seen working on the figures. One aspect which is quite startling is that they all have different faces and expressions. Each figure was individually made and signed by the artisan.
I guess in effect with the fact that the terracotta warriors growing fame and the huge popularity of the Great Wall Qin has achieved a form of immortality despite the spectacular failure of his mercury potion.
While in Xian we visited some other sites of historical significance. The Hanyang tombs were also recently discovered with significant relics of a later dynasty having similar warrior soldiers but quite small in size like a child’s doll. We walked on the ancient city wall in Xian, visited the Wild Goose Pagoda and partook of a dumpling banquet for which Xian is famous.
Footnote: The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Terracotta Warriors) is UNESCO World Heritage listed.