Terra-Cota Army and China’s First Emperor

The weather in Xi’An was a lot damper and cooler than in Beijing. The clouds hung low in the sky and covered the green mountains that we passed on our way to the famous Terracotta Army.

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The story of how this army was discovered is a parculiar. For years, broken parts of pottery and body parts had been surfacing as local farmers ploughed their fields. However, it was when Yang Zhifa dug a well and broke into a pit of 6,000 warriors that the discoveries were reported to the local authorities. His discovery has made him rich and it has made him famous.We met Yang outside the museum, where he now signs autographs, his books and all sorts of memorabilia. He has helped unearth one of China’s greatest treasures, a reminder of China’s mighty emperor and the incredible craftsmanship of a sophisticated and cultured dynasty.

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Soldiers and chariots lie in four pits which are now encased by an elegant and modern museum.Ying Zheng took the throne in 246 B.C. at the age of 13. By 221 B.C. he had unified a collection of warring kingdoms and took the name of Qin Shi Huang Di—the First Emperor of Qin. During his rule, Qin standardized coins, weights, and measures; interlinked the states with canals and roads; and is credited for building the first version of the Great Wall. A big believer of life after death, he wanted his army always with him and always there to protect him. It was rumored that he ordered all his soldiers to be murdered when he died.  His shocked advisors felt that without his army the kingdom would soon fall and so they convinced him to spare his subjects and instead to have by his side an army made of stone.

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Each soldier’s face was replicated and all figures vary in height accrding to their roles, with the tallest being generals. They were once colorful and painted.  According to writings of court historian Siam Qian during the following Han dynasty, Qin ordered the mausoleum’s construction shortly after taking the throne. More than 700,000 laborers worked on the project, which was halted in 209 B.C. amid uprisings a year after Qin’s death.

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When the pits were found, most of the statues had been broken or were damaged, partly due to the roof collapsing but mainly due to the Emperor’s enemies finding, smashing and burning his Terra-Cota army after he died. I loved walking round and seeing not only the repaired figures but it was also fascinating seeing piles of parts of warriors and weapons yet re-assembled.

It isn’t possible to walk amongst the soldiers, but we paid and got our picture taken with some plastic ones…No one needs to know ;). I would recommend waiting until after you exit the museum or even arriving at the Mausoleum (mini-mountain) to buy any Terracota replicas as they are so much cheaper here than at the entrance or even in the official factories which we were taken too before we got to see the real ones.

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Qin’s tomb itself remains unexcavated, though Siam Qian’s writings suggest even greater treasures:”The tomb was filled with models of palaces, pavilions and offices as well as fine vessels, precious stones and rarities,” reads a translation of the text. The account indicates the tomb contains replicas of the area’s rivers and streams made with mercury flowing to the sea through hills and mountains of bronze. Precious stones such as pearls are said to represent the sun, moon, and other stars. Through partial misunderstanding and also translation we thought we were going to see all of the

see wonders on our visit and so were slightly disappointed when all we got as a distant view of a wonky looking mountain.

Modern tests on the tomb mound have revealed unusually high concentrations of mercury. Whether it was meant to or not, this has meant that no one as of yet has been able to see inside and rob the Emperor of all his riches.

This was a great day trip organized by our hotel/hostel. We had some lovely local food, a very informative trip and really one of Ancient China’s finest legacies.

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12 thoughts on “Terra-Cota Army and China’s First Emperor

    1. Glad you enjoyed the story of my trip there. To be honest I’m not sure how they got so far underground, but I think that the roofs that had been built to protect them collapsed and then it all must of just filled in. Must look it up though, great question!

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      1. Haven’t planned anything as yet – a trip probably won’t be on the cards for a couple of years (lots of other getaways planned between now and then). Would love some tips on what to see/do while there though! 🙂

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      2. My trip to China took quite a few months to plan and I had had wanted to go there for a long time before I actually managed to go. A few tips would be these if you are planning on doing the Northern Beijing, Xi’An, Shanghai trip:
        In Beijing it is quite difficult to communiate to people in English and I found it impossible to get taxis as foreigners are usually considered to be best avoided. Book your ticket to Xi’An in advance, because they sell out fast! So get to your hotel and almost on your first day in Beijing book your tickets. This way you can get a bed in a private carriage. The cities are really far apart so be prepared to journey for over 18hrs straight. In Beijing get a hotel/hostel by a metro stop (all main sites are on the metro line). Roads get very blocked, it can be easy to get lost, Beijing is HUGE and walking to places which seem close on the map is impossible, so the new, cheap, air conditioned metro your best way to get around the city. The hutongs are like shanty towns, so although Lonely Planet says get lost in them, really don’t! Go to Lake Hou Hai instead (see my post) which has hutongs, wierd insects for food, a bustling and fun night market, shops and is a busy hutong in good condition around a beautiful lake. Go on a tour to the Great Wall of China because it is very far away from Beijing center. Make sure you choose a good section of the wall to visit (highly recommend the one I went to see – also in a post on the blog). The Acrobat shows are a bit wierd. Go out close to the Workers Stadium in the Foreigner’s quarter in the modern buildings. See the Olympic Stadium at night when all the lights are on. See Tianmen Square and forbidden city and make sure you leave a day to spend at the Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven Gardens as they are lovely.

        Xi’An is a lovely city. Make sure you go up ON the rampart walls (and not just to the rampart ). Take a tour to the Terracotta Warriors and don’t buy the mini figurines until AFTER you have left the museum at the end as you can get a whole box for around 2Y. There is a pagoda and a few bell tower to also see as well as a market which is very famous.

        Hope all of this helps! 🙂

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      3. Holy wow!!! So many tips and recommendations! Thank you so much. I wish I was in a position to organise my trip right away – you’ve got me inspired with all of that haha I really appreciate the time you took to pass all of that on! I’ll be sure to check out your other posts from your stay x

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  1. Although I have been to many places, China is not one of them. I do sort of have plans to make my way to see the terra cota army at some point.

    Since you have been to Asia before, If you are ever interested in visiting Bhutan, let me know.

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    1. Thank you so much for your lovely message. I am hoping to see the Himalayas soon and an adventure in beautiful Bhutan sounds wonderful!I will let you know when I am able to organize my next trip to Asia and perhaps a trip to Bhutan as well 🙂 I really enjoyed my travel to Xi’An and it was one of my favorite cities to see as the people were so friendly and the center very chic. The Terracotta Army along with the Great Wall, were two of my most anticipated visits and both really lived up to expectations. I hope you will get to go to see them soon 🙂 Again thank you for your message I really appreciate it. All the best, Abi xxx

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    1. Terima kasih banyak ! Saya sangat senang Anda menyukai blog 🙂 Saya berharap untuk datang ke Indonesia segera . Teman saya yang terbaik adalah dari sana dan kami selalu bermimpi pergi ke sana . Mungkin itu akan menjadi tujuan yang baik untuk musim dingin ini , ketika itu benar-benar dingin di sini ! Sekali lagi terima kasih atas tanggapan Anda yang indah dan saya suka foto Anda ! Abi xxx

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