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.


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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