Terra Cotta Army

Trip Start Aug 01, 2007
Trip End Jul 05, 2008

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Flag of China  , Shaanxi,
Saturday, May 31, 2008

Like most World Heritage sites, the Terra Cotta Warriors are astounding for their scale, craftsmanship, and longevity.  Unlike most, this effort was all for one guy's warped sense of posterity.  Castles, temples, neighborhoods, artwork, industry all have their redeeming social value.  Not this one.
China was in a period of disarray in 221 BC, an era called the Warring States period.  Enter Ying Zheng, ruler of the State of Qin, a man of bold vision and immense ambition.  Born in 259 BC, son of the king of the Qin State, (or possibly son of his prime minister, Lu Buwei) he assumed the kingdom at the age of thirteen and discarded his regent, the same Lu, by the time he was 22 to take full control of the state, at which time he also initiated construction of his mausoleum.  He ruthlessly conquered his neighboring rivals - Han, Zhao, Wei, Chu, Yan and Qi - with infrastructure, discipline, organization, and unyielding leadership.  In only about 10 years, he put an end to 250 years of warlord rule in China, establishing the first "national" government from which today's rulers still trace their origin. 
Ying was a dynamic savvy visionary.  He initiated a unified, multi-ethnic state - the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.), calling himself Qin Shi Huang, "First Emperor of Qin."  He instituted many social improvements - codified laws, standardized written script, weights, measures, and currencies, and organized a federal system of prefectures and counties, all of which are more or less in operation today, 2200 years later.   His feudal political system incorporated laws from all the conquered states, adopted racial tolerance and diversity, and served China for 2000 years.  It was a model for almost every other country until the 18th century.
He was the world's most powerful person in the world's most powerful country.  There was no challenger.  He considered his rule superior to any in Chinese history with perfectly good justification.  He quickly became obsessed with the longevity of himself and his dynasty.   Threats to his reign were savagely quashed.  Books were banned, then burned, political opponents were subdued, and opposing scholars often did not survive the argument.
For the preservation of his dynasty, chronically threatened by the Northern Huns, he undertook construction of the Great Wall. The states he conquered each had built defensive fortifications, a total of about 3000 km along what is now the Mongolian border in Central China.  Qin Shi Huang decided to link the fortifications into a single defensive wall, and assigned some 300,000 laborers over 12 years to complete the wall to a length of about 5000 meters.  Some estimates suggest that more than 1 million people were working on the wall at any one time including those providing supplies, food, water, transport, housing, surveying, engineering and management.  Subsequent dynasties continued Qin's work, extending the wall to about 6700 meters.      
Qin Shi Huang's ambition required resources.  In his autocratic rule, he was not bashful about punishment, taxes, war, or extortion to get the supplies and labor he wanted. 
His delusions became reality for the Chinese nation.  He was convinced that there existed a medication for immortality and his extensive travels were in part an exploration to find one.  He and his doctors settled on mercury as one of the ingredients, and he was reported to have been taking doses of the poison. 
In the meantime, he pressed ahead with his mausoleum in today's Lintong County, 35 kilometers east of Xi'an, designed around his fantasy that his soul could be protected eternally by the secretive and secure mausoleum guarded by the Terra Cotta army.  The Great Wall, mausoleum, and ongoing wars crippled the young nation's economy and made life miserable for the citizens.  Yet, he commanded some 700,000 workers over a 38 year period to build his "exit facility" imposing unconscionable hardships on his subjects.  He died in 210 BC, while on tour, leaving his son Hu Hai in charge, a despicable tyrant who lasted only 4 years before he was happily toppled in China's first peasant uprising.   
The mausoleum remains.  It is a site of 56 square kilometers including the mausoleum itself and the army of warriors.  There are many good websites about the facility, starting with Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terracotta_Army
The army consists of about 8000 life size warriors, each with unique facial features, hair, hats, armor, and operable weapons.  No 2 are alike.  There are infantry, archers, riders, bannermen, and commanding officers.  In addition to the warriors, there are 130 chariots, 520 regular horses and 150 cavalry horses.  So far.
Much of the accepted history of the mausoleum comes from historian Sima Qian (145 BC-90 BC), written about 100 years after the construction.  He described the emperor's intentions for the tomb and many of the features that are yet to be excavated.  The mausoleum was intentionally defensive and secretive.  All of it was buried, and although portions were ransacked by subsequent invaders, the mausoleum itself appears to be untouched.  The army was "destroyed" after Qin Shi Huang's death, apparently vandalized, then the below grade wooden structure was set on fire, burning for months.  Only one warrior has been found completely in tact.  The sod roof collapsed on the warriors and the whole army was entombed and forgotten until a farmer drilling a well unearthed fragments in 1974.  Boom!  60 million tourists in 25 years.
The warriors include standing kneeling and striding postures.  Records indicate that clay pipe manufacturers were enlisted to fabricate various parts of the warriors on behalf of the emperor, and, in fact, the legs look remarkably like clay tile sewer pipe.  The warriors range from 166.0 - 187.5 cm tall, which approximates the ranges of heights for healthy humans 2200 years ago, according to one researcher, John Komlos, at http://antiquity.ac.uk/projGall/komlos/komlos.html.  
The pits are still being excavated, warriors continue to be reconstructed.  Mounds of fragments are heaped next to partially assembled figures, waiting for the technicians to find the next piece of the puzzle.  One account says that the existing known extents could take 30 years to excavate.
And that does not include the mausoleum itself, reputed to contain all the world's treasures of the time in an underground palace 260 meters by 160 meters, about the area of Portland Airport. The palace is about 26 meters deep, with a mound on top about 15 meters high.
Along with descriptions of the interior noting that the ceiling is inlaid with pearls to represent the starry heavens and the floor made of stone forming a map of the Chinese kingdom; Sima Qian's history mentions a river of mercury and, indeed, through remote sensing, archaeologists have identified a concentration of mercury within the tomb.  No one is in any hurry to excavate the tomb.  Chinese experts have said all along that excavation will be conducted as the technology is available.  There are ongoing investigations including drilling, x-ray, and sonic surveys, but excavation is only in preliminary stages.  Speculation is rampant about the contents.
Qin Shi Huang was serious about security.  As a means to protect the tomb's secrets, workers and the palace concubines were interred with the emperor and the whole treasure is supposedly protected by deadly booby-traps.
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