To get to the ancient imperial capital of Xi’an we chose to travel on the incredibly fast bullet train. It was very slick and efficient and the six hour journey was comfortable. I had been looking forward to viewing the Chinese countryside but a combination of grey misty weather and the speed of travel reduced that possibility. Our fellow passengers were intriguing to watch and we did see a number of huge cities as the train slowed through their suburbs.
The strange weather continued for the short time we spent in Xi’an. It was not too cold but the tops of the huge skyscrapers disappeared in the mist. I think this was a meteorological condition rather than the pollution we had expected. My throat and lungs never felt irritated.
Throughout our stay in China it was obvious that it was compulsory for the guides to take us to large ‘official tourist’ shops. In Xi’an this resulted in the odd experience of having to traipse through a vast emporium selling replica Terracotta Warriors in all sizes before we had visited the real thing.
Difficult to pack but would have made a ‘talking point’ garden ornament. The shop also sold lacquered furniture, silk carpets, calligraphy banners and paintings. Some of the goods were very beautiful but we did not come to China to shop. At last we arrived at the site of the Terracotta Army, those iconic and mysterious soldiers who have been guarding the tomb of Qin Shi Huang for nearly 2,500 years.
The elderly gentleman in the middle above is Yang Zhifa who first came across the multitude of statues in 1974 when he was digging a well on his family farm. Now retired on a government pension he drops into the Museum shop for photo ops with visitors.
They are such an awesome sight in real life – all lined up in this enormous building which has been built over and around them. You can’t make out either the visitors or the soldiers at the far end as they are so far away.
The statues were arranged in great columns, four abreast in deep pits separated by thick, rammed earth walls. Then ‘roofs’ of logs were laid across on top. In the picture above you can see the regular indents on the tops of the walls where these were fitted.
The army was set up in battle formation with a vanguard at the front. All the men are facing the same way except for a line down both flanks where they look outwards.
The old photograph above was on display in the adjoining museum and shows some of the very early excavation work. The photograph below is of an area where the 3D jigsaws of shattered statues are being meticulously reassembled.
There is a much smaller pit with about 70 statues and it is now thought that this is the ‘command centre’ for the army.
There is still a huge amount of work to be done as can be seen above, in some of the trenches the soldiers are no longer intact or indeed standing upright. But why are these amazing sculptures here?
It is all down to Qin Shi Huang who has been designated the first Emperor of China. Qin lived from 259 BC – 210 BC and has left a very mixed legacy. Setting aside the incredible ‘army’, he had a profound influence on the newly formed ‘country’ of China, causing huge cultural and and intellectual growth and also much destruction.
From my guide book – “In order to consolidate the nascent empire, Qin Shi Huang reformed politics, economy and culture. In politics, he abolished the hereditary vassal enfeoffment system and established prefectures and counties, ruled directly by the emperor. Based on the original rules of the Qin State, the emperor adopted some regulations of other rival states to form a workable law of the Qin Dynasty. In economy, he claimed that both the agriculture and commerce were very important. Besides, tax systems began to function and coinage and metrology were all standardised. In culture, the emperor unified the Chinese characters in writing, which promoted the development of culture. However, he also surpassed scholars who were not to his liking.”
Another very notable, and very visible ‘artefact’ Qin left was that his early defensive wall building in the north of the country turned out to be the start of the Great Wall of China.
Particularly good examples of individual warriors are displayed in the museum. Amazingly each of the statues is different. The bodies and arms are all made from a small set of moulds but each head and the adornment details were added by sculptors. The detail is amazing – the hairstyles, complete with braiding, the moustaches, and buckles and bows on higher ranks.
The next example is a high ranking officer, one of 7 ‘generals’ found – defined by his double layered robe decorated with many bows, his ornate headgear tied with a bow under his chin and shoes with turned up toes.
Near to the main pit was found a series of beautiful bronze carriages and horses. These are half size models of the deluxe sedans used by Emperor Qin when he made inspection tours. It took decades of painstaking work to re-assemble the shattered remains.
In his later years Qin became paranoid and feared death. His doctors and scholars were frantically helping him in his search for the elixir of immortality when, ironically, he died as the result of imbibing mercury in one of their experiments. At the same time Qin had been building his immense mausoleum almost since he took control (some think it is ‘city size’). The site of the mausoleum is known but there is continuing debate as to how this should be explored / opened. Test probes have revealed that there are abnormally high levels of mercury, possibly as much as 100 times the normal.
The awesome Terracotta Army I had the privilege to view, and, I hope to have described to you, were put in place over 2,000 years ago to guard Emperor Qin from the evil spirits in the afterlife. He didn’t achieve immortality in the recognised human understanding of that word but he did leave an amazing legacy in historical terms.