Sunday, April 26, 2009

Terracotta Army.


I
t would be absolutely unthinkable, in my mind, to be in Beijing and not make a trip to nearby Xi'an to see the famed Terracotta Army. So I am going :-)

Discovered only in 1974 by local farmers in the area, it is thought that the figures date back to 210 BC. It did not take long after the initial discovery by the farmers for archeologists to descend on the site and begin excavation.

The figures of the Terracotta Army are buried about 5 meters beneath the ground. To date, three pits of figures have been unearthed. The figures are lined up in military formation with three rows of life-sized soldiers, the vanguards, heading the formation. Officers riding on horse-drawn, wooden chariots follow behind. The remaining rows are made up of soldiers.

Each life-sized officer soldier is outfitted to reflect his rank but the face of each is different....reflecting the various ethnic groups that made up the army. The figures vary in height from 6ft to 6ft 5in in height, according to their role, the tallest being the generals.

Current estimates are that in the three pits containing over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits. Additionally, other pits have been unearthed that contain figures of government officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians as well as a variety of weaponry including bronze swords, spears, and crossbows.





It's estimated that it took 700,000 laborers 40 years to build the Terracotta Army. Amazing!!

The army was built for the Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di who was the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty. The Qin conquered all of China in 221 BC, and a vast unified state was born. As the head of this dynasty, Qin Shi Huang Di is considered by many to be the first "emperor" of a unified China....an important historical figure, to say the least.

Considering that the figures were made of terracotta which is a material that can easily shatter and the fact that they were buried in relatively shallow pits, it's amazing that this Army has survived, pretty much intact, for more than 2 centuries.

View a short documentary video on the Terracotta Army.

Aside from the fact that they have survived through the ages, it's a wonder to me how these figures were built to begin with. Apparently, individual body parts were carved out of clay with facial features added to give each figure a different appearance. The parts were fired individually in kilns and then assembled. The mastery of the carvers was quite something - to make individual life-like looking figures and animals requires artistic skill.

....and it's really hard to believe this was done more than 2000 years ago without any of the modern tools we have today including molds and thermometers to set oven temperatures with. I imagine that there were mistakes made and figures that shattered in the *construction* of the Army so the 8,000 figures that made it to the pits reflect just a subset of the actual number of figures built. The scale and scope of this construction effort is just mind boggling to me!

Something like this will never be built in our modern times....it's truly a national treasure and it's no wonder the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, as the Terracotta Army is officially known as, is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

I am very excited to be going to see them!!