The Terracotta Army

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Confession:  I was more excited about going to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors than I was to visit the Great Wall of China.  And, in hindsight, I was not wrong.  These guys are so cool!  If you are ever in China, they are well worth the (high-speed or sleeper) train ride from Beijing.

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Outside of Xi’an, China, archaeologists have uncovered thousands of terracotta soldiers, horses, chariots, and other battle equipment.  The figures were constructed around 200 BC to guard the tomb of the first Chinese emperor and to insure that he retained his military might in the afterlife.

Confession:  I was more excited about going to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors than I was to visit the Great Wall of China.  And, in hindsight, I was not wrong.  These guys are so cool!  If you are ever in China, they are well worth the (high-speed or sleeper) train ride from Beijing.

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Outside of Xi’an, China, archaeologists have uncovered thousands of terracotta soldiers, horses, chariots, and other battle equipment.  The figures were constructed around 200 BC to guard the tomb of the first Chinese emperor and to insure that he retained his military might in the afterlife.

The detail that was used in creating this army was breathtaking.  Each warrior is unique, with his own facial features, hairstyle, uniform, and equipment.  There are statues of soldiers of different ranks and ages, and all of them were found carrying real weaponry and wearing hand-painted armor.  Time and exposure to oxygen have since destroyed most of the paint on these guys, but they are still amazing.  They stand significantly taller than what life-sized would have been in 200 BC, and are so detailed that the emperor (who died around age 40) must have devoted a significant portion of his reign to commissioning the preparations for his death and burial.

ImageThe photo above shows Pit 1, the largest of the four main excavation sites that contain warriors.  There is also a pit that contains mostly generals and officers (kind of like a war room).  The fourth pit has not yet been excavated due to time and financial constraints, though x-ray technology shows that it also contains soldiers.

From the photos, it kind of looks like archaeologists have just dusted the dirt off these guys and lined them up for battle, but that’s not really accurate,  Each warrior has been painstakingly glued back together by hand after his remnants were unearthed.  It’s like the biggest, most complex jigsaw puzzle imaginable.

ImageThese warriors are in the process of being re-assembled. In addition to soldiers and their weaponry, archaeologists have also uncovered terracotta horses, stable hands, bronze chariots, and all manner of tools and utensils that would have been needed for daily life.  Oh, and they found real bodies, too.  Lots of ‘em.  After the construction of the warriors and the emperor’s tomb facilities were completed, he (like other Chinese monarchs after him) murdered everyone who had had a hand in its construction.  In order to discourage grave robbing, he had all of them buried alive in the tomb along with the emperor.  The theory was that if no one knew the schematics and scope of the burial place, they would be less able to successfully pillage it.

And you can’t argue with his efficacy.  The terracotta warriors remained undiscovered until 1974, when a group of local farmers turned up  a head and several other terracotta body parts while digging a well about a mile from the emperor’s burial mound.  These farmers went from poor country boys to overnight celebrities, and they still make appearances at the museum to sign copies of books about the warriors for tourists.  In fact, the farmer we met was illiterate until after the warriors’ discovery, when he was taught how to write his name in both the Chinese and Western alphabets in order to give autographs.

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This guy’s a high ranking officer, as evidenced by his neat grooming, more elaborate uniform, and burgeoning pot belly.

I remember watching a television program about the warriors about ten years ago and thinking two things:  1)  These are really amazing, and 2) This TV show is the closest I will ever get to seeing them.

I am so glad I was wrong.  There are so many beautiful, crazy, interesting things to see and do in this world.  I am unbelievably fortunate to have been able to see and experience so many of them.

Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: China, Korea, places to see, Terracotta Army, Things to Do, Travel, Xi’an



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