Day 38: Off to see the Terracotta Warriors


Today was a bucket list kind of day… off to see the Terracotta Army outside of Xi’an.

The fact that they were discovered by accident as a result of local villagers sinking a deeper well in 1974 tickles my sense of humour.

Nobody was looking for them because there were no historical records about them.

No, they aren’t queuing to leave the tombs – the sign Mark’s the spot where the well was sunk.

Once the importance of the site was recognised, huge hangars were built to protect the site and the museum opened in 1979. When exactly? October 1st – National Holiday, Golden Week.

And what happened to the village?

It was relocated, just outside the new museum. There isn’t as much farming done these days as the locals have focused their work on the tourist trade.

The sight of the warriors is extraordinary. Each one is different.

According to our guide, Phoebe, the Chinese believed each would be filled with a soul, and they would guard the emperor in the afterlife.

Cannon fodder – those without armour – at the front. Higher ranks, wearing armour, behind. Of course.
No generals have been found here – the emperor was the supreme commander… and you never know when generals may compete for power, even in the afterlife.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first to unify China, decided to have a Terracotta Army accompany him into the afterlife, rather than real men.

Before you marvel at this humane vein of thinking, just remember the concubines were expected to join him in death.

Of course, they could choose the manner by which they died: poisoning, knife or hanging.

What a time to have been to be alive.

Those who had given birth to the emperor’s offspring were exempted. They would then have to try to keep themselves and their children alive if the new emperor decided to eliminate the sibling competition.

Back to the Warriors… Building the site and filling it with at least 8,000 (discovered so far) took thirteen years.

The warriors assembled here were not found intact.

After the fall of the Qin Dynasty (which lasted fifteen years), the usurping army destroyed the mausoleum which housed them. Smashing the warriors and allowing water to wash mud through the site, they hoped to eliminate their souls and ensure they couldn’t guard the emperor in the afterlife.

These figures have all been assembled by archeologists working painstakingly on each figure.

Each warrior is around 1.8 or 1.9m – taller than the average person who would have been 1.5m. The emperor wanted an army that could look after him.

The horses are only 1.3m – average for the time before Chinese armies started using cavalry.

Many more are hidden beneath the mud. The intention is to wait until technology has advanced to repair more without damaging the warriors.

It will be worth it. The detail that has been retained on the warriors is incredible.

And why did the soldiers all have long hair?

Gruesome Fact No 42 in an occasional series… it’s easier to carry the captured heads of your enemy if you can just fasten them around your belt.

The more men you killed, the greater your reward: a house, promotion, freeing your family from slavery. Every little helps, to quote a certain supermarket.

Tour arranged through China Highlights.

*Featured Photo: An Imperial horse and carriage ready to transport you, well, not you – you’re a commoner – to the afterlife.

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