It’s been described as the greatest find of the 20th Century, and touted as the eighth Wonder of the World. I was only 15 in 1974, and it was in that same year when a group of peasant farmers in the Lintong District, Xi’an, digging a well, discovered the Terracotta Warriors (Terracotta Army).
We have all seen pictures of them, but the enormity of this discovery only becomes evident when you visit the site. Awe-inspiring, Gobsmacking, Amazing, and Incredible, are all words that immediately come to mind when you first see the Army lined up in formation in their pits, but these words don’t come close to describing the sensation you have at first sight. It was much more.
The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The sculptures were buried with the Emperor in 210-209 BC, and their purpose was to protect the Emperor in his afterlife. Estimates from 2007 suggest that the three pits of sculpture hold more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses and another 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remain buried.
The Terracotta Army deserves its spot as one of China’s top attractions for a couple of reasons. Firsty, these life size and very detailed model soldiers represent the army that triumphed over all other Chinese armies, and who were the decisive factor in forming a united China over 2,200 years ago. Secondly, the production of the sculptures. It is said that construction of the Terracotta Army commenced in 246 BC when the Emperor was only 13 years old. It took 40 years to complete and the project employed a workforce of 720,000 builders.
Quoting my cousin Karin – “Emperor Qin’s remarkable achievements extend well beyond elaborate funerary art. He conquered fiefdoms of the Warring States, unified China, established a rule of law, standardised coinage, tax, weights & measures, and Chinese characters. In so doing, the country flourished. Considered the first Emperor of a unified nation, Emperor Qin even lent his name to the word “China” – a derivation of the Sanskrit and Persian words “Cīna” and “Chin” …or Qin (秦)”。
I can’t imagine a 13 year old ordering this project’s commencement and overseeing its progress for the next 40 years until his death.
As I stated, much of the Terracotta Army remains buried. Why? The Chinese Government and Archeologists are yet to find a method of preserving the original vibrant colour of these treasures, better than the earth in which they are currently entombed.