China’s Terracotta Warriors On Tour in the USA
Have you ever wanted to see the famous Terracotta Warriors and just could not figure out how to get to China on a budget? You’re in luck! China’s Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor’s Legacy is on tour in the USA. We had a chance to check it out at Discovery Times Square in New York City, and you can too when the warriors march to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and on to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, CA.
Imagine you are a poor British farmer digging for a well back in 1974. Instead of water you find a castle – not just any castle, but Camelot, complete with Round Table. Imagine how you would feel, finding the mythical. That is how well-diggers in the Shaanxi province in northern China felt when they found found the tomb of China’s First Emperor.
Qin Shi Huang, First Emperor of China
Qin Shi Huang was 13 years old when he became king of the Chinese State of Qin in 246 BC, during what is known as the Warring States Period. At the age of 38, after having unified all of China, he declared himself First Emperor. He for eleven years, his death in 210 BC. During that time Qin Shi Huang instituted economic and political reforms, created a massive national road system, and built a Great Wall. In the process many lives were lost; Qin Shi Huang even buried scholars alive, outlawing and burning their books in the name of stability. However the fact remains, he changed China forever.
In 246 BC, soon after his ascension to the throne, work began on Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum and necropolis complex. Besides a full scale replica of the lands he rules – complete with flowing rivers of mercury – Qin Shi Huang was buried with approximately 8,000 terracotta warriors. These warriors not only protected Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife, they ensured he would always have a populace to rule over. Besides soldiers there are chariots, horses and non-military figures.
An Army of Clay
Each of the terracotta warriors is at least six feet tall and weighs over 600 pounds. They are all unique. Their heights differ according to rank, their costume and hair change as well. The feet, arms and heads were cast in molds while the torso was built by coiling the terracotta clay. Additional clay was added to provide the facial features unique to each statue. All pieces were created separately and then put together in an assembly line. The statues were perfected from their hair down to their fingernails.
The Warriors were discovered in the pits in precise military formation, lined up by rank and duty. Originally many of the statues held real weapons, but most have since been looted or destroyed by time and elements. The figures were also brightly colored, but the lacquer finish can be destroyed by the dry air of Xi’an in as little as fifteen seconds.
Altogether there are four pits surrounding burial mound of Qin Shi Huang. The army protects him from the lands he has conquered; all face east. Over the pits are wooden ceilings, waterproofed with reed mats and layers of clay.
All This and More
Ten of these terracotta soldiers can be seen in the exhibit. Besides the Terracotta Warriors, artifacts are on display from the centuries prior to the rise of Qin Shi Huang. Pieces of everyday life, such as cooking and wine vessels, belts, bells, pendants, weapons and even structural fittings and roof tiles are on display.
Added to the exhibit are artifacts from the Han Dynasty, which followed the Qin Dynasty and was quite peaceful in contrast. The highlights of this part of the exhibit include figurines from the tomb of Emperor Gaozu, the first of the Han Dynasty. These statuettes are closer to 20 inches in size, and included in this collection are representations of female soldiers.
The Terracotta Warriors were on exhibit at Discovery Times Square April 27 – August 26th, 2012. The exhibit is currently at the Minneapolis Institute of Art from October 28 – January 20, 2013, before traveling to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco where it will reside from February 22 – May 27, 2013.
Disclosure: I received free entrance to the exhibit for the purposes of writing this article. As always, my opinions are mine alone.