A visit to the terracotta army

When visiting China, one should not keep them away from a visit to Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s terracotta army based in Xian city, where they will, for sure, be astounded by how the emperor could build his own gigantic tomb, with a clay-backed crowded army. Thanh Tung makes a tour to the army site.

A visit to the terracotta army
Xian city, a delegation from Vietnam visited emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb guarded by the famous terracotta army

It has been an amazing trip to China’s Xian city as we have had a big chance to admire the world-famous Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s terracotta army, which is home to thousands of clay-baked warriors, horses, and chariots used to protect the emperor’s eternal rest.

A group of Vietnamese journalists begin the trip at 8.30 AM to go through 35 kilometres within a one-hour traffic jam from the city’s centre to get the site, now a gigantic museum attracting thousands of visitors to China.

Here we are told that Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China who ruled from 246 BC to 210 BC, managed to build magnificent and enormous construction works during his 35-year reign.

The emperor ordered the construction of a gargantuan tomb for himself. Plans for the tomb included unimaginable things, such as flowing rivers of mercury, which was associated with immortality, and an army to protect him, cross-bow traps to spoil would-be plunderers, and replicas of Huang’s earthly palaces.

A visit to the terracotta army
A kneeling archer whose bow has been eaten away by the ravages of time

The terracotta army

The tourist guide tells us that in 1974 when a group of peasants was digging a well, they unearthed fragments of life-sized terra cotta warriors made in the Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC) entirely by accident. Before the pits were discovered, people in modern times used to build tombs on top of the pits.

The great excavation, which has been a massive undertaking, revealed that a terracotta army of at least 8,000 clay-baked soldiers, terracotta horses, along with many real chariots and weapons had been placed within the tomb. Over 2,200 years old, they were aimed to guard the emperor in the afterworld.

Surprisingly, each soldier was modeled after an actual person, with unique facial features, although the bodies and limbs were seemingly mass-produced from molds. Many have questioned whether the soldiers were modeled after real warriors or whether they were made from a production line with random individual details, such as hairstyle, added to mark them apart.

The museum, beginning to open to the public in 1979, includes many works worth seeing, with three pits housing ancient warriors, horses, and objects.

A visit to the terracotta army
Pit 1 houses 6,000 unique terracotta soldiers in war formation

Pit 1, excavated in 1974 when the local farmers were drilling a well, covers an area of 14,260 square metres. It has an oblong shape with chariots and ranks of 6,000 soldiers arranged in a war formation, which reflects a vivid display of Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s well-disciplined army.

A visit to the terracotta army
The emperor’s terracotta guardians have been standing in formation for more than 2,200 years

Pit 2 is the most spectacular among the three pits. It has 1,400 figures of cavalrymen, horses and infantrymen, along with 19 wooden chariots.

Meanwhile, Pit 3 is a concave structure covering an area of 520 square metres. Since there is no combat formation in Pit 3, but only 68 warriors and one chariot, archeology experts speculate that it is very likely the command post for the entire army.

It is reported that construction of the burial mound began as soon as Qin Shi Huang ascended the throne, and involved hundreds of thousands of artisans and labourers.

A visit to the terracotta army
A high-ranking officer riding a chariot

The mausoleum

As he entered middle age, the emperor grew increasingly afraid of death and obsessed with finding the elixir of life, which he believed would enable him to live forever. It was said that the court doctors and alchemists concocted medicines, some containing “quicksilver” or mercury, especially for him. However, the substance was believed to be the very cause of his early death.

The emperor himself is buried under an enormous pyramid-shaped mound that stands some distance from the excavated clay-baked soldiers. It is reported that the central tomb contains treasures and wondrous objects, including the rivers of pure mercury. Soil testing nearby revealed elevated levels of mercury, so there may be some truth to this legend.

Legend also records that the central tomb is booby-trapped to scare away looters, and that Qin Shi Huang himself placed a powerful curse on any one who dared to invade his final resting place.

Currently the central tomb has yet to be opened to the public.

By Thanh Tung



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