This life-like and life-sized terracotta statue of a kneeling archer was discovered in a burial pit outside Xi'an , Shaanxi province , China in 1974. The greatest achievement in the history of ancient Chinese sculpture and funerary art, it is now in the collection of the Museum of the Terracotta Army in Xi'an. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the tomb of the First Emperor of Qin was one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century.
An army of more than 8000 soldiers and horses is still being excavated from the area surrounding the mausoleum of the First Emperor of Qin (r. 221-210 BCE), the founder of the Qin dynasty (221-207 BCE) and the creator of China's first unified empire. Intended to serve as his palace in the afterlife, the tomb complex was protected and surrounded by this terracotta army, which was arrayed in battle formation.
These terracotta figures were standardized and mass-produced by skilled ceramics workers in an imperial workshop, whose kins are as yet undiscovered. Frances Wood of the British Library calls them "the most extraordinary example of creative mass-production in the world." [See Wood 2008, 134] Each of the ceramic figures is stamped with the name of the craftsmen who made it [See Wood 2008, 133].
Most of the soldiers are comprised of seven separate parts, each of which was molded separately and then joined together. There are eight different types of heads, eight types of torso, two types of armor, two types of legs, two types of feet, seven types of shoes, and three types of plinths. All of these separate modules were combined in unique ways, creating an illusion of distinctness and individuality [See Ledderose 2000, 72-73]. Once these basic parts were put together, details like hats, hair, ears, eyebrows, and facial hair were individually modelled and applied [See Wood 2008, 133]. The ornateness of the decoration of these figures varied in relation to their military rank. This figure wears waist-length armor, his hair in a chignon, and stitched shoes.
All the warriors originally carried real weapons , such as iron swords, bronze spears, crossbows, and, in the case of this figure, a composite bow [See Wood 2008, 135]. The figure was firing his bow from a sitting position, with his upper body slightly turned to the left, and his hands gripping his weapon.
The terracotta figures and horses were painted with pigmented lacquer after firing, but virtually none of these pigments have survived atmospheric exposure after their excavation [See Wood 2008, 136]. This figure's face has been painted with green pigment. in some of the tombs there was bones of forgotten people who were still in the making of some soldiers when the tomb was sealed. In some of the tombs there were even houses with detailed interiors there were even housewives and servants there was also men riding tigers. this artefact is very important because it is over 2200 years old but very well preserved and it was long forgotten but has now been found. there is a tale about a man who tried to steal a small army but was seen and reported by travelers and was caught and executed.
Local Historical Context
Work on the First Emperor's tomb began as soon as he unified the Warring States into the Qin Empire . Born King Zheng of Qin, he was enthroned at age 9 in 247 BCE. An ambitious and decisiver ruler, his armies went from one military conquest to another, with the advice of his Legalist minister Li Si (d. 208 BCE). Qin succeeding in vanquishing the other warring states one by one, in huge battles with enormous casualties, involving armies of hundreds of thousands of footsoldiers. Soldiers who did not obey and build the soldiers were killed on the spot .
When his conquest was complete in 221 BCE, he adopted the title huangdi, usually translated into English as "Emperor." He would be known to history as Qin Shihuangdi, the "First Emperor of Qin." His dynasty was intended to extend over all the civilized world, and to endure until the end of time. He divided his empire into 36 provinces and 1000+ districts, each of which was administered by an appointed official, who cotrolled their subjects with severe laws and punishments.
According to the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji ), Sima Qian 's (c. 135 BCE-86 BCE) universal history of China, 700,000 convicts and forced laborers were pressed into service to work on the tomb in 212 BCE [See Watson 1993, 56]. The Emperor's body was interred there after he suddenly died in 210 BCE [See Watson 1993, 63].
According to the British Museum website : "The site was chosen for its location, protected by mountains in the south (mount Li) and west (Qinling mountains) and water to the north (Wei river)."
The tomb mound is a four-sided pyramid made of rammed earth, that now stands 64 meters above ground. It is surrounded by an outer wall with a circumference of 6 kilometers. It has not yet been excavated, because Sima Qian's description of it has dissuaded archaeologists from doing so, and current technology would not be able to preserve the objects it contained once they were exposed to the air [See Wood 2008, 129].
According to Sima Qian's account: "Replicas of palaces, scenic towers, and the hundred officials, as well as rare utensils and wonderful objects, were brought to fill up the tomb. Craftsmen were ordered to set up crossbows and arrows, rigged so they would immediately shoot down anyone attempting to break in. Mercury was used to fashion imitations of the hundred rivers, the Yellow River and the Yangtze, and the seas, constructed in such a way that they seemed to flow. Above were representations of all the heavenly bodies, below,the features of the earth. 'Man-fish' oil was used for lamps, which were calculated to burn for a long time without going out." [See Watson 1993, 63].
An artificial mountain, the First Emperor's tomb mound expresses the belief that he was a cosmic ruler whose rule transcended space and time, and that he was an earthly ruler who would continue to rule his empire from the afterworld [See Wood 2008, 130; Lewis 2007, 89]. According to Stanford historian Mark Edward Lewis , his "tomb complex copied both the Qin state and the world [See Lewis 2007, 90].
While the First Emperor intended his empire to last forever, it collapsed under the reign of his son and successor, the Second Emperor of Qin, in 207 BCE [See Watson 1993, 73]. After a peasant rebellion broke out in 209 BCE, and civil war ensued amongst regional warlords. The eventual victor, a commoner named Liu Bang (256-195 BCE), defeated his rivals in 202 BCE to become Emperor Gaozu of the Han dynasty (206 BCE-202 CE), which endured for another 400 years.
In the greater scheme of world history, the terracotta warriors of the tomb of the First Emperor of Qin represent one of several great building programs, including the early antecedent of the Great Wall and the new capital city of Xianyang [see Lewis 2007, 90-91]. Even though his imperial achievements were short-lived Chinese historians see the First Emperor as the founder of the Chinese empires, and the imperial bureaucracy that governed China until the end of the imperial system in 1911 CE [see Wood 2007, 1]. His reign represents an epochal shift from feudal to bureaucratic systems of governance, which was the most crucial political transformation in premodern Chinese history, and arguably, in world history.
Ledderose, Lothar. Ten Thousand Things: Module and Mass Production in Chinese Art. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.
Lewis, Mark Edward. The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.
Sima Qian, trans. Burton Watson, Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
Wood, Frances. China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2008.
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