The Terracotta Warriors of China

Traveling to China - Terracotta WarriorsAs you begin planning your upcoming trip to the People’s Republic of China, there are a few crucial steps you’ll need to take. Get your passport and visas, research flights and buy your tickets to China. But before you start packing your luggage and exchanging currency, you’ll want to decide on your perfect itinerary. Start planning where in this beautiful, dynamic nation you’d like to visit. One of the most popular and fascinating destinations resides in the bustling city of Xi’an (population 8.5 million) — home to one of the most visited UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country. Each year, millions of people fly to China to visit one of the most striking man-made marvels in the world.

The Excavation

In March 1974, a group of farmers were digging a well when they discovered what would become one of the greatest archeological excavations in the world: The Terracotta Army. What they found was the largest group of pottery figures ever unearthed in China. This collection of sculptures, also known as the “Terracotta Warriors and Horses”, depicts the armies of the Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The collection includes over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses and 150 cavalry sculptures — all made of terracotta, an earthenware clay. His mausoleum is the largest preserved site in the entire country.

The First Emperor

During his reign, The First Emperor made impressive advancements as the leader of the first unified Chinese empire, The Qin Dynasty. He gained influence and power by conquering the seven warring states using advanced weaponry and military strategy. He was responsible for unprecedented cultural, economic and military advancements under his rule. To display his power over the rulers of the states he seized, he commissioned over 270 palaces in his capital city. And then he spent over 30 years building his tomb, in which he would reign for eternity.

The Terracotta Warriors were a form of funerary art buried with the Emperor to protect him in the afterlife. Qi Shi Huang, who ascended to the throne at the age of 13, was buried in 210-209 BC and many of the discovered sculptures are still buried near his mausoleum. The Emperor planned for his tomb to sit at the bottom of Mount Li, buried inside an earthen pyramid. It is hermetically sealed and remains unopened; there has been speculation that the tomb contains valuable artifacts that may be damaged if the grave is opened.

Assembly Line

Over 700,000 city laborers and local craftsman created the man-made necropolis until the emperor’s death. The life-size figures have eight different face molds, with additional clay used to individualize features. Later intricate facial expressions were added. In an assembly line production, each of the limbs and torso was crafted and manufactured after being fired, and then put together. To ensure quality control, the imperial leadership required workers to inscribe their name on every item they produced. Modern historians and archeologists have been able to identity that the figures were crafted in a workshop from these inscriptions. Originally the army was painted with brightly colored pigments. After the terracotta figures were completed, they were placed in pits according to their military rank and duty. Many of the soldiers hold real ancient weaponry such as crossbows, spears or swords. They stand at attention in military formation. Other weapons found at the excavation site include battle-axes, scimitars, shields, arrowheads and four types of chariots.


About 1.5 kilometers east of the Emperor’s burial ground are four large pits. Many of the soldiers reside inside, facing east towards the Emperor’s conquered states. Visitors can also view non-military terracotta figures, including government officials, acrobats and musicians. Since October 2010, the Emperor’s mausoleum and the terracotta soldiers have been combined into one easily accessible attraction called the Emperor Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum State Park. Visiting the Terracotta Army is must-see for anyone planning to fly to China.

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