Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Terracotta Army, China

The Terracotta Army (traditional Chinese: 兵馬俑; simplified Chinese: 兵马俑; pinyin: bīngmǎ yǒng; literally "soldier and horse funerary statues") are the Terracotta Warriors and Horses of Shi Huang Di the First Emperor of China. The terracotta figures, dating from 210 BC, were discovered in 1974 by several local farmers near Xi'an, Shaanxi province, China near the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Chinese: 秦始皇陵; pinyin: Qín Shǐhuáng Líng). The figures vary in height (184–197cm - 6ft–6ft 5in), according to their role, the tallest being the Generals. The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority still buried in the pits.
The Terracotta Army is a form of funerary art buried with the Emperor of Qin (Shi Huangdi) in 209-210 BC (his reign over Qin was from 247 BC to 221 BC and unified China from 221 BC to the end of his life in 210 BC). Their purpose was to help rule another empire with Shi Huang Di in the afterlife. Consequently, they are also sometimes referred to as "Qin's Armies". Some people think that the army was also built for protection.

The Terracotta Army was discovered in March 1974 by local farmers drilling a water well to the east of Lishan (Mount Li).[2] Mount Li is also where the material to make the terracotta warriors originated. In addition to the warriors, an entire man-made necropolis for the emperor has been excavated.

According to the historian Sima Qian (145 BC-90 BC) construction of this mausoleum began in 246 BC and involved 700,000 workers. Sima Qian, writing a century after its completion, wrote that the First Emperor was buried with palaces, scenic towers, officials, valuable utensils and 'wonderful objects', with 100 rivers fashioned in mercury and above this heavenly bodies below which he wrote were 'the features of the earth'. Some translations of this passage refer to 'models' or 'imitations' but in fact he does not use those words. [3] Recent scientific work at the site has shown high levels of mercury in the soil of Mount Lishan, appearing to add credence to the writing of ancient historian Sima Qian.The tomb of Shi Huang Di is near an earthen pyramid 76 meters tall and nearly 350 square meters. The tomb remains unopened, in the hope that it will remain intact. Only a portion of the site is presently excavated.[4]
A terracotta soldier and his horse
A terracotta soldier and his horse

Qin Shi Huangdi’s necropolis complex was constructed to serve as an imperial compound or palace. It comprises several offices, halls and other structures and is surrounded by a wall with gateway entrances. The remains of the craftsmen working in the tomb have also been found within its confines, and it is believed they were sealed inside alive to prevent them from divulging information about the tombs.

In 2007 Chinese archaeologists, using remote sensing technology, located a 30 meter high building buried above the main portion of the tomb. It appears to have four large stair-like walls. Although one of the archaeologists, Duan Qingbo, suggests that it may have been built to aid the departure of the Emperor's soul, another expert, Chen Jingyuan, questioned the nature of the discovery. He suggested that speculating as to the findings' purpose might cause complicatons for future archeologists. [5]

Of note is that fact that the terracotta soldiers are life sized and that no two are alike. Most researchers believe that each statute is based on an actual soldier of that time.

[edit] Construction
Terracotta detail. No two life-sized figures are alike in the tomb.
Terracotta detail. No two life-sized figures are alike in the tomb.

The terracotta figures were manufactured both in workshops by government labourers and also by local craftsmen. The head, arms, legs and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Studies show that eight face moulds were most likely used and then the clay was added to give them individual facial features.[6] Once assembled the intricate features such as facial expressions were added. It is believed that their legs were made in much the same way that terracotta drainage pipes were manufactured at the time. This would make it an assembly line style of production, with specific parts manufactured and assembled after being fired as opposed to crafting one solid piece of terracotta and subsequently firing it. In those days, each workshop was required to inscribe its name on items produced so as to ensure quality control; this has aided modern day historians in verifying that workshops that once made tiles and other every day items were commandeered to work on the terracotta army. Upon completion, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits outlined above in precise military formation according to rank and duty.

The terracotta figures are life-like and life-sized. They vary in height, uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank. The colored lacquer finish, individual facial features, and replica weapons and armor used in manufacturing these figures created a realistic appearance. The oroginal weapons were stolen shortly after the creation of the army and the coloring has faded greatly. However, their existence serves as a testament to the amount of labour and skill involved in their construction. It is also a confirmation of the power the First Emperor possessed that enabled him to command such a monumental undertaking as this army's manufacture.

[edit] The Pits

The four pits associated with the figures are about 1.5km east of the burial mound and are about 5 meters deep.They are outside the walls of the tomb complex as if placed there to guard the tomb from attack from the east, where all the conquered states lay. They are solidly built with rammed earth walls and ground layers as hard as concrete. Pit 1, 230 meters long, contains the main army, estimated at 6000 figures. Pit One has 11 corridors, most of which are over 3 meters wide, and paved with small bricks with a wooden ceiling supported by large beams and posts. This design was also used for the tombs of noblemen and would have resembled palace hallways. The wooden ceilings were covered with reed mats and layers of clay for waterproofing and then mounded with more soil making them when built about 2 to 3 meters higher than the ground level.[7] Pit 2 has cavalry and infantry units as well as war chariots, and is thought to represent a military guard. Pit 3 is the command post, with high ranking officers and a war chariot. Pit 4 is empty, seemingly left unfinished by its builders.

[edit] Destruction and gradual decay
Terracotta figures in various stages of re-assembly after being unearthed.
Terracotta figures in various stages of re-assembly after being unearthed.

There is evidence of a large fire that burned the wooden structures that once housed the Terracotta Army. It was described by Sima Qian, who said that the fire was a consequence of a raid on the tomb by General Xiang Yu less than five years after the death of the First Emperor. According to Sima Qian, General Xiang’s army looted the tomb and the structures holding the Terracotta Army, as well as setting fire to the necropolis and starting a blaze that allegedly lasted three months (though no other recorded great fire in history ever lasted more than seven days). Because of this, only one statue has survived intact: a statue of a kneeling archer. Despite the fire, however, much of the remains of the Terracotta Army still survives in various stages of preservation, surrounded by remnants of the burnt wooden structures.

In 1999, it was reported that the warriors were suffering from "nine different kinds of mold", caused by raised temperatures and humidity in the building which houses the soldiers, and by the breath of tourists.[8] In addition, the South China Morning Post reported that the figures have become oxidised grey from being exposed to the air, which may cause arms to fall off, and noses and hairstyles to disappear. [9] However, officials have dismissed these claims.[10] In Daily Planet Goes to China, the Terracotta Warriors segment reported that the Chinese scientists found soot on the surface of the statue, concluding that the pollution introduced from coal burning plants was responsible for the decaying of the terracotta statues.

[edit] Terracotta Army outside China
Warriors' horses in a row
Warriors' horses in a row

* At the Alden B. Dow Museum of Science & Art of the Midland Center for the Arts, Midland, Michigan, on display from January 20 to April 13, 2008. Timeless Warriors & Relics: 1500 Years of Ancient China. 50 objects including 2 warriors and a broad selection of relics rich in ceramics, with examples of bronze, silver, copper, and jade. The relics range from sculptural figures of humans and animals, to vessels, architectural elements, utilitarian objects and weaponry.[11]

* At the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, CA, on view from May 18 to October 12, 2008. Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor is the largest loan of terracotta figures and significant artifacts to ever travel to the U.S. from the tomb of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang (259–210 B.C.). Considered one of the greatest archeological discoveries of the 20th century, the First Emperor’s monumental tomb complex is contains thousands of terracotta warriors that were intended to protect him throughout eternity. The exhibition showcases 120 sets of objects that include more than fifty “level one” objects—the most important and highly restricted Chinese antiquities—and approximately twenty complete life-size terracotta figures representing all aspects of the Emperor’s army. After premiering at the Bowers Museum, Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor is scheduled to travel to the Houston Museum of Natural Science (May 18–September 25, 2009) and the National Geographic Society Museum (November 19, 2009–March 31, 2010).

* At the British Museum in London from 13 September 2007 to 6 April 2008: “The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army explores one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century, giving an insight into China’s First Emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, and his legacy. The exhibition includes a number of the world-famous terracotta warriors from Xi'an, China, which were buried alongside the First Emperor in readiness for the afterlife, as well as some of the most striking recent discoveries made on the site.” [12] 120 objects as well as 20 warriors are on display, making it the largest ever exhibition outside China.[13]
* Six of the warriors were displayed at Selfridges department store in London in 1981 as part of a marketing event called 'East Meets West'.

* Four terracotta warriors and horses from the Mausoleum were displayed at 1982 World's Fair; this was the first time China had participated in a World Fair since 1904.

* In 2004, an exhibit of the terracotta warriors was featured at 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures in Barcelona. It later inaugurated the Cuarto Depósito Art Center at Madrid [14], El Mundo, 28 September 2004. It consisted of ten warriors, four other big figures and other pieces (totalling 170) from the Qin and Han dynasties.

* Silent Warriors, 81 original artifacts including ten soldiers, were on display in Malta at the Archaeological Museum in Valletta during 2007. [15]

* The Drents Museum[16] in Assen (the Netherlands) displays 14 warriors of the Terracotta Army and over 200 other pieces, both from the First Emperor's grave as well as from other graves of the Qin and Han Dynasties and before. The exposition takes place in the period of 2 February to 31 August 2008 as part of their GoChina Project.[17]

* Forbidden Gardens, a privately funded outdoor museum in Katy, Texas has 6,000 1/3 scale replica terra-cotta soldiers displayed in formation as they were buried in the 3rd century BC. Several full-size replicas are included for scale, and replicas of weapons discovered with the army are shown in a separate Weapons Room. The museum's sponsor is a Chinese businessman whose goal is to share his country's history.

* The Santa Barbara Museum of Art included a display of the terracotta soldiers in 1998.

* Other replicas may be seen at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

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