The Terracotta Warriors are one of those things I remember catching flashes of in encyclopedias, and glimpses of on the television as a kid – something so far-flung, different, and well dare I say it…Chinese. Hopefully you will allow me the narrow view that comes with youth, as back then China equated to nothing more than karate, yin and yang (which I believe I called Ying n’ Yang), and also a massive wall which everyone seemed to be pretty excited about. Let’s just say it may as well have been a whole other world, there was as much chance of me going there as there was the moon.
But fast forward some years and there I am…stood at the feet of one of the most breathtaking archeological finds in the whole of history…mind I was still about the same mental age, just a tad taller. I’m overjoyed I’ve managed to retain my sense of awe, thankfully that still hasn’t died yet, so I was blown away by the thousands of life size clay warriors, horses and chariots that were now in formation in front of my eyes. It was just like the pictures in the encyclopedia! Like a form of magic, they look so real…surely they would spring into life soon, and I’d have to fight them off with my lethal karate chop combos – WAPOWWWW! KAPOWW! YUHHH!
Ahem, sorry. Got carried away…
Anyway, yes – the terracotta warriors; China’s second most famous tourist attraction, after The Great Wall. Thought up by a terrifyingly lovely chap named Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who had the mysterious army built and all those that involved on the project murdered…how’s that for appreciation, jheez! Something tells me that wasn’t in the contract!
Well obviously there wasn’t a contract, I’m just being facetious – truth is millions of people were enslaved to fashion this hedonistic monument, a portion of which who were killed in order to keep the entire operation secret…either by (forced) self-sacrifice, or just straight-up murder. Essentially the whole thing is pretty nasty, but that probably doesn’t surprise you…humans have had a speciality for this sort of messed up morally muddy business all throughout history.
They were all left undiscovered for centuries while they kept guarded the Emperor in his afterlife.
Many people tried over the centuries to find the tomb and many failed. It was well hidden and even if you did find a way in, booby traps were set up to keep anyone from entering the mausoleum 35 meters underground. It was like something out of Indiana Jones.
Emperor Qin’s tomb is also toxic.
Even today, scientists cannot open Emperor Qin’s underground palace. They know it is there, but there is no way to open it because the Emperor is buried in mercury (they assume) an extremely toxic and dangerous gas. Until they find a way to safely open the chamber, China is stuck waiting and biding their time. Even the Terracotta Warriors excavation is put on hold. All the original warriors were colourfully painted when they were unearthed, but soon after being exposed to the air, the colours disappeared and faded. Nobody wants to unearth any more warriors until they figure out a way to preserve the paint. Apparently, they have found a way and are starting to unearth the remaining army.
Even the water around the Terracotta Warriors is toxic and people are encouraged not to drink it.
I found this point to be very ironic since it was a farmer in 1974 that discovered the terracotta warriors while digging a well.
This was back in the days of Chairman Mao and the farmer, Mr. Yang was given a mere 50 Yuan ($7.50) for making the most significant find of the 20th century. Luckily times have changed in China and today Mr. Yang receives a monthly allowance from the government and even spends a couple of days a week at the museum to sign books. He was there during our visit to the Terracotta Warriors, but pictures of Mr. Yang are strictly prohibited. Instead you can pay a fee to have him sign your newly purchased coffee table book.
The site has undergone major restoration.
We were led through 3 different pits, the most impressive being pit number one. This is the largest containing 6000 life size warrior’s standing in formation. No two warriors faces are alike and the detail and craftsmanship that went into each piece is astounding.
During our tour we were told that the underground army had been raided at one point in time and peasants burnt it to the ground. It contradicts everything we were told by the same guide.
One minute she tells us that everyone who knew about the Terracotta Warriors and the Emperors tomb was killed, the next minute she tells us that peasants raided it and burned it to the ground.
Which is true we do not know. But if peasants burnt it to the ground, that means that people knew about it.