Greetings dear readers! I hope you’re enjoying these final weeks of summer. I’m back from an amazing whirlwind trip to China. The sights were breathtaking, the food was mouthwatering and the temperatures were crazy hot (106° F!).
The Chinese people were patient, polite and curious. The less shy requested selfies with the Westerners and everyone kindly tolerated our lack of language and sloppy chopstick skills. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll share my many finds. Our first stop is Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Museum located in Xi’an. Let’s start with a little background.
Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BCE) was crowned king of Qin, a northwestern state in China, at the age of 13. During his reign, Qin racked up an impressive résumé. In 221 BCE he conquered and unified the 6 warring states of China. Giddy with victory, Qin christened himself the First Sovereign Emperor of China and proclaimed his dynasty would last 10,000 years. He next turned his attention to matters of state. Qin eliminated the feudal system in favor of a centralized government, improved China’s infrastructure, began construction on The Great Wall, and adopted a standardized system of writing, measurement, and currency.
Unfortunately, Qin’s lust for legalism triggered brutal crack downs on freedom of speech and religion. Books (bamboo strips in this case) were burned, protests were quashed, and dissidents, in particular, Confucian scholars, were executed. When he wasn’t engaging in paranoid coup d’état delusions or snuffing out protesters, he obsessed about death and the afterlife.
Qin commissioned the construction of a subterranean tomb packed with riches and a terracotta army so vast it would make an Egyptian pharaoh blush. He also traveled extensively in search of the elixir of life. But as luck or fate would have it, his quest for immortality failed when he fell ill and died while on yet another elixir of life junket. Lacking his iron fist, the government fell into disarray and several years of chaos and infighting ensued. Liu Bang of Han eventually seized control and quickly put an end to Qin Shi Huang’s predictions of a 10,000-year dynasty.
Local farmers discovered Qin’s tomb in 1974 when they were drilling for a well. The Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Museum has an impressive display of Qin’s terracotta warriors. Here are some noteworthy museum bites from this magnificent exhibit…
- No records of the tomb existed before its discovery in 1974.
- Mass graves on site seem to indicate the workers were executed once their duties were complete so as to ensure the tomb’s secrecy.
- The tomb sits approximately 16 feet underground and spans a whopping 38 square miles.
- It took over 700,000 laborers working for 40 years (246 to 240 BCE) to complete.
- Qin’s subterranean army was created to protect and defend him in the afterlife.
- Above-ground scans reveal approximately 8,000 terracotta warriors in all.
- 2,000 terracotta warriors have been unearthed and excavation is still in process.
- A variety of warriors, including infantry, cavalry, charioteers, and archers, guard Qin’s tomb.
- The tomb also contains terracotta horses, chariots, courtiers, and acrobats as well as precious goods (paintings, silks, gold).
- The main body parts (arms, legs, torso) of each warrior were mass produced on an assembly line.
- Artisans crafted unique faces, hair, headgear and even ears for each warrior.
- Qin’s army was originally decked out in bright colors, but the ancient paints quickly faded after exposure to the elements.
- The warriors stand over 6 feet high, much taller than the people of this time.
- Qin’s burial chamber and remains have not been excavated. Scientists fear exposure to light and air would damage these ancient relics.
Buried for over 2,000 years, the painstaking work of excavating and restoring Qin’s terracotta warriors continues to this day. If you’d like to geek out on the terracotta warriors and Qin Shi Huang’s tomb click on this National Geographic News link. I’ll be back next week with a breathtaking hike up the Great Wall. In the meantime, have a fantastic week!