“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
This week Cheri has challenged us to illustrate the concept of “eerie”. For me, the ghostly Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi’An meet the need quite nicely. Since they were discovered by local farmers in 1974, I’ve looked forward to the day when I might see them in “person”. This year as we traveled throughout China, I finally got my chance.
“Listen up – there’s no war that will end all wars.”
The warriors are part of the funeral tomb of Qun Shi Huang the first emperor of a unified China. They were built from 210 to 209 BC, cover an area of 35 square miles, and are remarkable in many ways. Fully life-sized, each is different from the others and is equipped with weapons – cavalry soldiers are also supplied with their horses. In addition to the warriors themselves, pits were found with rare birds and animals as well as their attendants, and stables were found which had been supplied with water basins and bowls of millet as well as hay. Two sets of bronze chariots, to be used by the emperor for inspection tours after his death, took two years to restore. The workmanship on the bronze is extraordinary, and would be difficult to reproduce even today. Excavation work continues, with new findings every day.
“War does not determine who is right, only who is left.”
Sadly, along with the warriors, mass graves have been found of the craftsmen and construction workers involved in their creation. Because many of the skeletons appear to have been struggling, it is assumed they were buried alive in order to preserve the secrecy of the tomb. Also buried along with the emperor by royal decree were those of his many wives who were without children.
Using modern technology, it has been proven that the pits of the 8,000 soldiers, 600 horses and miscellaneous other figures (such as musicians, acrobats and government officials) represent a mere 1% of the pits that are known to exist.
“All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.”
Historic accounts tell us that the site was destroyed by fire during a rebellion in 206 BC. The wooden roof of the pits collapsed and left most of the warriors and their accompanying equipment shattered. Piece-by-piece, the soldiers are being painstakingly excavated, re-assembled at the excavation “hospital” (where heads are matched to bodies and bodies are matched to feet etc.), and then returned to their original position. The scale of the excavation is incredible, with hundreds upon hundreds of rows of soldiers lined up in order of their rank, ready to do battle if necessary. Foot soldiers with spears, swords or quivers of arrows, cavalry with their horses, generals with their carts – an entire army at the ready should combat become necessary in the afterlife which the emperor believed happened underground.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
The warriors were originally painted using bright colors, but it was discovered upon excavation that their colors curled after just 15 seconds of exposure to the air, and completely disintegrated within 4 minutes. As such, excavation was stopped until scientists could develop a way to protect the warriors once they were exposed to the elements. Chinese scientists, working with scientific experts from Germany, have now developed a way to preserve the color on newly-excavated figures and work is again underway.
The detail on the faces and costumes of the warriors is amazing – here are some examples of the incredible craftsmanship:
After spending the day engrossed in the amazing battalions of Qun Shi Huang’s life-sized army, we traveled to visit yet another tomb, believed to be that of a Han nobleman, excavated in 1990. This site includes some 40,000 smaller figurines estimated to be 2,000 years old. Unlike the Qin warriors, these were dressed in fabric clothing which has long-since deteriorated. You can see that the smaller soldiers are anatomically correct, and in fact a group of eunuchs, who played important roles in the ancient dynasties, was also found.
“If we don’t end war, war will end us.”
It was an incredible experience, seeing these soldiers - created over 2,000 years ago - standing at the ready to defend their emperor. There are many more such tombs awaiting discovery and exploration. Most interesting perhaps, the tomb of the emperor himself has not been opened due to concerns about it’s preservation – but supposedly it holds riches far beyond anything unearthed thus far. Records say it is an underground palace with copper walls, quicksilver rivers designed mechanically to actually flow, and whale-oil candles meant to “burn for eternity”. Some 600 satellite pits are known to exist.
“It doesn’t make a damned bit of difference who wins the war to someone who’s dead.”
“There is nothing that war has ever achieved that we could not better achieve without it.”
Seeing the warriors first-hand one cannot help but think about what life must have been like for the people after whom these terra cotta versions are patterned. Because of the position of the warriors and the lighting in the pits, photography is extremely challenging, but nevertheless worth a try. Only visiting dignitaries such as Bill Clinton, Queen Elisabeth and Vladimir Putin for example, are allowed to enter at warrior level.
Considering the time and energy that went into their creation, it is only appropriate that the warriors should be a major subject of study and fascination in today’s world. For me, it was a bucket-list item well-worthy of its place on my ever-lengthening list.
To see what some others considered “eerie”, click here.