Terracotta Warriors in Life and the Media

Since in this week’s last class we talked about ancient China, I thought it would be a good idea to do my blog about the terra-cotta warriors.

Four years ago, during Spring Break, I went to Washington D.C. with my family and while there I was able to visit the ‘Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor’ exhibit at the National Geographic Museum. It was a cool exhibit, although being younger, I didn’t fully realize what an important find it was and I didn’t appreciate the history of the terra-cotta warriors (my parents were forever going to museums and dragging us kids along with them. Needless to say we weren’t always interested in the exhibits, and this particular trip I was more interested in the gift shop).

Anyway, according to my article workers that were digging a well in 1974 found one of the life-size clay soldiers. Archaeologists then uncovered thousands more in an excavated dig. The warriors had unique facial expressions and were “positioned according to rank”. The terra-cotta army were “part of an elaborate mausoleum created to accompany the first emperor of China into the afterlife”. They were originally brightly painted, although now they are gray. Ying Zheng took the throne and 20 years later took the name Qin Shi Huang Di – the First Emperor of Qin because he had “unified a collection of warring kingdoms”. According to records of the time, Qin ordered the construction of the mausoleum soon after he took the throne. The mausoleum was never finished due to uprisings after Qin’s death, but 3 of the 4 pits at the site contained terra-cotta warriors.


Another article I read about the terra-cotta warriors said that the “shapes of the faces [taken together with the shape of the head and hairstyle] of the 8,099 soldiers, corresponded to just 10 shapes of the 10,516 character Chinese alphabet”. According  to some, the faces of the terra-cotta warriors tell a story about the Sun and God.


I think that there are a lot of romanticized misconceptions about the terra-cotta warriors, mainly because of movies portrayed about them. Most recently (and I use the term loosely) has been The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008). For those unfamiliar with the story, Alex O’Connell, Rick and Evelyn O’Connell’s son, unearths the mummy of the first Emperor of Qin — a shape-shifting entity cursed by a witch centuries ago. The Emperor becomes immortal and awakens his terra-cotta army to conquer the world. For some reason, Wendy Wu: Homecoming Queen (2006) also comes to mind, but the terra-cotta warriors were only showed in a few scenes and not an important element in the story. In the movie Arabian Nights (2000), the terra-cotta warriors also make an appearance during the Aladdin story told, but again it is only for one scene.

2 thoughts on “Terracotta Warriors in Life and the Media

  1. Abagail Gray

    The terra-cotta warriors are an incredible find, and a great addition to the history of ancient China. It is surprising though that they were not discovered until the 1970s. Over 8,000 life-sized solider statues stayed hidden underground for thousands of years. There were even horses and chariots, and other nonmilitary figures discovered.

    These terra-cotta warriors of ancient China are a great example of the monumental works that can be accomplished by a state, with the accompanying state authority. This statue army is somewhat different from the pyramids, sphinx, or great wall that probably come to mind, but the design and creation of over 8,000 soldiers is certainly monumental.

    The first emperor China, Qin Shi Huang Di, was guided and guarded into the afterlife by this army. Every statue was shaped with a hairstyle, distinct facial features, clothes, and a specific height that reflected his rank in the terra-cotta army. There is even residue and evidence that they were all painted. This amount of detail must have required countless man-hours; work that would not have been accomplished without the threat of state authority hovering behind them throughout the process. One of the four pits excavated was not filled with soldiers, indicating that worked stopped on the production of the army. This presumably happened when Qin died and the state authority threat was no longer a motivator.

    It is not shocking that these warriors are portrayed in movies and the like. With film romanticizing many archeological concepts and discoveries (look at all the movies about mummies and Indian Jones), I am actually a little surprised the army is not in more movies.

  2. wrigh399


    I was intrigued by your article as I too had been inspired to write on this famous piece of Chinese history an architecture for my third blog post. I was very entertained by the way you were able to tie in a personal history to the subject to yourself. I also enjoy the detailed illustrations that you give to detailing the pieced such as how each individual sculpture has its own distinctive likeness that separates it from its other stone brothering. I also greatly enjoyed the way that you were able to reference popular culture impacts of the warriors including their appearances in the Mummy which was were I first discovered the subject as well as your references to other bizarre works such s Wendy Wu: Homecoming Queen, a reference I was not expecting but did greatly enjoy. I enjoyed that you were able to mention construction of the pits as I spent a portion of my blog post studying those pits and the discovery of the 4th pit and why there were no warriors in it would have been a little interesting to see, but otherwise I did greatly enjoy your article. With that being I was a little concerned with your writing style and would have enjoyed at least one or two more sources in the article, but otherwise a very fine job on a very interesting and important piece of history that is still being hailed as one of the finest works of architecture and historical finds the world has ever known

Comments are closed.