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.