The Terracotta Warriors are China’s most famous attraction after the Great Wall of China. It is one of the most impressive archeological finds in history. An entire army of thousands of life-size clay warriors, horses and chariots were unearthed 35 metres under the ground.
Terracotta Warriors of Xian
The Terracotta Warriors are amazingly lifelike and it feels as if they could simply wake up and start marching along as they did over two thousand years ago. Built by Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China, this underground army lay undiscovered for over 2200 years. You may know this era better as The Qin Dynasty.
We had two different guides telling us two different stories. It was impossible to get our facts straight and even when looking things up, we couldn’t decide what was true. In reality, everything about the Terracotta Warriors is a mystery since the Terracotta Warriors had been buried for more than 2000 years. Really, anyone could make up whatever facts they wanted. But here are a few facts about the Terracotta Warriors that we got from our conflicting reports from our guides. You decide, Are they real or are they Memorex? (old person joke)
The Story Of The Terracotta Warriors
How on earth could the Terracotta Warriors disappear and remain hidden for two millennia when everyone knew it existed? Well, according to our guide, the tyrant Emperor Qin killed everyone that helped to build the underground army.
700,000 people were enslaved over the 38 years it took to build his self-indulgent monument. Our guide told us that those left who built the monument were killed to keep anyone from revealing its location. The craftsmen were buried alive and his 3,000 concubines were forced to self-sacrifice. Other people were just plain murdered. It was then buried and hidden from view.
Our guide claimed that millions of people died making this monument over nearly 40 years. In the end, nobody was left alive to tell anyone where the 8000 Terracotta Warriors and horses leading bronze chariots were buried. The clay warriors were all left undiscovered for centuries while they kept guarded the Emperor in his afterlife.
In Search of the Tombs
Many people tried over the centuries to find the tomb of the Terracotta Warriors 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 and the Temple of Doom.
Emperor Qin’s Tomb is Also Toxic
Even today, our guide said that 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. Even the water around the Terracotta Warriors is toxic and people in neighboring villages are encouraged not to drink it.
Until they find a way to safely open the chamber, China is stuck waiting and biding their time.
Terracotta Warriors Excavations
Right now, the Terracotta Warriors excavation is put on hold. All the original warriors were colorfully painted when they were unearthed, but soon after being exposed to the air, the colors 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 to preserve said paint, and are starting to unearth the remaining army.
Discovery Of The Terracotta Warriors
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 changed in China, and Mr. Yang received a monthly allowance from the government and even spent a couple of days a week at the museum to sign books. He died at the age of 81 in 2018.
He was there during our visit to the Terracotta Warriors in 2010, but pictures of Mr. Yang were strictly prohibited. Instead, you could pay a fee to have him sign your newly purchased coffee table book. (I got this one from Wikipedia)
The Terracotta Warriors excavation site has undergone a major restoration.
We were led through 3 different pits, the most impressive being pit number one of the Terracota Warriors. This is the largest pit containing 6000 life-size warriors standing in formation.
No two warriors’ faces are alike and the detail and craftsmanship that went into each piece are astounding. It is incredible to think that someone had the audacity to build such a massive monument. Each warrior has its artist’s name etched into its foot.
The artists of the Terracotta Warriors were threatened with death if their craftsmanship wasn’t up to par and were forced to leave their signatures so that their captors would know who built what. Unfortunately, they weren’t aware that they were going to be killed anyway.
Hot Tip for Terracotta Warrior Tour
The other two pits of the Terracotta Warriors aren’t as impressive so make sure to take all your photos before moving on. We thought that each pit would become more impressive as we walked through but they become less impressive as you go.
We would suggest doing the door the opposite way around. Start at the museum, and then enter pits 3 and 2 and then save the best for last. That way you will know all about the story and what you are looking at.
Pit number two is largely unexcavated and pit three is believed to be the headquarters of the officers.
I searched the Internet to verify that I had my chamber numbers correct, people actually say that pit two is the most spectacular of the Warriors. We didn’t feel that way at all, in our opinion the most spectacular pit is number one.
Are the Terracotta Warriors authentic?
It is difficult to imagine what is real and what isn’t. Every warrior that is excavated is restored to perfection. There isn’t a chip or piece of clay missing from their face. We couldn’t help but think that there was barely anything authentic about them.
We wondered if any of them were original or if they were all replicas.
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. This story contradicts everything we were told by the same guide. One minute she told us that everyone who knew about the Terracotta Warriors and the Emperor’s tomb were killed, and the next minute she tells us that peasants raided it and burned it to the ground.
Which story is true? We do not know. But if peasants burnt it to the ground, that means that people knew about the Terracotta Warriors and not everyone was killed.
In China, history seems to be interpreted differently depending on your guide.
In China, history seems to be interpreted differently depending on your guide. We were told that the archeologists are the only people allowed to use the clay from a nearby mountain to rebuild the warriors. Okay, so do the warriors we are looking at have anything original to them at all or are they completely rebuilt by the archeologists using the genuine mountain clay that our guide so often spoke about? We don’t know.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any way of researching because while writing this post we are currently in China and most of the Internet is blocked due to censorship. For now, I will blissfully accept anything that my guide tells me and believe it wholeheartedly.
While we had a fantastic guide traveling with us throughout China on our Intrepid Travel Tour, we had different local guides for each attraction and site that we visited. Our guide at the Terracotta Warriors was local and had many fanciful things to say. You can book tours to the Terracotta Warriors with Get Your Guide from Xi’ian