Xian Terracotta Warriors – Facts – Are They Real and How Were They Made

The Terracotta Warriors are China’s most famous attraction after the Great Wall.  

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

terracotta warriors featured image

The 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 know this era better as the Qin Dynasty.

The story of the Terracotta Warriors

How on earth could something disappear when everyone knew it existed?

Well, the tyrant Emperor Qin killed everyone that helped to build the underground army. 

Millions of people were enslaved over the 38 years it took to build his self-indulgent monument and 700,000 people were killed to keep anyone from revealing its location.

xian wall china

Terracotta Warriors are located just outside Xian

It was then buried and hidden from view.  Some people were buried alive. His 3,000 concubines were forced to self-sacrifice and other people were just plain murdered.

Nobody was left alive to tell anyone where the 8000 Terracotta Warriors and horses leading bronze chariots were buried. 

They were all left undiscovered for centuries while they kept guarded the Emperor in his afterlife.

terracotta warriors rows

Pit Number 1 of Terracotta Warriors, Largest and Most Impressive

In Search of the Tombs

Many people tried over the centuries to find the tomb 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.

Emperor Qin’s tomb is also toxic.

terracotta warriors xian china

Even today, 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. 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 colourfully painted when they were unearthed, but soon after being exposed to the air, the colours 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 and are starting to unearth the remaining army.

terracotta warriors leader

If you visit in a few years time, you may see thousands more warriors.

Even the water around the Terracotta Warriors is toxic and people are encouraged not to drink it.

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 have changed in China and today Mr. Yang receives a monthly allowance from the government and even spends a couple of days a week at the museum to sign books.

terracotta warriors yang zhifa

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

He was there during our visit to the Terracotta Warriors, but pictures of Mr. Yang are strictly prohibited.

He was there during our visit to the Terracotta Warriors, but pictures of Mr. Yang are strictly prohibited. Instead, you can pay a fee to have him sign your newly purchased coffee table book. (I got this one off of 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.

This is the largest containing 6000 life-size warrior’s standing in formation.

No two warriors faces are alike and the detail and craftsmanship that went into each piece are astounding.

terracotta warriors troops

No two faces are alike.

It is incredible to think that someone had the audacity to build such a massive monument. Each warrior has its artists name etched into its foot.

They were threatened with death if their craftsmanship wasn’t up to par and were forced to leave their signature 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 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, enter pit 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.

terracotta warriors horses

Pit number three, the officers' headquarters

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.  It contradicts everything we were told by the same guide.

One minute she tells us that everyone who knew about the Terracotta Warriors and the Emperors tomb was killed, the next minute she tells us that peasants raided it and burned it to the ground.

Which is true we do not know. But if peasants burnt it to the ground, that means that people knew about it.

terracotta warriors statue

Terracotta warrior restored to perfection

In China, history is interpreted differently depending on your guide.

We are 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 we are 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.

You can book tours with Get Your Guide from Xi'ian

While we had a fantastic guide travelling 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 many fanciful things to say.

Read More:

Best Things to Do in China

Your China Travel Guide

A Good Day in Xi’an

The Forbidden City, A Long Tour on a Cold Day

Top 10 Things to Do in Shanghai, China


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