Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China Exhibition

A cavalry soldier and his horse
A cavalry soldier and his horse

Defenders of China's First Emperor

I love ruins. I am fascinated by archaeological findings and relics so when I heard about the discovery of thousands of life-sized terracotta warrior sculptures buried inside an emperor's burial ground in northern China, my interest was piqued. I pored over an old National Geographic issue that featured them and thought what a wondrous thing to find and reminded me how many things, for all our modernity, that we still don't know. However, I knew that my chances of seeing them in person would be slim considering that it would take a few thousand dollars to get to China, travel to the location, get a hotel and go on a tour to see them not to mention the time this visit would take. Little did I know that if I could not make the visit, some terracotta warriors were willing to accommodate me by visiting my city.

I saw an ad of a new exhibit at Discovery Times Square, "Terracotta Warriors: Defenders of China's First Emperor", and immediately made plans to see it during the middle of the exhibition period so that I could avoid the crowds. This was a temporary exhibit and I thought many people would see it at the beginning and at the end, I knew I was not the only one who wanted to see these ancient warriors. I tried several Saturdays in a row to see it and there was always a line. Grudgingly accepting that I will have plenty of company I bought a ticket and went inside.

Headgear and Hair

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A cavalry soldierA high-ranking officialA high-ranking officer with a view of his headgear from the sideA charioteerAn official (from the front)The same official up close from the backA soldier...up closeThe sideview shows his simple top-knot hairstyle
A cavalry soldier
A cavalry soldier
A high-ranking official
A high-ranking official
A high-ranking officer with a view of his headgear from the side
A high-ranking officer with a view of his headgear from the side
A charioteer
A charioteer
An official (from the front)
An official (from the front)
The same official up close from the back
The same official up close from the back
A soldier...up close
A soldier...up close
The sideview shows his simple top-knot hairstyle
The sideview shows his simple top-knot hairstyle

And what a great exhibit it was. I was struck by the size. I knew that the warriors were supposed to be life-size but these sculptures were large enough that you can see it eye to eye if they weren't on a platform.

I was really intrigued by the hairstyles. I don't know if it's because I'm a girl but the Chinese conveyed status by their headgear and how they wear their hair, and I'm talking about men because I didn't see any female warriors. According to the exhibit, hair was considered a part of the body and therefore wasn't cut. The way the hair is styled probably indicated the military affiliation, or rank, or function. Only criminals wore their hair lose.

As for the headgear, the more elaborate the headgear, the higher the rank. Officers wore a flat headdress and is tied under the chin. Officers with a higher rank wore what can be described as a double or multi cap. A plain cap covering hair in a flat knot is worn by a regular soldier. I was also intrigued by the expressions that these statues wore. They weren't blank faces but seemed to convey some personality by their very differences.

The Emperor's Army

Looking at the statues, I got an idea of what war was like during an early period of China. These sculptures gave an indication of the many types of soldiers that made up the emperor's army. Horses were used regularly for warfare. Two life-sized horse scuptures told me that the cavalry and horse-wielding chariots were a regular part of the army. The horses, needless to say, were impressive; they had flaring nostrils and glaring eyes. They would scare me.

A charioteer and his horse
A charioteer and his horse

It must have been very intimidating in ancient China to hear the thunder of horses coming. It was a warning that soldiers were close and death was riding with them. Not only does a cavalry officer have the advantage of mobility and height when fighting, a soldier on the ground also has to worry about staying out of the horse's way. Being trampled by a 1000-pound animal is not pleasant.

If one soldier on a horse is dangerous, then a war chariot is a symbol of awesome power and destruction. The charioteer would control the horse or horses during a charge while an officer riding in the chariot would direct his men.

An officer of high rank
An officer of high rank

This impressive officer has an elaborate uniform to go with his headgear. The way his arms are placed indicate that he is holding a sword, which was missing from the exhibition. That square design around his middle are small plates made from leather or thin iron that were strung together.

A soldier
A soldier

This is what a regular soldier in the emperor's army looks like. No elaborate uniform or headgear for him! But just like today's army, he is the backbone of the military. It seems that this particular soldier was supposed to be holding a sword or a weapon judging by the way his right hand was formed.

An archer without his bow
An archer without his bow

Archers were the special ops men of the time. The bow is a lethal weapon that is accurate and can reach their target from a long distance. According to the exhibit, there would be two rows of archers. While one row prepares to shoot, the other row shoots, and they would alternate. The target would be under a constant barrage of lethal fire. Not only did a Chinese army have small bows, but there were bows of larger sizes with even longer reach that can fire a lot of bows at once. Archers wore a uniform with plating as protection because they are stationery targets.

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Metal steamerTop of metal steamerWine vesselAn officialA higher ranking official by the look of his cap.
Metal steamer
Metal steamer
Top of metal steamer
Top of metal steamer
Wine vessel
Wine vessel
An official
An official
A higher ranking official by the look of his cap.
A higher ranking official by the look of his cap.

The Emperor Without a Name

The exhibit was not only about warfare in early China, there were plenty of artifacts that gave the visitor an idea of what everyday life in early China was like. I was tickled pink to see this metal steamer. Even then, steaming was part of their cuisine! I was also amazed at how ornate these wine vessels were. And I wondered if they drank rice wine or some other wine made from grapes or plums, etc.

Warriors were not the only people that were modeled in terracotta, there were several statues of officials. You could tell they were officials by their loose robes. A side slit in their outfit, underneath the left arm would hold a wooden writing tablet while a knife and whetstone (to sharpen it) would be hanging from a belt. They used a brush and ink for writing, and the knife to split and scrape bamboo strips for a writing surface. Apparently even then, there were bureaucrats to record everything.

Looking at all these artifacts, one can't help but wonder what kind of guy would go through all this preparation for death? It reminded me a lot of the ancient Egyptians and how they prepared for their afterlife. Well the emperor who was responsible for the terracotta warriors actually has no official name because the custom was that he would be addressed obliquely during his reign. In fact this emperor rejected being named because he felt it was the son passing judgment upon the father's death. "Such a procedure is highly improper and we will have none of it! From now on, this manner of assigning posthumous names shall be abolished. We ourselves shall be called First Emperor, and successive generations of rulers shall be numbered consecutively."

So he may not have given himself a name but he did give himself a title "Qin Shihuandi". Qin, was the name of his kingdom and is pronounced like chin. His birthname is Zheng. At the time, before that whole country became China, that region was made up of several warring kingdoms. King Zheng was the one who was brutal and cunning enough to conquer them all and united them under his rule. So basically that's how King Zheng created that huge country and became First Emperor of what is now known as China.

Now a man who has huge ambitions and accomplished the feat of defeating other kingdoms and ruling a huge population over a wide area would probably want to make sure that his death would be properly planned. The First Emperor started construction of his large (and I mean huge) and opulent tomb shortly after becoming emperor. The "tomb" not only contained the warriors but also other sculptures that were representative of his reign on earth. The terracotta warriors were only a small part of his ambitions in death.

If the exhibition happens to show in your city, it's so worthwhile to go and for a few hours you will be transported to life in an ancient world.

**All pictures used are owned and copyrighted by Flightkeeper**

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Comments 2 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

I have never seen this exhibit, but thank you for the great pictures and explanation. They really are quite remarkable.


Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 3 years ago from The East Coast Author

Your welcome billybuc, seeing several of these terracotta warriors up close was a treat.

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