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The Terra-Cotta Army

Updated on June 8, 2012

Underneath a persimmon orchard in Central China, near the city of Xian, a huge army of terra-cotta soldiers are buried. They are slowly being unearthed; it is the project of centuries to excavate them all...the terra-cotta cemetery of soldiers extends for 35 square miles, underground.

It is part and parcel of the central mystery of China itself, a 2200-year-old mystery that is coming to light by degrees.

This terra-cotta army of warriors, complete with terra-cotta horses, real weapons, real shields, is the burial complex of China's very first emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di.

Qin (pronounced "Chin", and the root of the name "China" for the land) ruled from 221 to 210 before the Christian era. He unified a vast collection of city-states under one rule; a single dynasty. He began the Great Wall of China. He was a tyrannical reformer; heartless and bold; his army was unparallelled in history. He began the long ages of the great dynasties of China with his reign. He standardized writing, currency and measurements throughout China; he accomplished all this in his eleven-year reign by imposing order with an iron fist.

And yet, his burial complex of terra-cotta soldiers shows mercy, at the end. Those clay people are substitutes for real people who would have otherwise been buried with him.

Less than one percent of the army has been excavated so far. It is a project for several lifetimes. The complete army numbers over 6,000 terra-cotta figures. They include soldiers in complete battle dress, with real bronze weapons; foot soldiers, officers, charioteers; even acrobats and jugglers...The soldiers are in battle formation, facing east (the most likely direction of being attacked.) Hundreds of blades, crossbow triggers, and over 40,000 arrowheads have been found so far. Also, terra-cotta horses, fragments of chariots, and lances, swords and shields have also been uncovered.

The army was very colorful when it was first created. The costumes were a gorgeous array of blues and reds, and greens and purples. Hair and eye color was dark--black or brown, but there was some variety of color in the faces.

Time spent underground wore away the colors; also, a first exposure to air after 2200 years of burial made the original colors vanish like smoke. New technology has figured out a way to preserve the colors, so later figures excavated still have some of their original colors.

Each of the terra-cotta soldiers was created with great variety from one individual to the next. The faces were made seperately, using a couple dozen different molds. Then features such as mustaches, ears, hairdos, eyebrow were added, giving a wealth of variety to the army. These were not a featureless mass of people when first created. The bodies were created separately, also with some variations of standard elements. The whole army gives an impression of infinite variety, as in a real army.

As in the tradition of the ancient pharoahs of Egypt, Qin Shi Huang Di was buried with his most important treasure. Qin's most important treasure was his army.

It is so strange to my mind that this famous and first emperor of China wanted to take with him into the afterlife his army. He must have felt he needed protection from attack, even after death. It may also be that he counted on being able to preserve his realm, even after death, and to remain, for all of eternity, Emperor of China.

Yet he risked not achieving this goal of the afterlife by mercifully substituting terra-cotta men, terra-cotta horses, for living creatures.

No blood sacrifice mars his eternal rest. Requiescat in pace


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    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment. I loved researching this topic.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      5 years ago from Singapore

      Wow! Amazing!! Less than 1%!! A wonder what people of the time were capable of!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, epi. You are so kind and flattering!

      Well, first--the bad news. I was feeling quite poorly for a long time--very tired for no reason, out of sorts, just not up to snuff. I went to the doc, they ran some tests, and to make a long story short, they found some indications of lukemia. Ouch! My dad died from that. It was very scary, no doubt.

      Now for the GOOD news--Well, the elevated white count turned out NOT to be lukemia but a physical condition brought on by not enough of a certain trace element that helps the body process iron. They gave me some meds, and I'm feeling much, much better, but still a little washed out. It seems to be working though they say it will be some time before I'm 100% again.

      They keep wanting me to quit smoking! Fancy that!

      Much love from across the lake, in Paradise.

    • epigramman profile image


      6 years ago

      .....well I can't believe I missed this one - dear friend - but so glad just like the archaeologists that I did discover it - better late than never.

      I have always been fascinated by this story and your text and images are first class all of the way. I will be posting your major accomplishment here to my FB group Let's just talk music and cinema - and I am also eager to find out how you have been feeling as of late - please let me know how your summer has been and what plans do you have for the fall and the winter? Sending you warm wishes and good energy from lake erie time ontario canada 12:44pm

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for the comment, TM.

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 

      6 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      It's been depicted in one of Jet Li's movies ( I just forgot the title). Folkloric account unveiled the dark secrets of the terra-cotta army. It became an urban legend in China which still reverberate as far as Philippines.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      So true, Green Lotus. Thank you for the comment.

    • Green Lotus profile image


      6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      There numbers alone are simply amazing. Add the fact that they are all different makes it almost unbelievable. Thanks.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for your comment, Mazio. It does seem like such a vast project that it must have taken decades upon decades to create. We don't know how many people he had working on it, though. His workforce might very well have numbered in the thousands.

    • MazioCreate profile image


      6 years ago from Brisbane Queensland Australia

      Your hub uncovers, for me, the reason for the terra cotta army. It was indeed an act of mercy that he decided to take a clay army into the afterlife and not a living one. I had forgetten the extent of his buried army and am in awe of the archaeologists uncovering what would be a lifetime's work. Considering his reign was only for 11 years, and the complexity of the figures in the army, surely it must have been created over a longer period than his rule? Voted up!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, Ata, Robwrite, and Trish, for your comments. I'm also very fascinated. It's a piece of history Westerners such as myself are completely intrigued by, as it is out of our usual realm of history.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this awesome report

    • Robwrite profile image


      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      I hadn't heard about this. It's extremely interesting. I'll have to look into this further. Thanks for the information.


    • ata1515 profile image


      6 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

      Really neat article. I never knew that the soldiers were each given individual faces. Voted up and shared!

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      There is a small museum, dedicated to the terracotta soldiers, in Dorset, England.

      When I visited, I was under the impression that they were samples from the original collection, but it seems that they may, actually, be perfect replicas ~ which would make sense.

      I was really ill, the day that we visited, but I was determined to see them.

      They are amazing ~ and this was a really interesting article!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I wish I saw that on the history channel. Others have mentioned it. I got most of this info from the National Geogrpahic.

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 

      6 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      This is a very interesting hub. This was on the history channel a few weeks ago. It is amazing there are so many of them.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you all for the comments. I tried replying individually to your comments, but there appeared to be a bug in the Hubpages system that would not let me do that. I hope this takes.

    • RedElf profile image


      6 years ago from Canada

      What a fascinating place! I have read a couple of articles, and the individuation of the faces is quite amazing and artistic. It must have taken several life-times of work just to create the army.

    • Helena Ricketts profile image

      Helena Ricketts 

      6 years ago from Indiana

      I've watched a few documentaries on these soldiers and find them fascinating. I'd like to see them in person someday!

    • daskittlez69 profile image


      6 years ago from midwest

      Thanks for the Hub. My brother went there a few years ago and brought back lots of pictures. It is definitely interesting.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      6 years ago from Shelton

      what an amazingly little story.. detailed.. and highly satisfying.. those soldiers were like scarecrows shaped and designed to fear in the attacking armies.. right? I think there was a movie based on the Terra-Cotta soldiers .. I forget the name


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