The Underground Army

An old Chinese saying says, “treat death as life.” In China, rulers took this saying very seriously. After death they were buried with lavish supplies of dishes, food, silk and musical instruments. In earlier times living things such as wives, servants, or pets were also buried with the Emperor, often still alive. The afterlife was so important to people because it was believed to be a prolongation of life. Everything that was buried in the tomb was thought to be a necessity for one who wanted to be prepared for a grand afterlife. In Lintong County, thirty-five kilometers east of the Chinese city Xi’an, a tomb was found that contained a whole army, armed and ready for battle. This army was created for burial complex of the first Emperor of China, Emperor Qin Shihuang .

Qin Shihuang was the first emperor of the Qin dynasty. He was known as a great leader and a conqueror of many lands. He was a destroyer, a builder, and an unforgiving tyrant. Qin Shihuang's accomplishments turned China into a great empire. He formed a centralized government, standardized the Chinese currency and script, and set up a code of laws. He also uniformed the system of measures and built many roads.

The Terra-Cotta Army

One of his greatest accomplishments is considered to be constructing and building one half of what today is the Great Wall of China. While the pits with Qin Shihuangs imperial army has been dug up, the actual tomb has not. The supposed contents of the mausoleum are by the tellings of the grand historian, Sima Qian.

In his historical records dated 1 B.C Sima Qian described how the tomb was made and what was put inside it. A project to uncover the tomb though, was started a few years ago but because of a lack of funds, it came to a screeching halt. Yuan Zhongyi is the head of a small group of archaeologists working on the site of the tomb. So far, only a fifth of the fifty-one square mile tomb has been uncovered. Scientific know-how and reliable technology are scarce making it even harder to fund the excavation of the mausoleum.

One of the Horse-chariots Army

Many perishable items such as silk and wood have remained inside the tomb for almost two thousand years. The tomb would answer many questions formed by the mysterious terra-cotta army. The army was actually not meant to be seen. It was made to be a “spirit army” and was not intended for display. Inside the pits it was noticed that all the figures face east. They were thought to be this way because Qin had many armies in the east that he had conquered and could have been suspicious of them. He would have wanted to be ready for battle, even in death. All the pits put together represent Qin Shihaung’s actual imperial guards that were stationed at the east of the capitol. The layout of the soldiers and horses were a replica of what Qin’s Imperial army looked like during his reign from 221—210 BC.

The first pit is thought to be the right-wing infantry division. The second was the left-wing cavalry division. Pit number three was the command unit and the fourth pit was thought to be the central force. The first life-size terra-cotta figure was discovered in the 1920’s. A Chinese peasant was digging a well and came upon it. The water disappeared suddenly from the well and the peasant, thinking this was a sign of evil, quickly re-covered what he had dug. The soldier, once again, was buried. It wasn't found again until the 1970’s when archeologists dug up what was soon to be the first actual pit discovered.

The first pit was discovered in 1974. It is the largest of the four pits and covers almost four acres. It is five meters deep and contains eleven parallel corridors and nine access ramps on the sides. There are nearly 6,000 military men inside the first pit. They make up all parts of the army such as bowmen, archers, charioteers, men with arms, and men without arms. They stand in a contemporary military formation made up of 4 parts; the vanguard, the main force, the outer flanks, and the rear guard. The main force contains six horse-drawn wooden chariots with charioteers. Horses that are about 1.5 meters high and 2 meters long lead these chariots. Over the first pit is the exhibition hall of the museum for Qin Shihuang’s terra-cotta warriors. It is about 230 meters long and has a roof made of glass to allow the sunlight to illuminate the army and horses.

The second pit was discovered in 1976 about twenty miles northeast of the first. It was slightly smaller than the first pit, about sixty-four thousand square feet in area, and shaped like an inverted “L”. It contains about eighty chariot units and so far about 300 horses have been uncovered as well. Its one thousand support groups are made up of four groups of archers, infantry, crossbowmen, and Calvary. The calvaries are dismounted from their horses and stand beside their left bridal. This army stands in a Chinese military formation known as “ Concentric Deployment.” In this formation the men are ready to fight independently or as a whole.

The third pit was discovered in 1977 and was smaller than both the first and second. It is 520 square meters wide and is irregularly shaped like a “W”. So far sixty-eight terra-cotta figures have been found, most of who are officers. It also contains one chariot drawn by four horses. Although the third pit is thought to be the command unit, the commander-in-chief has not been found. Historians and military experts believe this to be the commanding room for many reasons. The one chariot found is a war chariot. The weapons found are ceremonial and identified with a commander in chief’s ceremonies. The soldiers stand guard as to protect their absent leader. Their armor is bronze and has overlapping scales of lacquered leather to allow fast movement. This skill was identified with soldiers under the commander-in-chief. Because the third pit is the command unit, the fourth pit discovered in 1977 supposedly held the central force. Unfortunately this can not be proven because the fourth pit was found empty. It was probably unfinished because Qin Shihuang died suddenly in 210 BC. There were many rebel troops advancing towards the kingdom so the pit was sealed, empty.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang

All the pits were made with ensured quality. Qin Shihuang was very strict with the materials used and said that all goods had to carry the makers name so the supplier could be punished if his goods proved unsatisfying. Many bricks that line each pit’s floor have been found with markings of a maker’s name. Arthur Cotterell describes how the pits were made: “ The subterranean chambers were skillfully built; the rammed earth surrounding the corridors and galleries prevented the walls from sliding down. Each chamber was paved with bricks and its wooden roof was supported by stout timber pillars and crossbeams. To prevent moisture from seeping down from the surface, the roof was covered by woven matting and then a layer of clay.” Unfortunately the pits were not made perfectly. The roofs of some of the chambers have caved in and shattered many figures. Fires that were set by rebel troops damaged the first and second pits. The third pit managed to cave in by itself. Many grave robbers have gotten into the pits and destroyed the armies and other artifacts inside. Scientists have had to piece the soldiers’ back together and in the process discovered the way that they were made in the first place.

The figures were made out of terra-cotta because it was heavy enough to form life size warriors and sculptures. First the body was made followed by the head, arms and then hands. The hollow body was then attached to legs that were solid. While the clay was still soft, details like the face and clothes were carved. Extra pieces like the ears, armor, and beards were molded separately and added later. The whole figure, once finished, was fired and later colored with vegetable dyes. What is apparent from the color left on the soldiers is that originally there were two main color schemes.

According to General Meng Tian one group had short red coats with light blue patterned collars and cuffs. Their armor was dark brown plates with red or light green rivets and orange cords. The other group had bright green tunics with purple-edged collar and cuffs under black armor. The armor had white studs, gold buttons, purple straps and yellow buckles with dark blue trousers. They wore black shoes with orange cord. Unfortunately many of the colors have faded. Although, the dry weather of China has kept the terra-cotta warriors and horses from eroding too much, nothing could protect them once the tombs were opened. When the tombs were finally excavated the once bright soldiers and horses became dull after being exposed to the air after hundreds of years.

In 1992 two chemical engineers, Zhang Zhijun and Zhou Tie, took a piece of a terra-cotta soldier to be researched. German researches studied the piece and discovered the chemical make-up of the dye used on the warriors and horses. By knowing what the coloring was made of scientists were able to develop a coating that would shield the terra-cotta and help retain its color. Still, the exhibition halls poor condition and the lack of climate control will end up contributing to the figures cracking. Many figures are taken out of the pits and put in airtight cases. Tourism is also a contributor to the figures eroding. The fact that millions of people visit the Terra-cotta Soldiers annually is contributing to the breaking down of the terra-cotta. But, it is also bringing in billions of dollars. Unfortunately, this money is still not enough to cover the special and expensive care the terra-cotta figures must receive. "It is not a problem of technology," says Zhang Zhijun." It's a problem of a lack of information, equipment, and funds."

Different Face Types of Terra-Cotta Army

In the Chinese emperors imperial Army, no two warrior faces are alike. They could differ in age or personal character like bravery, confidence, or thoughtfulness. The theories of the variety of faces can be split into two categories. One category insists that faces were based on actual soldiers in Qin Shihuang's army. Another theory states that they were a product of the workers’ imagination or were faces of the workers. It was apparent that an effort was made to include soldiers of different minorities.

An art critic from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, Fu Tianchou, analyzed the warriors’ faces and categorized them into 8 groups. The groups were: You, Jia, Shen, Tian, Guo, Feng, Riand, and Mu. The different face type varied in things like thin or thick lips, cheekbones, pointed or flat chins, face shapes that are square or that are round. Some faces like they Guo are made to look slightly elegant. The workers used tools like thickening the eyebrows or making deeper set eyes to change the look from a mighty warrior to a general deep in thought. The hair of the warriors, like the faces, was all different. It was so delicately created that every strand is visible. Infantrymen have their hair on top of their head in a tight bun leaning to the right. Cavalrymen wore caps with chinstraps and officers and charioteers wore coarse bonnets

Qin Shihuang’s terra-cotta army and figurines give historians and spectators a look into Chinese war tactics, warriors, rulers, and art history. They show just how devoted emperor’s followers were. The figures represent a small part of the Qin Dynasty, but have come to be known as the main symbol of it. Later in the Qin dynasty, emperors tried to copy what was done for Emperor Qin Shuhuang. Many had soldiers made for them: none of these however, were as amazing as the originals. The army also tells how great of a leader Qin Shihuang was.

The mysteries of the army like missing commanders, other hidden pits, and the biggest mystery of all, where the body of Emperor Qin Shihuang is, yet to be discovered. For now the soldiers will be a reminder of the past; a mirror into the period of twenty-nine years when Qin Shihuang ruled, army’s fought, battles were won, and 7,000 terra-cotta men stood ready to protect and honor.
Sources and Pic Sources:
Terracotta Armies by Hadley Griffin;
The Terracotta Army of the First Emperor of China by William Lindesay and Guo Baofu

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