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The Return of the Terracota Warriors

Terracota Warriors made of clay as funeral objects

Jacques Shirac, president of France, once said: "One can't claim to have visited China unless one has seen these terracotta warriors."


Stepping into the museum covering an area of 14,000 square meters, we come to Pit NO. 1 which contains 6,000 life-size terracotta warriors and horses.


The impressive sight of the figurines lined in neat formation grips the spectators with grandeur and magnificence and capture their admiration. People often ask:

Why did Qin Shi Huang, the emperor who founded the Qin Dynasty in 221 B.C., use so many large terracotta figurines as funerary objects?

During the Shang and Zhou dynasties (16th to 3rd centuries B.C.), slaves were buried alive with the slave-owners and aristocrats when they died. The number of such slaves immolated depended on the status of the deceased.

More than 60 slaves were sacrificed when Duke Wu, the ruler of the State of Qin, died in 678 B.C.

Later, 177 slaves were immolated when Duke Mu of the State of Qin died in 621 B.C.


This practice aroused indignation among the people of Qin. Duke Xian banned this practice when he ascended the throne of the State of Qin in 384 B.C.

While still regarding slaves as chattels, the slave-owners had to replace burying slaves alive with using figurines as funerary objects.  The warriors favorite colours: reds, blues, greens, purples, yellows and browns.

The terra cotta warriors were accidentally discovered by Chinese peasants while digging a well. This discovery prompted archaeologists to proceed to Shaanxi, China to investigate. No one knows why this site became buried and lost among memories in the clay and in the minds of China. What they found was the ancient burial-site of the first Chinese Emperor Qin Shihuangdi. These warriors were placed all around the burial tomb of Emperor Qin. Before Qin, masters were buried with women, slaves, and soldiers. This tradition during China's feudal period vanished during the life of Qin. To substitute for the actual humans, Qin ordered a massive clay army to be produced for his protection. Qin wanted the afterlife to be the same as his life on earth. Qin produced a warlike culture in China, which brought him many enemies. During his lifetime there were three attempts to assassinate him, so he had to be protected in the afterlife.

The first site was excavated in 1974. Although much of the site had been looted soon after it was built, archaeologists discovered 6,000 pottery figures. This oblong shaped site is 689 feet long, 197 feet wide. The trenches that contain the soldiers are 14.8 to 21.3 feet deep. The actual bodies of the soldiers were formed out of terra cotta clay. Each soldier was baked in a kiln. The positioning of the soldiers in the oblong shape shows an actual battle formation of the troops. These warriors were dressed and ready for battle. They carried spears and various other combat weapons. Each warrior is wearing an army uniform which distinguishes the soldier's rank. The soldier's uniforms were painted either red or green. They also wore either brown or black armor. Different types of warriors include bowman, infantrymen, and among these soldiers are six chariots. Each soldier has a distinct facial expression. Even the horses found at this site have different poses. Both the hands and the heads of the soldiers are detachable. These pieces of the body were carefully crafted and painted separately. The purpose of this was to provide the soldier with individuality and uniqueness. This also shows the quality of Chinese art during this time. These soldiers were made to be naturalistic. The height of the normal soldiers ranges from 5 ft. 8 in. to 6 ft. 2.5 in. Those that rode the chariots were 6 ft. 2.5 in. The commanders were the tallest out of all the soldiers. They stood 6 ft. 5 in. Clearly height represented the importance of the officer.

The second excavation occurred in May of 1976. This pit contains 1,400 warriors with horses. It is 64,000 square feet in area. Pit number two differs greatly from the first pit. The battle formation was square. This pit contains sixty-four chariots. It has divided groups which include infantrymen, cavalrymen and even commanders to guide the troops. This display of soldiers gives insight into the work that went into the Chinese army. Long distance battles had to be fought by using many chariots. The facial expressions of the men in this pit are also very different from those men in the first pit.

The third pit was discovered in 1980. This pit is the smallest out of the three discovered. It contains only one chariot, six warriors, and a small amount of weapons. This room is thought to be a group of special commanders. A fourth pit was also discovered. This room is bare. This room is probably empty because the workers did not complete the warriors in time for Qin's death.

Archaeologists continue to excavate the burial site if Emperor Qin. His actual tomb has not been excavated. These warriors will continue to give insight into the history of both Chinese art and war tactics. They represent a microcosm of life during the Qin Dynasty. The dynasties following Qin would pattern their lives after this great dynasty of the Fist Emperor of China.

Early China

Early Imperial China

Classical Imperial China

Later Imperial China

Post-Imperial China

UNESCO declared the site as the EIGHT WONDER OF THE WORLD