Terracotta Army: Loyal to China’s Emperor even in death

The Terracotta Army was constructed to protect the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi, in his afterlife. (Pixabay pic)

There are countless beliefs of what happens to people after they die.

Some religions hold the belief that there is an afterlife where good souls are rewarded with life in paradise, while bad souls suffer eternal torment in hell.

Other faiths teach of rebirth and a constant cycle where the soul undergoes a long journey through many lives.

Many people believe there simply is nothingness beyond death, that nothing awaits them.

Whatever the truth may be, for the first Emperor of China, he was paranoid enough of what awaited in the afterlife that he decided to bring an army of soldiers with him.

A magnificent archaeological discovery was made in 1974, completely by accident, when farmers digging a well came across bits of pottery and then, a head sculpted from clay.

In a short amount of time, it became clear that there was not just a small squadron of clay soldiers underground, but nearly eight thousand.

After 2,000 years of a silent parade, the Terracotta Army began to see the light of day as archaeologists flocked to the site.

Placed in battle formation in massive underground chambers, each soldier is life-sized and unknown to many, has their own individual facial features.

Beautifully crafted, one must wonder why anyone would go so far as to construct such a thing.

Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi was born named Ying Zheng and he ascended the throne of the state of Qin at the early age of 13 in 246BC.

At the time, China was fractured into multiple feuding states in what is now called the Warring States period.

Despite his young age, he proved to be a talented if not somewhat cruel lord, launching a series of military campaigns to conquer the rest of China.

In addition to the iconic Terracotta Warriors, archaeologists found hundreds of figures depicting horses and war chariots. (Pixabay pic)

In 221BC, he succeeded and for the first time in Chinese history, an Emperor was crowned.

He proved to be somewhat unpopular, being the target of multiple assassination plots.

Yet he was also responsible for a standardised measurement and weights system, a standardised writing script and infrastructure projects such as the Great Wall of China.

The man grew increasingly paranoid about his inevitable death and was desperate to preserve himself forever.

Besides hiring alchemists and sending out explorers to bring him an Elixir of Immortality, he began construction of his tomb, in the very first year of his reign.

Qin’s mausoleum remains one of the largest in the world, with the Terracotta Army guarding their Emperor, ready to march into battle in the afterlife.

The Terracotta Army, as its name indicates, is made of terracotta which is a reddish-brown clay.

The making of the thousands of statues required the construction of massive kilns and workshops, supposedly manned by 720,000 workers.

Despite the assembly-like nature of the construction, the artisans put lots of details into the soldiers, with each body part being distinct.

Attention to detail can be seen in the organised ranks the soldiers were placed in, with their officers at the head of their contingents.

Pits containing statues of the high command as well as over 130 war chariots and 600 cavalrymen were also uncovered.

Unlike their drab colours today, the Terracotta Army used to be a kaleidoscope of colours, painted red, blue and green.

Those paints were made from natural substances and interestingly enough, purple paint was also used, likely created through an advanced artificial process.

However, they faded and decayed as time passed.

Today, the Terracotta Army serves as a tourist attraction in the city of Xi’an, formerly Xianyang, Emperor Qin’s capital. (Pixabay pic)

Interestingly enough, the Terracotta Army faces eastwards, towards the direction of the rising sun, as well as the states which Qin had subdued and conquered during his lifetime.

In addition to the army of clay, there are also statues of entertainers, musicians and acrobats along with exotic animals; meant to entertain the Emperor in his afterlife.

Possibly to keep his empire running even after death, terracotta figures of government officials and servants were also placed inside the tomb.

But while the Terracotta Army meant to protect the Emperor has been uncovered, the tomb of the Emperor himself has yet to be open.

In his desperate attempt to achieve immortality, he ended up shortening his own life through mercury poisoning as he drank supposed life-prolonging elixirs.

His tomb, while discovered, has not been opened by archaeologists.

Chinese historians wrote that the tomb is filled with palaces, treasures and a map of the realm featuring bronze mountains and mercury rivers.

The latter may actually be true considering the high levels of mercury detected around the area.

In addition to the risk of mercury poisoning, opening a tomb that has been sealed off for thousands of years may also risk damaging the artefacts inside.

To Qin’s credit, his decision to take the clay army and servants with him during his death was probably better than the previous practice, which was to take living human sacrifices.

Today, millions of tourists flock to see these unmoving, disciplined warriors, who have stood fast for centuries waiting for their battle orders to come.